That Over flowing Tea Cup: A Small Reflection on Not Noticing the Moment

cup of tea




I’m no longer sure. Perhaps the first book on Zen that I read was Alan Watt’s Way of Zen. But equally possible was Nyogen Senzaki and Paul Reps’ wonderful little book Zen Flesh, Zen Bones. Whatever the order, these two books pointed me to the Zen way. I cannot say how important they were to me on my personal journey. I notice both continue in print.

The Senzaki and Reps book included a number of stories, some of them traditional to the Zen way, while others were not. Among the stories in that book that I was not later able to find elsewhere which nonetheless stuck in my mind, that marked my heart, was the story of the master Nanin and a visiting professor.

The text was straight forward…

“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?’”

As I said the teaching is pretty straight forward.

And when I read it as a seventeen or eighteen-year old in the nineteen sixties, it was revelatory.

Sound counsel for a beginner on the Zen way.

Good Zen teaching for us anywhere on that path.


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