At different points throughout my 31 years I’ve been immersed in Christianity, Paganism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Zen. Masters who walk two of these paths have called me student. This might lead some to the conclusion that I’ve amassed a good deal of wisdom – but that conclusion would be incorrect. Recognition of the novice I really am has recently humbled me in a big way.
The Cup of Tea, a Zen parable:
Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era, received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.
Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.
The professor watched the overflow 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?”
Yesterday while reading an article on Deepak Chopra’s new book I was reminded of a concept I was introduced to several years ago. Deepak spoke of meeting a woman at one of his book signings who demanded a great deal of dedicated time while others waited in line behind her. Eventually he politely asked if she could step aside and allow the next person to come forward. Apparently this infuriated the woman, who proceeded to cause a scene. After the signing he was still shaken by her outburst and, knowing the truth of the spiritual mirror, asked himself what qualities this woman displayed that bothered him so much. After determining she was demanding, selfish, angry, and impatient, he immediately called his wife and asked if he behaved in those ways. His wife was silent…and he got his answer.
The spiritual mirror is simply what others reflect back to us about our own deficiencies. What has it shown me lately? It’s shown me that I’m often arrogant, self-righteous, and scathing in how I communicate my views – especially to those who disagree with me. Who has given me this painful but valuable lesson? Christian fundamentalists.
They infuriate me when they arrogantly claim their way is the only way. The self-righteousness they embody when they condemn anyone who doesn’t think like they do makes me see red quicker than anything. The scathing way they communicate their black and white view of the world is maddening, mind-boggling, and (thankfully) sometimes comical. But instead of standing up to their spiritual tyranny with calm and reason, I’ve become a tyrant myself. That’s not who I want to be.
Perhaps being a novice isn’t so bad. After all, if my “cup” is empty of “opinions and speculations,” I’ll have nothing to defend…