Empty Your Cup: A Zen Proverb on Remaining Open and Teachable
As business owners and leaders, we long for the employees who are open and willing to learn, those who have an ideal mix of ingenuity and inquisitiveness, plus are team- and people-oriented to boot. Having seen the success that this type of attitude brings, not just for employees but for the managers and leaders who embrace it too, it can be disheartening when someone takes the opposite stance — as one who already has all the answers and largely wants to go it alone.
To the latter group, I'd caution there is always, always more to learn and many people willing to share their knowledge with you, if only you'd seek it out and gratefully accept it. The ancient proverb, Empty Your Cup, is an excellent reminder that we — as managers, entrepreneurs, employees, friends, and just plain humans — are best-served by remaining eternal students.
There are several versions of this proverb, but I've included one of the most popular below.
Empty Your Cup
Once, a long time ago, there was a wise Zen master. People from far and near would seek his counsel and ask for his wisdom. Many would come and ask him to teach them, enlighten them in the way of Zen. He seldom turned any away.
One day an important man, a man used to command and obedience came to visit the master. "I have come today to ask you to teach me about Zen. Open my mind to enlightenment." The tone of the important man's voice was one used to getting his own way.
The Zen master smiled and said that they should discuss the matter over a cup of tea. When the tea was served, the master poured his visitor a cup. He poured and he poured and the tea rose to the rim and began to spill over the table and finally onto the robes of the wealthy man. Finally, the visitor shouted, "Enough! You are spilling the tea all over. Can't you see the cup is full?"
The master stopped pouring and smiled at his guest. "You are like this teacup, so full that nothing more can be added. Come back to me when the cup is empty. Come back to me with an empty mind."
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