Early one morning, Ren-shi, the well-known Japanese master, visited his local diner. A young waiter approached the master’s table with a menu in his hand. He recognized the master and fell to his knees: “Master,” he said, “teach me about Zen.”
Replied Ren-shi, “I will have coffee.”
The waiter got up off the ground, hurried to the kitchen, and returned with a pot and a mug. He placed the mug on the table.
The master looked out the window at a nesting dove, then turned to pick up his coffee mug. He held it up, indicating to the waiter that he should then begin to pour.
The waiter filled the cup and, after it was full, continued to pour. The master noticed the overflow spilling over the table and onto his saffron lap. “Goddamnit!” said the master. “You are pouring hot coffee all over me!”
The waiter retreated a step, his hands shaking, the pot of coffee still in his hand. Coffee pooled on the master’s table and dripped off the edges.
“But master,” said the waiter, “I thought you were trying to teach me a timeless lesson.”
Ren-shi smiled and said, “Come here, my student.”
The waiter smiled and approached.
The master took the pot of coffee out of the waiter’s hand and bowed his head to the waiter. The waiter, in return, bowed to the master, at which point the master proceeded to splash the rest of the pot of coffee in the waiter’s face.
“My face!” said the young waiter. “My face!”
Replied Ren-shi, “The master does not like it either.”