Wednesday, November 03, 2004

The Overflowing Cup

The Overflowing Cup

The following is a very popular Zen koan:

Two monks were arguing about the temple flag waving in the wind. One said, "The flag moves." The other said, "The wind moves." They argued back and forth but could not agree. The Master said: "Gentlemen! It is not the flag that moves. It is not the wind that moves. It is your mind that moves."

The Buddhist Zen masters resort to koans--a kind of riddle or parable--to jolt their students from their normal mode of thinking.

"What is the sound of one hand clapping?", is another one of those famous "nonsensical" koans. The whole point of koans is make the student realise the futility of searching for Enlightenment using the logical mind.

The intellectual mind, if we let it have free reign, can easily become a prison for the spiritual soul. But if we know its limitations and learn how to use it properly, it can become an instrument of salvation.

What are the signs indicating that the mind has become a hinderance to our mental and spiritual progress? The most obvious one is when the mind thinks that it already knows everything.

This is best illustrated by another popular (perhaps the most well-known) Zen parable:

Nan-in, a Japanese Zen master received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. Nan-in served his guest tea. He poured into his visitor's cup until it was full, and kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he could no longer restrain himself and exclaimed:

"It is full. No more will go in!"

Nan-in stopped pouring and told the professor gently:

"Like this cup, 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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