The Empty Cup

19/11/2012 14:53


At the end of my foundational teacher training, all of us were given a cup – as a reminder to always remain an empty cup. The wonderful Buddhist story that goes with this little ritual is the one of the professor that went to see the Zen master. The professor itself was an expert of Zen philosophy himself and wanted to learn more from the Zen master. As he went to the Zen master's house, however, he just kept talking and talking, showing off his own proficient knowledge. At some point the Zen master went to fetch tea. He started pouring for the professor and even when the tea reached the brim of the cup, he kept pouring. The professor interrupted his soliloquy to exclaim: “What are you doing? Can't you see the cup is full?” The Zen master smiled and said: “My dear professor, you are like this cup. You come here to learn from me, but you haven't cleaned the slate of your mind. Your mind is too full to pour anything into it.”


Once we get good at something, it is easy to think that we have become experts. The ego likes to call it a day and we convince ourselves that there's no work left to do. It happens to all of us. We go to a different class, different teacher, and they explain a concept differently. We feel almost offended and certainly reluctant to take the feedback. As in “I know what I'm doing here, just let me do my thing.”


The exact same thing happens when we become a teacher. Becoming attached to the what we have discovered works for us. We forget that what works for our body, might not work at all for another. Or what worked for us at some point in our lives, is no longer appropriate two years later. We lose our beginner's mind and begin to think of what we know as set in stone.


In a way our mind doesn't like boredom, but at the same time it is also reluctant to undo the scaffolding it has gone to such lengths to construct. We want to bask in our knowledge, in what seems safe and established.


Come to think of it, we show similar patterns in our personal relationships. Or in the relationship to our teachers. We have a certain preconceived notion of what these relationships are or should be or of how the other person is supposed to act. These expectations cause our cup to be always full. What then, can another person give to us if they instinctively feel that we are blocking the way with our concept of what should be?


I was deeply touched when Stephen once told us about his relationship with Tiwariji. He said that other students are good friends with Tiwari, and so they are invited to his house to have tea together. Of himself Stephen says that his relationship with his teacher is different, still affectionate and deep, but maybe just not as close. From my own experience, I know that it is easy to feel a little bit envious or pushed aside when you wish your relationship with your teacher to be a certain way. What I've also learned from experience is however, that envy freezes the situation even more. As you hold on to your idea of how things should be, nothing can be given to you. You become more and more frustrated because the more you try to shape what is, the less space you leave for someone else to shape it with you or for you. If you're cup is full, nothing more can go in.


Every relationship has its own Karma, its own destiny that will unfold. Maybe we can just trust that whatever we receive, even if it seems little, is exactly what we need. It is my belief, that if we empty our cup, enough (of love) will come.