Empty Your Cup
A university professor went to visit a famous Zen master. While the master quietly
served tea, the professor talked about Zen. The master poured the visitor's cup to
the brim, and then kept pouring. The professor watched the overflowing cup until
he could no longer restrain himself. "It's overfull! No more will go in!" the professor blurted.
"You are like this cup," the master replied, "How can I show you Zen unless you first
empty your cup."
People's reactions to this story:
"You cannot learn anything if you already feel that you know."
"Preconceived ideas and prejudices always prevent us from seeing the truth."
"You should open your mind before you open your mouth."
"The master is trying to tell him to ease back and relax. The professor is too anxious
about the whole thing."
"Some people want to be taught everything in one sitting. It's not possible."
"This story proves to me that you have to unlearn before you can learn."
"We shouldn't get too wrapped up in one aspect of life. If we do, we close ourselves
off to new experiences."
"Even though you may be full of knowledge, you should always be open to the fact that
there is still more to learn."
"I bet the master did that just to shut the professor up!"
"If you want to learn, you have to shut up and LISTEN for a change."
"We should be open to the views of others, and accept them as their own. Treat each
opinion individually, and don't just add it to your own."
"Sometimes another person has to catch you with your guard down in order to teach
"The professor's understanding of Zen is too intellectualized. The master is trying
to point him towards a more intuitive understanding . If you're too intellectualized
about ANY subject, often you miss the boat."
"I would tell this story to anyone who believed something about me that was untrue."
"I think the master was trying to show him that when you can no longer take it is
time to give - and you must sometimes give in order to receive."
"This professor probably doesn't really believe in Zen. His prejudices are preventing
him from seeing clearly. This is what the master is trying to show him."
"Too much of anything is just too much!"
"I don't think the professor's reaction indicated that he had a closed mind. It was
perfectly normal. Wouldn't you do the same if someone was spilling tea all over the
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John Suler, Ph.D. © 1997 All rights reserved.