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A very short analysis?

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?”
Can someone explain to me what this story is about and the significane/theme behind it?


  1. When one is so full of themselves there is little room left to aquire the wisdom from other people’s knowledge. Kind of like how can you hear if you never cease talking.

  2. This well-known story points clearly to a truth about human life: opinions and speculations prevent us from responding freshly to life’s changing circumstances.
    Zen training enables practitioners to set aside opinions, speculations, fears, hopes, and other mind-habits. When this occurs, it is possible to perceive the actual truth of the moment at hand. Then, if our heart and mind are open and spacious, we can respond in a clear, compassionate, wise, and creative way.
    The professor’s opinions clouded his inherent wisdom and compassion and the Zen master’s action simply made that clear.

  3. This is a koan. A short phrase or story designed to halt logical thought in order to promote intuitive understanding.
    Koan vary, though the theme remains remarkably consistent. The dedicated acolyte eventually receives enlightenment, witch is a fundamental awareness that most Zen masters are pompous, moronic, self absorbed sadists.
    This koan is essentially the notion that to see things from a new view point, you must let go of the old viewpoint. About like saying “Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” or “Think outside the box.”
    A Western Philosopher would say “Everything is Relative.” A Zen master would ask: “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” WPs would say “Without paper a pencil is useless.” ZMs would say “It’s no longer a pencil.”


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