Monday, November 9, 2009

"But first, you must empty your cup..."

In the Zen tradition, Tea Ceremony is the most sacred of ceremonies. The teacher serving tea to the student ultimately signifies that the teacher is being of service to the student. The following story is a teaching passed to me from this oral-tradition, retold, based on my memory and story-telling style.

Many years ago, a Zen teacher was conducting a tea ceremony for his student. The student was very proud of his spiritual accomplishments. When the teacher began pouring tea, the student told the teacher of all of the spiritual truths that he had learned. The teacher quietly listened and poured tea. As the cup became full, the teacher continued to slowly pour tea as it overflowed out of the cup onto the saucer. As the student talked and talked, the saucer slowly became full and the tea began to flow onto the table. About the time that the tea started to spill onto the floor, the student thinking the master a fool said, "Master, can't you see that you are spilling tea all over the floor!" The teacher said, "Yes, but first you must empty your cup- so there is room for something new."

My teacher used to tell this story to me when I was not "teachable." Or he'd just say, "Empty your cup, Mike." I heard it more than once. I still use it to remind myself to let go of my preconceptions and the things that I "think I know"- so I can learn from a new experience. May it serve you too.


  1. Mike,
    One of the joys and challenges of living consciously in this life... emptying your cup and leaving space for the teacher/lesson to appear.
    Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Thank you for sharing your comment, Pam.