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A man visits a wise master and asks to become one of their students. The master pours a cup of tea and the student learns his first lesson.

The bones of the story:

  • A university professor visits a great master to learn more about Zen.
  • The master invites him to join him for tea.
  • As the university professor talks about all he wants to learn, the master pours the tea until the cup is full then keeps on pouring.
  • Professor watches in horror then is unable to restrain himself. “It is too full. No more will go in!”
  • Master stops pouring. “Yes. In the same way, your head is full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”


  • Senzaki, Nyogen (1919) Zen flesh, zen bones : a collection of Zen and pre-Zen writings. Translated by Reps, Paul (1940). This book is a compilation of Zen koans including 19th and early 20th century anecdotes compiled by Nyogen Senzaki, and a translation of Shaseki shū, written in the 13th century by Japanese Zen master Mujū (無住) (literally, “non-dweller”). The book was reprinted by Paul Reps as part of Zen Flesh, Zen Bones.