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A Cup of Tea with Perceptual Positions

By on July 2, 2014

There is an old Zen story about a zen master, a professor, and a cup of tea. You can read the story as well as several other great zen stories  at the site below. I often think about this story when someone is not listening to my point of view.

Reading it again recently I realized its power in a new way, by shifting my position to that of the professor. How many times have I failed to listen to someone’s point of view because I have been too busy with my own thoughts, or because I have already judged them as a person and found them wanting. By emptying my cup as I listen to each and every person I meet, what amazing new thoughts and knowledge can I gain?


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?” The 10 Very Best Zen Stories

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