Outsmarting a Coffee Machine

by Bob Schwartz

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)

MAIN CASE

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.”

COMMENTARY

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.

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