A university professor went to visit Nan-in, a 19th century Zen master to inquire about Zen.
Nan-in served him tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overflowing. No more will go in!”
Nan-in responded like this cup, you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup.
When we are attached to our opinions, our cup is full. There is no room for new
information or points of view, making it impossible to learn from others. We
need to empty our cup of our opinions before we can learn what others have to
Attachment to one’s opinions is perhaps one of the most destructive forces in our lives. Next time you disagree with someone over an insignificant issue, choose to let it go. See what happens. Sometimes there are better things than being right. Does letting go of
your opinion do anyone any harm? Is it really necessary for you to express your
opinion? And, if yes, how much of that has to do with your ego? Be honest. We
tie up a lot of energy needlessly by being attached to and defensive of our
Perhaps the single most destructive force in our lives is the need to be right. This attachment to our opinions is tightly woven in the fabric of who we believe we are and the authority that comes with that. When we become attached to our
concept of self, we become unable to take in new information and respond to
life in the moment.
The motivation to be right is the source of much suffering in the world. It causes violence and brings misery to countless millions of people all around the world. This desire
to be right has been the source of conflict and war. Imagine letting go. We
could all let go of that need to be right. Imagine the freedom that would
On a personal level the attachment to one’s opinions can destroy relationships. This motivation to be right isn’t nearly as easy to identify as other motivations like greed or
justifying hatred, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t there. Most people
recognize the existence of such a motive in others, but find it hard to see it
in themselves. We all know someone who has an opinion on absolutely every
subject and is so attached to those opinions they can cause conflict and strife
in their relationships.
Our personal motivation to defend a position can become extreme. Over the centuries we have
seen no shortage of people willing to die for what they believe to be right. We
all run the risk of becoming intransigent, unable to abandon or even modify our
position when faced with evidence that contradicts our opinion.
Most of us recognize that we are fallible. We know we’re capable of making mistakes. So why is it that we have such a desire to be right? Why are we willing to defend our positions tooth and nail? Could it be that when it comes to issues that have anything to do with our identity, being wrong would undermine ideas which hold a great deal of psychological or emotional value for us. Could this indicate that challenges to our opinions pose a serious threat to our self-esteem and social standing? If this is the
case – that we are defending our identity – how much of that energy spent defending
our conceptualized selves is taking us out of the moment and out of our
relationships with others? What harm does our attachment to our opinions cause?
It seems non-attachment to possessions is trivial when compared with non-attachment to opinions. There is no doubt that our attachment to our opinions is bound to our
attachment to the way we see ourselves in the world, or in ACT terms our attachment
to a conceptualized self. If we are responding in the moment and seeing ourselves
as part of a greater whole, we will free ourselves of our attachment to our
opinions. When we release ourselves from our opinions, including our opinions
of who we are, we can find new solutions to our problems, benefit from one
another’s wisdom, and bring compassion and understanding to those who struggle
with their own attachments.