How do we empty our cups?





A Cup of Tea
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?”


  1. I like this story. I’ve heard it many times. As many here, you DO have to have an ‘open’ mind before we can learn. Having an open mind means to never reject anything just on the surface or without understanding the whole. So, how do we empty our cups? We empty it by perhaps drinking it? LOL. I do not like the idea of throwing it away (a connotation that we have to reject our own ideas in order to accept new ones). Instead I like the image of ‘swallowing your pride’ (drinking the tea) and emptying your cup. Either way, one thing is true, we have to put aside our own speculations and opinions before more can go in.
    Thank you for your reminder.

  2. Beautiful story & I have used this analogy often myself. As with any analogy it has many levels of understanding. It is much more than letting go of your ideas & concepts, it is letting go or freeing yourself from the picture you have of yourself. In the end, all the answers we seek point to ourselves. If I already have a sense of self, a fixed idenity with anything how can I really Be or manifest that which I am. In reality we can never know with the mind the we that we are, not in this state, but by refusing to have any concepts or desires we open the door for experiencing that which we are. It is such a threatening idea to this sense of self we carry that most find it impossible to do. It is the little death that leads to the true “being born again”.

  3. Bottoms Up and drink in life for you will never overflow as long as you drink deep of the blessings and beauty that surround you.

  4. If one has been on ‘the path’ for many years and is filled with concepts, the belief system has ‘crystallized’. To ‘break open’ the heart and allow space for ‘the new’ often seems to come after a good deal of suffering. There must be a great hunger and a realization that whatever one has been clinging to, is not working. A letting go, of sorts. This can leave one wandering in the desert for awhile. This is good. 🙂
    Ripeness, spiritual maturity, opens the door for the awakening process to begin. As Emerson put it so succinctly, one has gotten “the bloated sense of self out of the way!”

  5. Isn’t that a wonderful introduction! If you want to learn about something, in this case Zen Buddhism, you must first lose all preconceptions, all the filters your life has put up through which you receive information. Open your mind, it is only then, with eyes and ears and a mind like a child, can you understand Zen.

  6. first become aware that the cup is in need of emptying
    bring consciusness to the self and watch the mind
    watch the breath
    become the witness, and watch the ego fall away
    are you the goddess of unconditional love?

  7. WOW. submitting to the will of God??? where did religion get in here??? im pretty sure emptying ur cup means keeping an open mind so u can accept the opinions of others and learn,etc.

  8. Good one! To answer your question on how to empty the cup….the great road to enlightenment is easy for those that have no preference.

  9. Be more flexible to new ideas, not be so hardened in our beliefs, be a flexible cup, willing and able to expand with new ideas..
    Brilliant question.

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