Once upon a long ago, there lived a Zen master in a serene monastery nestled high amidst the mountains. Revered by his dedicated disciples, he was known for his profound wisdom, gentle nature, and innovative meditation techniques.
Numerous young students, hailing from both nearby and distant lands, journeyed to the monastery with aspirations of becoming the master’s pupils. The sage greeted each arrival with a single question: “Tell me something about yourself.”
Prospective students often launched into enthusiastic monologues about their lives, aspirations, and accomplishments. But the Zen master swiftly interrupted them, saying, “That’s enough. You may leave.” This dismissal left them puzzled and discouraged.
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Then, a young man named Daiso arrived, climbing the mountain to join the monastery. When the master inquired, “Tell me about yourself,” Daiso bowed and stayed silent. After a prolonged pause, the master nodded and declared, “You’re welcome to stay. Training commences tomorrow.”
Chuan, a senior disciple, was bewildered. He questioned, “Master, you’ve always turned away those who speak of themselves. Why did you accept Daiso without any knowledge about him?”
The master answered, “A full cup cannot take more, yet an empty cup can hold boundless wisdom. Many come here already brimming—filled with beliefs, opinions, and self-importance. They lack space to learn. Daiso, however, displayed an empty mind open to learning.”
Time went by, and Daiso became an outstanding student. He excelled, especially in meditation. However, he became attached to the new feelings of peace and calm. His master warned him, saying, “Being attached, even to joy, will hold you back. Let go of your attachment to happiness, just like you let go of pain. Learn to watch both without making any judgments.”
After some time, the master checked in with Daiso about his progress. Daiso said he had improved but could only relinquish his desire for peace and calm for short periods. He also shared his struggle with the master, saying he wasn’t sure what would fill his mind once it was empty.
The master smiled and said, “Reality itself”.
While the story may seem simple, it contains deep and meaningful lessons. Let’s explore some of the main takeaways we should embrace.
Stay Humble: Be Open to Learning and Gaining Wisdom
We often run new information through our existing ideas when we listen to people or read a book. This natural habit can get in the way of learning. Preconceived notions and too much confidence in what we know can distract us. We might even stop noticing new information, assuming we already know or know better.
This story drives home the need for an open mind. If our cup is overflowing, we can’t add anything more.
Detach Yourself: Avoid Clinging to Any Emotion
Emotions are a natural part of being human, and it’s almost impossible to avoid them. However, becoming attached to emotions or identifying too closely with them can be problematic. We often hear we should let go of negative emotions while nurturing positive ones.
This story reveals that even positive emotions can lead to attachment. For instance, when we feel happy or peaceful, we want to hang on to these emotions. Doing so sets us up for disappointment when we can’t keep them going.
Consider a vacation where you feel incredibly relaxed. You may become frustrated trying to recreate that relaxation in everyday life. The better approach is to accept each moment, whether it brings peace or turmoil.
Embrace Reality: The Clarity of an Empty Mind
An empty mind serves as a clear mirror, reflecting the world precisely as it is. This mental mirror doesn’t make judgments; it simply displays what’s before it. An empty mind captures the world in its most actual form. It is untouched by personal biases, social conditioning, or preconceived ideas.
By clearing our minds, we can engage more genuinely with the world. In essence, an empty mind grants a unique kind of freedom.
Think about meeting a new person. If you have preconceptions, maybe from social media or rumors, you limit the relationship. An empty mind, however, allows for a genuine connection, free from judgment.
Continuous Practice: A Lifelong Journey
The key takeaway from this Zen story is that emptying the mind is an ongoing process. No matter how spiritually advanced we think we are, there’s always more to learn. Additionally, there are more attachments to let go of.
To become wiser, we must continually empty our cups. In other words, always keep a beginner’s mindset. This approach is vital, regardless of how much knowledge we think we possess.
Consider exercise as an analogy. You don’t work out for a few months and then declare fit for life. Staying in shape is a constant effort that demands regular attention. Similarly, achieving an empty mind is a lifelong practice. Therefore, it requires a steady focus and continual self-examination.
The famous words of Socrates, “I know that I know nothing,” offer a guiding principle.
Start by clearing your mind. Rid yourself of preconceived beliefs. Then, challenge your thoughts and ideas. Make your life a continuous cycle of learning and growth. Keep questioning, keep practicing, and never stop getting better.
Your path to self-improvement starts this instant. So, let’s seize this opportunity. Let’s wipe the slate clean and start learning anew. Open your heart and mind to new experiences and knowledge.