Pot Heads

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve run into a little story about half a dozen times. It has to do with how we listen to and retain Dharma teachings. It involves three types of attitudes or views, characterized by pots or vessels, that are not beneficial when encountering the Dharma. One telling I heard recently in India is as follows:

Once a pundit-an educated man of high caste- came to Buddha. He asked a question.

Buddha said, “Please. Right now I cannot give you an answer.’”

The man said, “Why not? Are you busy or something?” He was important, well-known all over the country, and he felt offended that Buddha was too busy.

He said, “I have walked thousands of miles.”

Buddha said, “No, I do have enough time, but right now you will not be able to receive the answer.’

The pundit asked, “What do you mean?”

Buddha said, “There are three types of listeners. The first type is like a pot placed upside-down. You can answer, but nothing will enter. He is not available. The second type of listener is like a pot with holes in the bottom. It is not upside-down, it is in the right position, but it has holes in the bottom. So it looks like it is being filled but that is only momentary. Sooner or later the water flows out and it is empty. On the surface, it looks like something is entering but it cannot hold anything. And then there is a third type of listener who is in the correct position and has no holes in the bottom but it’s full of filth. Water can come into it but the moment water enters, it becomes poisoned.”

This reminds me of the tea cup story that is often told in the Zen context. If the cup is full what can be added?

So the last time I encountered this story was yesterday in the book I’m currently reading, Becoming Enlightened by the Dalai Lama. Here’s his version of events.

When you read or listen to such beneficial advice, it is important to set aside pride and attend to the teachings respectfully. As Buddha said, “Listen well, thoroughly, and keep the teaching in mind.” If, when listening to a lecture, your mind is elsewhere, then this is like filling an upside-down vessel, for the teaching is not entering your mind. If later you forget what you have heard, this is like filling a leaky vessel;it is not staying in your mind. Take written notes if that helps.[or make a blog]

Even if this teaching goes into your ears and stays in your mind, if you use it for superficial purposes such as gaining income or fame, it will not be beneficial. What could have been helpful has been corrupted by faulty motivation, like a dirty vessel polluting whatever is poured into it.  (p28-9)

That’s it for today.

By NellaLou

4 comments on “Pot Heads

  1. I thought it highly interesting that the Buddha never mentioned any fourth kind of vessel — one that’s empty and upright and has no holes in the bottom. From where I’m at, it sounds like if that vessel exists, it won’t even need to ask.

  2. Funny, I had the same thought as Mr. Sulonen- there must be a fourth type of vessel: upright, no holes, no filth or trash in it. But I believe it still should be open to asking questions because you can never stop learning and always improve in every area, in countless things. Heidi

    • After reading the conclusion you seem to have come to regarding your personal “state”, for lack of a better description- I could not help but put into question the premise(s) of your conclusion.
      – Stating that you lack any “holes”, no filth, or “trash” as you also put it seems to be a “hole” in and of itself, at least to me. Perhaps it is to you as well, seeing that you seem to recognize that you can never stop learning- to “learn”, would you not have to at the same time, question whether or not you do have “holes”, or filth that you are just not yet aware exist in your life? If it where not so, it seems to me you would have nothing left to learn- Realizing already, that everything you needed to know was inside the whole time, only unrefined, or un-excavated. To me, someone who looks at themselves as being “Upright” (as you put it), has the biggest hole of all; Allowing the ego itself to come into play, and in effect Disguising the opportunities he has in “this life” to REMEMBER, only by looking within himself, everything he already is.

      Not to challenge you personally of course, just the whole logic behind your comment; to me it almost seems to contradict itself. Logic still must have a role in Buddhist thought or any Religion for that matter.

  3. Intriguing idiom!

    As well as the elusive fourth kind of vessel, perhaps there is an elusive fifth kind of vessel, as well – the pot before firing in the kiln, before forming with the hands, before being shaped from an ordinary lump of clay. Not “the angel in the granite”, nor “the pot in the clay”, just nothing shaped into a name or form. Mu!

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