Emptying out the tea cup

Speaking of tea, I was reading the writings of Prof. Shigaraki, who’s a scholar and minister of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, better known as “Shin Buddhism”. In the last section of his book on Shin Buddhism, he writes the following:

…To clarify this sense of choosing, you have to know what to throw away. If your cup is full, nothing else comes in. If you’re clinging, you can’t accept anything else. Only when you throw all else out, is the nembutsu able to strike you. “All things are empty.” All things wealth, prestige, relationships-are ultimately unreliable. That realization, and the realization that only the nembutsu is real, is a reality that is made the decisive choice in the meaning of life.

The highlighted part really struck me all the way home from work.* It has a certain Zen-like quality to it.** I could really see in my mind the little Japanese-style tea cup filled to the brim with green tea and me trying to pour more and more in there, not understanding why it doesn’t work. That was me when I wrote the previous blog and all the other blogs I wrote in the past on Buddhism. I am glad I finally learned to empty the cup.


* – A 90-minute commute in my case. In spite of its size, getting through downtown Dublin is no easy task.

** – Apologies to the Zen guys. I know this word gets exploited quite a bit. I hope you appreciate the intent though. :)

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4 Comments on “Emptying out the tea cup”

  1. Kyoshin says:


    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?”

  2. Doug says:

    I thought I heard this story before. But I like Shigaraki’s spin on it, where he’s not just being witty, he’s being more direct in that he’s clearly stating that because our minds are full of ideas and expectations, real wisdom “can’t get in”. I remember that Ajahn Brahm, the Theravada monk said something similar in that Buddhism is all about letting go of things, not accumulating them (even through practice), or I’ve heard this teacher or that talk about just “dropping it”. Somehow the teacup example resonated this time, where the other ones sounded profound, but had no impact on me.

    Everyone learns different I guess, even when it’s the same teaching. :P

  3. Jeannie says:

    “Apologies to the Zen guys. I know this word gets exploited quite a bit. I hope you appreciate the intent though.”

    Not a problem! If I get bothered by it, I’ll just go meditate for a while. :D

  4. Doug says:

    That’s a really wise way to look at it, Jeannie.

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