The Zen Philosopher

Once upon a time, there was a famous Western philosopher who went to Japan so that he could meet and study with an old and renowned Zen master. The famous philosopher had studied Zen philosophy extensively and felt he would be able to converse easily with the master, perhaps even adding to his insights just as the professor had done with his many graduate students.

On meeting the diminutive master, the philosopher was slightly unsettled by the bright, piercing eyes that gazed at him from a smiling wizened face.

He was welcomed by the little old gentlemen into a simply furnished apartment and invited to sit on a mat before a low table, where the tea was being prepared.

The philosopher collected himself, thinking, “I am a highly educated, respected individual in the world of philosophy. How can this self-taught country teacher have any advantage over me?” And with that comforting realization, he sat before the low tea table as the Zen master spoke to him in a low, light voice:

Tea, professor?”

“Yes, please,” replied the philosopher, and he held out his cup.

The master tilted the delicate teapot until its steaming amber contents flowed into the philosopher’s cup. Slowly, the cup filled until it was nearly to the very top. The philosopher almost spoke, then restrained himself out of politeness. But the tea reached the brim of the cup and flowed over onto the table as the little old man placidly kept pouring.

“But,” blurted the philosopher, “the cup is FULL! You can’t put anymore in.”

“Yes,” smiled the old gentleman, “It is difficult to add anything new into this cup, without first emptying it.” With a small, wry smile on his face, he looked back sharply at the philosopher.

Our western professor suddenly realized that he was the full cup, and until he emptied himself of his preconceptions, he would learn nothing.

So in silence, the philosopher sipped his tea…and waited.