The Empty Cup Runneth Over

Mushin 無心, an essential element of martial expression, is defined as an empty or unfettered mind, liberated from thought, preconception or emotion. In a state of mushin, the eyes focus, breathing and heart-rate slow, and we shift into a calm, perfect alertness that facilitates reflexive reaction, i.e. in response to an attack.

Beyond this level of no-mind, there is another mushin, one that enables us to be receptive to both eventuality and possibility.

Japanese Meiji Zen master Nan’in (southern temple or southern pillar) is credited with helping countless individuals searching for a path toward self-discovery. One day, a noted university professor visited Nan’in.   The academic, a proponent of western learning, had more opinions than questions.  Quick to answer his own queries, it was apparent that rather than seeking knowledge, he was pursuing validation. Instead of interrupting, Nan’in offered his guest some tea. Nan’in filled the cup and continued pouring.  Unable to restrain himself any longer, the professor yelled, “Stop! The cup is over-full, no more will go in.”

Nan’in replied: “Like this vessel you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen, unless you first empty your cup?”

The study of budo and our quest for mushin demand an ego check and the ability to maintain shoshin, a beginner’s heart, an open mind.  Regardless of age or experience, uttering the words “I don’t know” and honouring the gift of instruction require humility and hard work, particularly in a web-based world where anyone with wi-fi and a comfy chair is an expert and the concepts of information, knowledge and wisdom are frequently misconstrued.

Knowledge is learning something every day.
Wisdom is letting something go every day.
We cannot have one without the other.

We need to empty our cup before it can runneth over.

When any real progress is made, we unlearn and learn anew what we thought we knew before. (Henry David Thoreau, 19th century American essayist)