The "empty your cup" story is a favorite in spiritual circles. Most commonly, it's told from a Zen perspective.
A university professor went to visit a famous Zen master. While the master quietly served tea, the professor talked about Zen. The master poured the visitor's cup to the brim, and then kept pouring. The professor watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer restrain himself. "It's overfull! No more will go in!" the professor blurted. "You are like this cup," the master replied, "How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup."
I'm attracted to emptiness. And, cups.
Every morning, before I meditate, I fill an empty cup with coffee – following the adage, Meditation and strong coffee combine to produce a feeling that all is right with the world (of course, so does the coffee alone).
But here's the thing. I know what's going to fill my cup: coffee. Similarly, the Zen master knew what he wanted to fill the professor with: Zen.
To me, this isn't genuine spiritual or mystical emptiness. You're emptying your mind with an expectation of what's going to fill the void. Lurking behind the screen of nothing is a substantial something.
You aren't really empty, because you're expected to be filled with a specific experience, knowing, emotion, understanding, vision, intuition, or whatever.
Eventually this came to be one of the problems I had with Sant Mat and Radha Soami Satsang Beas. There was a lot of talk of the meditative practice being based on emptying the mind of thoughts and concepts so the purity of soul consciousness could shine forth.
But actually the practice, surat shabd yoga, presumed a whole lot that was supposed to be kept in mind during meditation.
Do this; don't do that. Follow this sort of sound or light; shun other inner experiences. Imagine the presence of the guru; don't attend to visions of other beings. Anticipate that you'll rise to specific realms of mystic reality; don't allow yourself to head in different directions.
If you know for sure what the nature of ultimate reality, or higher consciousness, is like, then I suppose it makes sense to order that up from the vast menu board of spiritual/mystical options. "A grande surat shabd yoga enlightenment, please. Hold the maya."
However, I've come to this conclusion (open to change, as are all my conclusions): given that an experience of ultimate reality likely is going to be much different from any possible conception of it, it's best to remain as open as possible to the manner in which this truth (assuming it exists) might make an appearance.
So one of my goals in meditation is to empty my consciousness of preconceptions. Sure, that goal is something rather than nothing. But it points me in the direction of emptiness, rather than taking me farther away.
I used to feel that there was a path leading to Truth (with a capital "T"), and I was on it. Now, I see the countless religions, meditative practices, forms of spirituality, mystical belief systems, and such as akin to spokes of a wheel emanating from a central empty hub.
That's a Taoist notion. Emptiness isn't revered for what will fill it, but as itself. From the Tao Te Ching:
We put thirty spokes together and call it a wheel;
But it is on the space where there is nothing
that the usefulness of the wheel depends.
We turn clay to make a vessel;
But it is on the space where there is nothing
that the usefulness of the vessel depends.
We pierce doors and windows to make a house;
And it is on these spaces where there is nothing
that the usefulness of the house depends.
Therefore just as we take advantage of what is,
we should recognize the usefulness of what is not.
Religious practice is focused on being filled with something.
True faith, though, is to empty your cup and leave it at that. (Here's another way someone said much the same thing.)
Posted by: Edward | August 18, 2008 at 01:58 PM
The above chapter from the Tao Te Ching has always been a favorite of mine. And every translation say the last two lines a little different causing you to see it from a new perspective.
I have been reading your blog for awhile and always find it at least entertaining but usually insightful and thought provoking, including the comments sections. I have been introduced to Pastafarianism and Andre Comte-Sponville.
After many years of searching for truth through religion, exploring everything from fundamentalist Christianity to Zen to Tao to Atheism, I have embraced the pathless path. But even this is a path that must be abandoned eventually for "truth" to "show itself". I embrace my "don't know mind" and let the universe be what it is without imposing my interpretations on it. As the old zen saying goes:
If you understand, things are just as they are. If you don't understand, things are just as they are.
Just wanted to say hi. I'll continue lurking and comment when I feel the need. I will leave you with this:
No book or idea contains only truth, no book or idea contains only untruth. Sometimes we must pluck lies from truth like weeds from a garden. Sometimes we must dig through mountains of bullshit to find the smallest pearl of truth.
Posted by: Daniel | August 18, 2008 at 09:03 PM
Edward, marvelous comment. You've said it all.
Posted by: Brian | August 19, 2008 at 12:15 PM
Edward's comment? Where is it?
"No book or idea contains only truth, no book or idea contains only untruth."
---I like this.....from Daniel?
Posted by: Roger | August 19, 2008 at 12:39 PM
Roger, Edward's comment is above his name -- between the dotted line and the solid line.
There's a lot there, in that space.
Posted by: Brian | August 19, 2008 at 12:49 PM
No big deal, but there is nothing there, above Edward's name and solid line.
Posted by: Roger | August 19, 2008 at 01:08 PM
Roger, you've gotten Edward's comment. Enlightening, isn't it?
Posted by: Brian | August 19, 2008 at 03:10 PM
haha.......The emptiness of Edward's comment. Yes, I get it now. Emptiness in comments is Enlightening and a thing of Beauty. The Elves are smiling......
Posted by: Roger | August 20, 2008 at 07:47 AM