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Zen Stories - 3 - Cup of Tea

Nan-in is a well known Japanese Zen master who lived during the Meiji era. One day, a university professor visited him to inquire about Zen. Nan-in served him tea and continued pouring tea in the cup even after it is full. The tea was overflowing. The professor who was watching this shouted impatiently, ‘Sir, the tea cup is full. How can it hold more if you continue pouring?’

Nan-in smiled and said - ‘Your mind is also like the tea cup.’

Here, we have to understand two things.

  1. If we want to learn something new, we must not have preconceived notions about it. Only then we can have a clear understanding of the subject. If we have preconceived notions, we will not be able to grasp the new subject as it is. We will only see the world through our colored glasses. Meaning, we can comprehend or cognize the truth only with objective observation; otherwise, no.

  2. What is Zen? It is a journey from mind to no-mind state. Zen is that which remains after emptying the mind from thoughts, opinions, experiences, emotions and everything. Only then we come across Truth, face to face.

Master Nan-in has been conveying this idea indirectly. We do not know if the professor understood all this, but this is the style of Zen masters’ teaching. They convey very deep and solemn concepts in very simple words and at times in irrelevant words. Zen teachings seem like the finger pointed towards the Moon. If we understand what a finger pointing at the moon is, an entire new world will unfold before us. Otherwise, they will seem like crazy utterances.

All rights reserved. This article has been translated by Lakshmi T, which was originally posted in on February 15, 2009. The content or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express permission of the publisher.

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