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.