Let go and Allow Part III: Emptying the vessel

There is a story popular with students and teachers, especially pertaining to the teaching of esoteric principles, called “The story of the empty rice bowl.”

The story follows a scholar, knowledgeable, proficient, and well accomplished. Upon learning of a Zen Buddhist master who was widely considered to be the smartest in all the land, the scholar sought to become his student. The monk invited the scholar for lunch and while serving rice, the scholar proceeded to share his knowledge, past accomplishments, recognition and honors. As he did so the monk kept scooping rice into his bowl until it was overflowing.

@NAO via Twenty20

Stunned by this, the scholar yelled at the monk explaining that the bowl was full and that he should stop filling it, because nothing more could fit inside.

The monk just smiled and said “Well, so it is! Your mind is like this bowl of rice—so full of knowledge that nothing else can get in. If you want me to teach you, you must empty your mind.”

As applied to practice...

I heard this story at the beginning of my journey as a martial arts practitioner, decades ago. It helped me to let go of what I thought I knew about self defense, so that I could more readily accept what was being taught.

Later as a teacher I was able to observe that the students that had the hardest time learning the techniques, were the ones holding onto what they thought they knew about practicality and strength. Those who let go of their preconceptions had a much easier time mastering their lists of movements.

Changing behavior, not controlling it

The process of changing behavior is the process of changing identity. And the process of changing identity is always a two fold process. Letting go of the old pattern, old personality or old identifying characteristic or trait, and then allowing the new desired one to develop.

The real work of let go and allow, lies in the letting go of self, ego, and control by fear. It is to rely less on what is material and more on intelligence, or the part of us that makes decisions. The reason why we have difficulty letting go of a thing, is because of the claim we make as having identified with it. As soon as we associate pleasure or comfort with an object or cultivate desire for it, it becomes a part of us.


This also goes for things that affect us negatively. As soon as I express dislike for something, it becomes part of my personality. "She hates it when people stare," or "He dislikes raw vegetables" are examples.


I am not my things...

“But clearly I am not my things,” you say, “that’s obvious.” As soon as you gain a sense of self importance or unimportance with something material, you identify with it.


@thekalam via Twenty20

Here’s an example of this in the line of thinking and articulating: “I drive an expensive sports car. People admire me because of the car I drive. I am important because of my car. I am who I am because of the car I drive. I wear badges (that act as name tags) such as hats, shirts and other branded clothing that identify me as a sports car driver.”


We can also apply this analogy negatively if we were to say, “I am less important and less admired because I drive an old beaten car.”

Why is letting go so difficult?


Letting go of the things we identify with, changes our sense of self and we feel that we are losing a part of who we are. Losing our sense of self is uncomfortable. When we know we must let go of the old but it’s difficult to do because of the importance attached to it, letting go becomes a sacrifice.


Letting go isn’t just about ego, it’s about control. When we seek to control out of fear we become attached to whatever it is we are trying to control, and we lose the present moment. We begin living in the past, re-affirming what was, ensuring that nothing new can come along.


The literal act of letting go is to accept what is in the present moment and then surrender— surrender the old self, surrender ego and ultimately surrender control. It is the act of surrendering that is the key to allowing something new and exciting to come to us from the unknown.


The second part of the equation which is to allow, we will explore in part IV of this series.

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