I must empty my cup in order to learn

SAM - Empty Cup

The cartoon dude holding his sign is my alter ego. His name is Sam and I’ve been drawing him since I was a kid. Today, his sign is telling me to “empty my cup.” And, really, it’s sound advice.

He got the saying from a story I tell. I learned it from some Zen book or another and it goes like this: An American professor of Japanese culture had been seeking audience with a Zen Master who lived in a small Japanese village for several years with no success. One day, though, the Zen Master finally agreed to see the professor.

When the Professor arrived at the Zen Master’s home, the Professor immediately began regaling the Zen Master with stories and learning about Zen that the Professor had gathered over his several years of studying and teaching Japanese culture.

While the Professor spoke, the Zen Master arose from his seat, got a teacup and saucer and handed them to the Professor. The Zen Master then took a pot of hot tea and poured it into the Professor’s cup. Before long, the cup overflowed and hot tea spilled onto the Professor’s lap.

“What’s wrong with you? My cup was already full and yet you kept pouring,” said the irate Professor.

The Zen Master took his seat and said, “Your cup was full just as your mind is full. To learn, your mind must be as empty as a cup without tea. You cannot learn with a full cup.”

The point of the story is that we all can become enamored of our own knowledge and expertise. I am no different in that regard. While I do appreciate that I have gained and demonstrated a certain level of expertise, I must humble myself by remembering that life is complex and there is no way I can gain true expertise during the course of my lifetime. To learn, and therefore to teach, I must approach various subject matters with a clear and open mind, ready to absorb more information that I can then appropriate into knowledge. I cannot stand on what I believe I know; I must seek a higher focus and awareness such that my consciousness can further expand.

Thank you, my dear friend Sam, for reminding me to empty my up and understand that regardless of my learning and experience, there is always far more to learn.