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Is Your Cup Empty? – A Zen Koan

Category: Very Short Stories

Zen Koan
Photo Courtesy of Dark Patator

Koan is a story, dialogue, question, or statement in the history and lore of Zen Buddhism. “A Cup Of Tea” is a well known Koan from “101 Zen Stories” – a 1919 compilation of Zen koans including 19th and early 20th century anecdotes, and Collection of Stone and Sand, written in the 13th century by Japanese Zen master Muju.

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?”

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Reader's Comments

  1. Bamboo Forest | July 11th, 2008 at 6:55 pm

    This is a great story, one I enjoy. “The Forbbiden Kingdom” movie reenacts this story, in its own way. Very cool.

    Bamboo Forests last blog post..Be Embarrassed about Nothing

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  2. Evelyn Lim | Attraction Mind Map | July 12th, 2008 at 12:02 am

    Oh my…love the story that you just shared! It may be short but it is full of meaning!

    Thanks! Stumbling this post as the best I’ve read so far the whole morning!


    Evelyn Lim | Attraction Mind Maps last blog post..Draw Inspiration From Never-Give-Up Success Stories

    Reply to this comment
  3. Marelisa | July 12th, 2008 at 10:29 am

    I like how you explain at the beginning what a koan is. I had heard this anecdote before–and I love it–but I didn’t know that it was called a koan.

    Marelisas last blog post..Create a Long List of Ways for You to Feel Good

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  4. Avani-Mehta | July 12th, 2008 at 11:40 am

    Hi Bamboo,

    Forbidden Kingdom is on my list since a long time. I guess I will see it this weekend.

    Hi Evelyn,
    Thanks. That’s how Koans are.

    Hi Marelisa,
    I too had read this kind of story before while reading ‘Monk Who Sold His Ferrari’ by Robin Sharma. Came to know it’s a Koan while researching the story online.

    Reply to this comment
  5. Tom Volkar / Delightful Work | July 13th, 2008 at 10:18 am

    This story does make me reflect on what I may need to let go of. Creating a vacuum is a wonderful lesson.

    Tom Volkar / Delightful Works last blog post..A New Way to Find Work that You Love

    Reply to this comment
  6. Barbara Swafford | July 14th, 2008 at 3:45 am

    Hi Avani,

    I love the photo and the short story. So well said.

    Barbara Swaffords last blog post..A Day In The Life Of A Blogger

    Reply to this comment
  7. Avani-Mehta | July 14th, 2008 at 5:29 am

    Hi Tom,
    I agree.

    Hi Barbaba,
    :) Me too.

    Avani-Mehtas last blog post..Is Your Cup Empty? – A Zen Koan

    Reply to this comment
  8. babyturtlefilms | August 31st, 2008 at 5:44 am

    this zen story is animated here:

    Reply to this comment


  1. […] “Empty your mind of prejudices,or else it will be too full to take in anything new”. […]

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