Emptying the cup

By Paulo Coelho

A university professor went to visit a famous Zen master in Kyoto, in search of knowledge. While the monk served tea, the professor commented exercises, analyzed writings, interpreted stories and traditions, and deliberated on the ancient processes of meditation. He did everything to impress his host, in the hopes that he might be accepted as a disciple.

As he spoke, the monk continued to fill his cup, until it overflowed, and tea began to flow across the whole table.

– What are you doing? Can’t you see the cup is full, and that nothing more will fit in it?

– Your soul is like this cup – replied the master. – How can I teach you the true art of Zen Buddhism, if it is already filled with theories?

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  1. Marie-Christine says:

    empty your mind

  2. natasja says:

    this zen master could also have a lot of humor. ……

  3. Will_d says:

    Hi all, I would agree with Satvinder that ”emptying’ is not necessarily ‘deleting”but rather seeing things as they truly are. No body-mind phenomenon has reality from its own side but draws meaning from its context. It is not self existent. Maybe that was something the Professor had not grasped and the teaching the Master was offering him.

  4. Satvinder says:

    Hi again
    in continuation to my above statement….”Emptying” is not necessarily “deleting” everything you’ve acquired previously.Giving and receiving is always on an equal platform.its always the commom man who entitles a person as “master”,not he himself,and whosoever is the “receiver” be it a professor,scientist,farmer,conman….has to first receive,listen,then debate or clear doubts or contradict.a good listner would always have an upper hand.i think you’ll agree with me??

  5. THELMA says:

    Thank you all. I do not know much about ZEN. I have only read a book about ‘Tao and Physics’. I think that ZEN has always to be given by a Master to a discipline-pupil. So, I believe, to be humble is necessary. The first lesson of the story is to accept criticism and forget egoism[egotism]. The next lesson is to ’empty’ the mind from earthly ‘noises’, so we will be able to listen to the voice of our inner self and awake our intuition. Silence is stronger than …words. Zen emphasizes ‘simplicity’.

  6. Satvinder says:

    Hi Heart and Sophian
    India has a great tradition of Guru-Shishya i.e. Master-disciple.Even if the disciple attains great heights,becomes more famous than the guru,he stands hand-folded in front of the master and anticipates what more can he learn from him.Heart,knowledge can be achieved by theories and self-study but wisdom is always experienced and a guru is always associated with wisdom not knowledge.i have learnt more from uneducated village folks,than perhaps in school,universities.Humility should never be forgotton when you are standing in front of a person.
    lots of luv

  7. Heart says:

    Thank you for your reflections too Sophian.

  8. wanbliska says:

    For we know, don’t know or pretend to, we are always the master or disciple of someone

  9. Alexandra says:

    Yes,I already have read that story in a period I was practising Wing Tsun.It is true that we must let new things come into our opened mind,being humble and accept lessons from the others;actually I had many teachers or masters much younger than me,but I always respected them.

  10. anica says:

    To Sibila Maria India and Annie. I really love what you both describe in your replies. Wise words!!


  11. Lia says:

    They say the more you know the more you forget..Anyway,there is so much to know nowadays that we should keep what is valuable for our lives or else there is just a cup full of theories..

  12. Anneliese Flores Clar says:

    That kind of hapen to me, mostly I wanted to show my Kabbalah teacher that I was worthy of learning Kabbalah, but it was until I aknowledge my garbage that I got my teacher’s attention.
    Why would somebody need a Teacher, a Master if one is already perfect, when you aknowledge your imperfection that is when your Teacher, Master becomes available to you!!!
    Kabbalah as well as Alchemy, work with the Vitriol, stands for Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenies Ocultum Lapidem, which means something like going to the deepest part of oneself to see one’s darkness and rectify it, which could also be said transforming darkness into Light, lead into gold!!!
    What is important is that the student recognizes that there is something to transform, otherwise the Teacher will say, well since you are already perfect why do you need a Teacher, and won’t teach you anything!!!!

  13. Sophian says:

    Dear Heart :

    “Often it’s not the master teaching the students it’s the students teaching the master. No student comes Tabula Rasa.”
    That’s beautiful and true. It is merely an exchanging transformation.

    Still, We can reach the empty and the full(fool?) on Earth. Vanity of knowledge is not what interests the Zen Master, from a kind of disciple, but Merely the pure essence of his being.
    Knowledge blinds the Heart. It’s cutted from the essentiel. The part of God’s presence from Who we are all connected.
    Though knowledge has keys. Human may use it as a symbolic stepping-stone, but never get drawned in it.

    Here both have something to learn:
    The professor to light his mind, for being a better listener.
    The Zen Master that there’s always place left to learn, when a disciple makes the journey to pretend he could receive it.


    PS: I love all the posts here. Thaank you.

  14. Sibila Maria India says:

    What my eyes catch in this story is that the professor does everything to impress his host in the hopes of being accepted as a disciple. This is very, very human to do…

    A spiritual master is to my experience not looking so much at what we are doing, but much more at what we are being. We can know an impressive amount of things. And are we aware to life? Is our heart open? Otherwise knowledge which is mental does not help us to our spirituality. If we learn from our experiences, we become wise. We can´t think it. We have to find our way to be it, in openness and awareness. Through a level in us that is deeper than our thoughts, however bright.

  15. anica says:

    We have forgot a simple thruth in our lifes; the simple life. This life do not contain several theories. One and only theorie would be enough; the theorie of human…humanity


  16. Heart says:

    What if two masters meet? Obviously this professor must have had a lot of success becoming a professor, and does he need the Zen master at all? Working as a lecturer I found that as long as one have students one learns. Often it’s not the master teaching the students it’s the students teaching the master. No student comes Tabula Rasa.
    Once I had a German Art Teacher who was fed up with the class never cleaning up. After one class, he took all our sketches and threw them in the trash. Next time we met and looked for our works of “art” they were gone, and he told us to start to clean up, or the same thing would happen again. Did we learn to tidy up? No, we learned that the art teacher was cruel!
    I have noticed many spiritual directors demand their prospects to forget all about their past and so to speak become a new individual. Only it is not possible to be somebody else than yourself. The student can pretend to, but personal memories will keep popping up, whether the master like it or not. Isn’t your Zen master here so self important that he doesn’t understand his student might already carry material of high value, that a teacher-student relationship is a give and take? Or does the master have nothing more to learn?
    I suspect the Zen master might be a bit jealous of the professors theories, and may be because it was his birthday, his mind wasn’t clear about what teaching method to use, and he was reminded of his own failure, so he kept pouring tea even when the cup was filled up. We are who we are at any given moment, and to get into communication, the other better take us for better or for worse. Nobody should think of themselves as God, and fail to understand that even a tiny newborn baby, can teach a Zen master how to “pour” liquid in the right amount when feeding themselves from their mothers breast.
    When God speaks, I try to keep my mouth shut. Are you saying the Zen master is God? To me it seems both the Zen Master and the Professor fails to listen. If i shared my deepest feelings I’d like the Zen master to show a bit of respect and compassion. Of course it’s rude not to be focused only on the person in front of you, but we are only human beings. A good Zen master should help the professor to focus. They both should work on focusing better.

    Do you think the Zen Master will enter heaven because he pours tea all over the table? eh eh, shaking my head. Nope.

  17. THELMA says:

    In order to listen to our hearts and Soul, we have to ..empty our Mind. Knowledge does not mean Wisdom, but of course, we must know ourselves. ‘Γνώθι σ’αυτόν.’
    Love, Thelma

  18. Agnieszka says:

    Yes…sometimes we listen but we cannot hear..