The History of Geography

Once, a wise man goes to a Zen master – “I want to master the art of living; please teach me.”  The master asks the man to join him for a cup of tea first.

His disciple brings a tray of empty cups with a tea kettle.  Most of the cups are a random mix of ordinary cups, however, a few look exquisite.  The man picks one of the exquisite ones.

Before pouring tea into the cup, the master quips, “Isn’t it interesting how everyone aspires for beautiful things, even though they are meaningless if empty from the inside?”

The wise man is quick to grasp the cup metaphor –  For our life to be meaningful, it needs to be filled first.

The Zen master then asks the wise man, “You are known for your knowledge.  Please share something with me.”  The man forgets about his tea and starts talking about the several books on philosophy he has written, including the one where he has shared his knowledge about Zen.  The master listens to him silently for an hour.

“Your tea has gotten cold,” the master interrupts, “let me serve some hot tea while you complete your stories.”  The master starts pouring hot tea, but the cup is still full, so the tea just overflows.

The man exclaims, “Stop! The cup is full already. It’s overflowing!”

The master replies, “You are here to seek answers, yet you are already full.  You have your own ideas and have no capacity for more.  You are like this cup of tea.  How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

The man understands the second lesson – For our life to be meaningful, it needs to be emptied first. 

These two conflicting lessons leave the man confused.  The master smiles and explains:

“The lesson doesn’t reside in the cup; it resides in the tea.  The cup represents our outward personality, while the tea represents our inner core – the learnings we imbibe.  These learnings shape the purpose of our life.  Some learnings come from the history inside us – what life has taught us in the past.  Some learnings come from the geography outside us – what life is teaching us now.  The art of living is about perfecting the blend between history and geography.”

Adapted, Skills, Learn


  1. Good philosophy of history & geography!…. too good!

  2. What about what the cup can teach us? How do our inner learnings and experiences (the tea) shape our outward personalities and enable us to fulfil our purpose?

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The History of Geography - Arun Nathani Blog