A Cup of Tea

437px-Samovar_Tea_House_(7792873646)Many years ago, a professor from one of the western world’s great universities went to visit the Japanese master Nan-in to learn about Zen. Nan-in invited the professor to sit and offered him tea. As Nan-in prepared the tea, the professor talked. And talked.  And talked some more. Nan-in served the tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept pouring. The professor watched the tea pouring onto the table and floor until he could no longer restrain himself. “It is overfull,” he said. “No more will go in!”

“Like this cup,” Nan-in replied, “you are full of ideas and opinions. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

[1] Adapted from 101 Zen Stories, by Nyogen Senzaki, 1919, a compilation of Zen anecdotes. Senzaki’s compilation also includes a translation of Sassekishu, or Sand and Pebbles, a collection of Buddhist parables by the Japanese monk Muju, written in 1283.

Photo, Samovar Tea House, by Christopher Michel, file licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Copyright 2014, Robert D. Shepherd. All rights reserved. This file may be freely distributed as long as this copyright notice is retained.

For other essays (and cartoons!) by Bob Shepherd on philosophical subjects, go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/philosophy/

About Bob Shepherd

interests: curriculum design, educational technology, learning, linguistics, hermeneutics, rhetoric, philosophy (Continental philosophy, Existentialism, metaphysics, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, epistemology, ethics), classical and jazz guitar, poetry, the short story, archaeology and cultural anthropology, history of religion, prehistory, veganism, sustainability, Anglo-Saxon literature and language, systems for emergent quality control, heuristics for innovation
This entry was posted in Epistemology, Philosophy, Teaching Literature and Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to A Cup of Tea

  1. Pingback: A Cup of Tea | Educational Policy Information

  2. Shulamith Bakhmutsky says:

    A Cup of tea VS A Kiddush Cup

    A tea cup needs to be empty in order to be filled. A Kiddush cup must overflow with wine for the human to be filled with The Divine.

    Shulamith Bakhmutsky

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bob Shepherd says:

      How did I come to have the fortune of your showing up on my page, Shulamith?

      Of course, you know this, in the Coleman Barks translation:

      The Tavern

      All day I think about it, then at night I say it.
      Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?
      I have no idea.
      My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that,
      And I intend to end up there.

      This drunkenness began in some other tavern.
      When I get back around to that place,
      I’ll be completely sober. Meanwhile,
      I’m like a bird from another continent, sitting in this aviary.
      The day is coming when I fly off,
      But who is it now in my ear who hears my voice?
      Who says words with my mouth?

      Who looks out with my eyes? What is the soul?
      I cannot stop asking.
      If I could taste one sip of an answer,
      I could break out of this prison for drunks.
      I didn’t come here of my own accord, and I can’t leave that way.
      Whoever brought me here will have to take me home.

      This poetry. I never know what I’m going to say.
      I don’t plan it.
      When I’m outside the saying of it, I get very quiet and rarely speak at all.


  3. Shulamith Bakhmutsky says:

    I want to share this song with you. Melody Gardot – ” Because”, You can easily find it. on YouTube

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ellen Lubic says:

    Bob…do not have your regular email address, but need to contact you. You can reach me at


    This is not on your topic above, but on your, and others, comments today on Ravitch’s blog site

    I am sick of the Monday morning quarterbacking on her site since Monday. Too many comments are so shallow that I want to cry. Mercedes and I seem to be the only people who are steeped in public policy, which I teach, and recognize the collusion of Wall Street and ALEC influencing this decision.

    You are a prime intellect and I would dearly like to correspond a bit off line.

    Ellen Lubic


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