Three students from North America visit Japan to learn from a Zen master. When the students arrive at the temple, the religious sage meets them at the gate and invites them to sit with him near the garden of stones. “Let me pour you some tea,” he offers. Impatient to learn from him, the students try to get right down to business. “Thank you,” one confides, “but we came all this way and we have a schedule that we have to maintain.” Not surprised in the least, the old man gingerly hands each student a small cup. The students acquiesce and hold out their small cups as the master reaches for the kettle of hot tea. The old man begins to pour the steaming tea in one of the cups, only he does not cease when the liquid reaches the top. With hot tea on her hands, one of the students cries out, “Stop pouring! You are burning my hands.” The Zen master calmly puts down the kettle and replies, “Like this cup, you are too full to take in any more. Empty your cups and I will teach you.”
Since writing this post, I have found a version of this story in the film 2012–only there it is in a Tibetan Buddhist setting (between an old and young monk).