The overflowing teacup

A long time ago, there was a famous Zen master. People from all over the country came to visit him, hoping to learn from him and ask him for advice. One time, a prominent military leader came to visit the Zen master. With great authority, he told the Zen master: “I came here to discuss life philosophy with you. Tell me what defines a good life.” The master smiled and asked the gentleman to come back the next morning when they could discuss over a cup of tea. The next morning, when tea was served, the Zen master picked up the tea pot and started pouring into the tiny teacup in front of the military leader. He kept pouring even when tea was overflowing all over the tray. The military leader got really annoyed and yelled: “Stop, don’t you see the tea is spilling all over?” The Zen master looked up and replied: “You are like this teacup, so full of preconceived notions. How can I add anything more to you? Come back when you are truly ready to listen with an empty mind.”

Although the story was a Zen story and took place a long time ago, it still rings true today. How often do we listen with the intent to respond? How often do we ask someone for their opinion but really do not care for it? How often do we come to a brainstorming session with all the answers and are sure that our answers are the best ones? As a leader, is it our job to have all the answers? What does it mean when our cup of tea is so full that we cannot take in any new tea? On the other hands, will we still be pouring tea into someone’s cup when it is already full?

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