Saturday, April 20, 2013

Four different cups...Four different learners

There is a Buddhist story of a young zealot desiring to learn everything he can about Zen. He reads many books, and articles and desires nothing more than to learn everything he can. He reaches an epitome of sorts when he requests a meeting with a Zen priest of renown and knowledge. He meets with the Zen master and proceeds to tell him everything he has learned about Zen Buddhism. The Zen master gazes and listens intently to the young man, espousing all he knows. Finally, the young man asks the Zen master, what else can he learn. The teacher offers the young man tea, and performs a patient and delicate tea ceremony where the young man watches and observes intently the actions of the teacher. The Zen master offers tea to the young man, at which the eager student bows in humble acceptance. The Zen master pours tea into the cup in front of the young man, and when the cup has filled continues pouring the libation, flowing over the cup and onto the table and eventually flowing to the floor. Finally, the young man screams "Stop! Stop pouring! The cup is full- no more will go in!"

The master stopped pouring and said: "Just like this cup, your mind is full of your own opinions and preconceptions. How can you learn anything unless you first empty your cup?"

Sound familiar? How many people does this sound like in your organization? Many experts, and still no solution to the problem? School learning organizations are filled with the experts, and few genuine learners willing to understand the core issues and apply sound logic to solve a problem.

There is another Buddhist parable about four cups that symbolize four kinds of students. One cup is upside down, representing the student who is there to learn, but pays no attention. Pouring tea (which symbolizes knowledge) over this is wasted and lost. The second cup is right side up with a hole in the bottom. We hear what's being taught, but we forget it all too soon. The third cup is also right side up and doesn't have a hole in the bottom, but is covered in dirt. When the tea is poured into this the instruction is cloudy symbolizing the manner we distort what we hear, interpreting, and editing it to fit into our preconceived ideas or opinions. The fourth cup represents the ideal way to be a student. Upright, receiving what is taught. Clean and open to learning something new. 

Which student are you, and how do you promote learning in your environment?