Nan-in, a Japanese master during the late 1800s, received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.
When Nan-in served tea, he filed his visitor’s cup and then kept on pouring.
The professor watched the overflowing cup 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?”
Like the professor, we often try to learn something new without first letting go of our existing preconceptions. If we want to learn and grow, we must first learn to empty the cup. We must strive to let go of harmful preconceptions as readily as we would cast aside old tea; so we can add the fresh!
I would like to share a personal example of this concept. Diet, health, and exercise are areas of my life that I would like to improve. However, I have difficulty letting go of my bad habits in these areas. This koan is a good reminder to let go of these limiting habits to make room for better ones.