And Joshu prepared the tea, brought the tea, put the cup and saucer into the hands of the professor, and from the kettle started pouring tea – and went on pouring, to the very brink. The professor watched and then he saw that now, if any more tea is poured in, it will start flowing out. But he still waited, till the cup was full and the saucer was also full. Then he could not contain himself, he said, “Wait! What are you doing? Now my cup and saucer cannot contain a single drop more of tea.”
Joshu said, “Have you ever asked the same question about your mind? Is there any space, empty space, where even a drop of tea can manage to fit? You are too full of thoughts. So many answers, so many questions! You have read too much, you are too learned to become enlightened.
“This cup of tea is simply symbolic. I wanted to show you that before you can ask any question to me, I should make my position clear: you have to be empty; otherwise you have to excuse me, I cannot answer. You don’t have the space to receive it.”
Joshu used the cup of tea in different situations. Now he said, “Help yourself to a cup of tea!”
Joshu then turned to another new arrival and said, “Have you been here before?”
You may not see the difference in the questions. The first question was, “Have you been here before?” The emphasis was on here. In the second question the emphasis is on you.
“Have you been here before?”
“No, your reverence,” the visitor replied.
He is saying, “I am no more – how I can be here before?”
Both monks have understood the difference. Although the question looks similar, they have seen the emphasis of the master. They are watching his eyes, they are watching his face, they are looking at his hands.
To talk to a Zen master is not an ordinary conversation – it is a total, being-to-being communion.
The first monk understood well, and the second also understood well. He said, “No, your reverence.”
But the essential part remains by the side. The essential part is, “How can I be? I am no more, I have never been; the question does not arise. I have tried to find myself – there is no one.”
Joshu said to him, “Help yourself to a cup of tea!”
The prior of the monastery took Joshu aside and said, “One had been here before, and you gave him a cup of tea. The other had not been here, and you also gave him a cup of tea. What is the meaning of this?”
The prior is the head monk of the monastery. He saw a contradiction in it – must be a logical man. He could not see the hidden part that was exchanged between Joshu and those two new arrivals.