A full bowl

- through Sophie Solere

Published on

Or how, like the tea master Nan-Nin, to empty oneself to taste the nectar of life.

Tea master Nan-Nin was known for his frugality and simplicity. He always went simply dressed through the streets of the capital without worrying about his appearance or what people would say. Wearing a smile on his lips, he was also known for his forgetfulness and his distraction. He sometimes forgot to accomplish certain tasks and, sometimes, he left the house by letting himself be carried away and then floating according to his mood and the surprises of the way forgetting all of its initial intention. Everyone forgave him, for his kindness was proverbial. He did not much like the company of austere and arrogant temple priests, preferring the simplicity of poor people, craftsmen and simple passers-by. However, he excelled in the art of tea ceremony and flower arrangement, and some said he was the most learned in all the secret teachings of Zen. Wasn't he often seen sitting in meditation in his garden early in the morning or late at night?

A mind that is too full is blind to the present

His reputation once came to the curious ears of an eminent university professor who decided to pay him a visit in order to shed light on obscure teachings and texts of the path. As usual and without any kind of ceremony, Nan-Nin received him in a room of his house whose sliding paper door opened onto a delicate garden of stones and planted shrubs. As he had just taken his seat, the tea master's host began pouring out in an unbroken and hurried stream a host of questions and observations about Zen and its meaning. Nan-Nin looked at him a little amused and started gently lifting the teapot to pour a nice green tea into the teacher's cup. While the latter continued to speak and question relentlessly, the tea master continued to pour the tea so much so that the cup overflowed and the liquid began to spill on the lacquered table. The professor was surprised and in a loud voice told him that he was dizzy and that he had to be careful not to spill tea on the table, and that his bowl was already full. Nan-Nin was amused and without losing his smile, with a very soft voice, he retorted: "Like your words which spread everywhere without any consideration, like your mind too full of all these words these questions. You are, dear teacher, like this well-filled bowl, how then can you receive any teaching? Your mind, full of prejudices and opinions, is not open to anything. How could I teach you anything unless you empty your bowl? At these words, the professor understood the subtlety and the direct dimension of the master's teaching and did not utter a single word. They sat in the presence and gazed calmly at the garden and the stones, savoring an occasional sip of tea.

Welcome life and see reality

I remember very well the bewildered and amused heads of a fine string of high school students to whom I confided some twenty years ago when I was still a young literature teacher: "I'm only just beginning to really see the trees”. I then had to explain to them a very simple thing, that words and judgments were often interposed between reality and our conscience, that we often perceived instead of things and beings only a distorting veil, a surface charged with our expectations and our fears, an embarrassed perception of the weight and density of our experience and the known. Until then, I only knew trees by name, and that name resonated with me when I recognized it. Perhaps I even had the coquetry to be able to discern them and identify the essences learnedly. The experience of the tree, stripped of any kind of a priori, without the labels that language lends us was nevertheless possible. And that then, a whole universe opened up much larger and more exhilarating than my little taxidermist merry-go-round. Because that was what it was: I was a small-time taxidermist, emptying the remains of the living of their life, preparing them nicely to collect them. Until then I had remained on the surface of the trees.

“You are, dear teacher, like this well-filled bowl, how then can you receive any teaching? Your mind, full of prejudices and opinions, is not open to anything. How could I teach you anything unless you empty your bowl? »

In fact, we do not welcome life as it is, but we adorn it and adorn it constantly with the tinsel of our lacks or our certainties. It would be enough to take the time to let life touch us, to let go of our certainties and our knowledge. To shut up. The very beautiful image that Dôgen uses to evoke the conduct of the person in the seat of the Buddhas is worth more than a thousand words here: "If you are in the desert and open your hands, all the sand of the desert will pass and slip imperceptibly between your fingers, close those hands and you will retain only a few miserable grains”.

photo of author

Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

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