Bob Schwartz

Outsmarting a Coffee Machine

Zen Tea

When I arrive at my hotel room, I find a very modern coffee machine. Very smart. It tells me to place the coffee pod in its holder. Close the lid. Another lid opens to accept water. Pour in water and close that lid. Place the cup on the pedestal, which it then knows is in place. Press the brew button. And in a matter of seconds, hot coffee.

But what if I just want hot water? Then I have to outsmart it. When it directs me to place the coffee pod in its holder, I don’t. I just pretend. I put the water in the tank, put the cup in place, and proceed as if what I want, what I am expecting, is a cup of coffee. What it gives me instead, what I want instead, is simply a cup of hot water. Which I can then use for any of the things you can do with hot water. Such as making a cup of tea with a teabag.

The machine is smart. Or I am smart. The machine is stupid. Or I am stupid.

Have a cup of tea.


Zhaozhou’s Cup of Tea
(Koan 233 of Zen Master Dogen’s Three Hundred Koans)


Zhaozhou asked a newly arrived monk, “Have you been here before?”

The monk said, “Yes, I have been here.”

Zhaozhou said, “Have a cup of tea.”

Later he asked another monk, “Have you been here before?”

The monk said, “No, I haven’t been here.”

Zhaozhou said, “Have a cup of tea.”

The monastery director then asked Zhaozhou, “Aside from the one who has been here, why did you say ‘Have a cup of tea’ to the one who had not been here?”

Zhaozhou said, “Director.”

The director responded, “Yes?”

Zhaozhou said, “Have a cup of tea.”


In the real truth, there is no other thing that is present. In worldly truth, the ten thousand things are always present. We should clearly understand that real truth and worldly truth are nondual and that this, in and of itself, is the highest meaning of the holy truths.

The monastery director was lost in the differences between the two monks, so Zhaozhou moved in all directions at once to help him see it. If you go to the words to understand this, you will miss it. If, however, you see into it directly, it will be like the bottom falling out of a bucket. Nothing remains. How do you see into it directly? Have a cup of tea.

Beyond Anger, Again

Beyond Anger

Almost exactly two years ago, I posted about a free book from Shambhala Publications, Beyond Anger: How to Hold On to Your Heart and Your Humanity in the Midst of Injustice.

At that moment, in March 2014, the most prominent global issue was the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But it was, of course, not the only critical issue or hotspot.

Shambhala had published Beyond Anger the previous year:

In July 2013, multiple bombs exploded in Bodh Gaya, India, in and around the holiest Buddhist pilgrimage site, the Mahabodhi temple that marks the spot where the Buddha attained enlightenment. In response, Shambhala Publications offers this free eBook consisting of excerpts from some of our books from a variety of Buddhist traditions that encapsulate values of love and nonviolence, which we can all practice ourselves.

Today there was a suicide bombing in Lahore, Pakistan. Earlier this week were the bombings in Brussels. Not to mention the other less reported breaches of peace around the world. Not to mention political battles, here and abroad, laced with pointless poison. Not to mention whatever tomorrows bring.

Beyond Anger is a very good little book. And it is free. Please consider downloading it, reading it, and sharing it.

It also helps to recognize that many conflicts will not be resolved in a single encounter. Some conflicts might not be resolved for a very long time. Yet whether or not you succeed in resolving a conflict that you observe or are yourself involved in, you always have options. Whatever happens, you can work on yourself. In order not to become overwhelmed or disturbed while a conflict is taking place, you can cultivate your own inner qualities. If you can develop your qualities and remain true to your own pure aspirations, at the very least you will always be able to take heart in knowing that there is one less harmful person in the world.