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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Zen Story: A Cup of Tea

James: This is one of my favorite Zen stories:

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor's cup full, and then kept on pouring.

The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. "It is overfull. No more will go in!"

"Like this cup," Nan-in said, "you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?"

~Peace to all beings~

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Greenwoman said...

Terrific story. I had not heard that one before. Thanks for sharing it. blessings dear one.

They call him James Ure said...


You're welcome--it's one of my absolute favorites. Especially when I get to "thinking" too much. :)

dylbud said...

Seems to me that the Zen master is the one who is full of opinions and speculations, since he makes such a definitive judgment about someone whom he has only just met and not even talked to yet. Someone who has traveled around the world to learn and listen, someone who is obviously very ready to empty his cup since he has spent so much effort in trying to reach this place of beginning. The fact that the story sets him up as a University Professor, and that is the only thing the master knows of him, and that the master makes this completely biased judgment of him based only on that information, suggests to me that the master is actually a little bit prejudiced towards this man simply because he comes from the West.

Not my favorite Zen story.

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A Christian Bear said...

Dylbud, I get it. I have heard this story from a different perspective:

"One man came to NanYin for studying Zen, NanYin welcomed him with tea, he poured tea water into cup and didn’t stop though the cup was full. The man said:” Master, the cup has been fulfilled. ” Master NanYin said :”You’re just like the cup fulfilled with your ideas, if you don’t make it empty, how can I teach you Zen?”

If you have have decided you already know then how can you learn? Regardless of who you are and your experiences you always need to empty yourself to be filled. Learning challenges our assumptions. Nameste

Anonymous said...


MACMc said...

Not the best telling. It left out how the Professor is supposed to be verbose and talking about his worldwide travels and learnings as the Zen master pours.

Sandos said...

The version I heard had a different punch line. More like, our minds get over-filled with mental chatter, so we need to pause and empty some of the clutter (and then we can enjoy our cup of tea)

Graham Norris said...

One of the value of these stories is in their interpretations; different people will have varied perceptions. For me, are we assuming that the intention behind the pouring of the tea was to fill the cup?

The story also highlights our need to unlearn before we can make progress.

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