1) Empty your mind.
A student went to visit a famous Zen master. While the master quietly served tea, the student talked about Zen. The master poured the visitor’s cup to the brim, and then kept pouring. The student watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer restrain himself. “It’s full! No more will go in!” the student blurted. “This is you,” the master replied, “How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup.
In a similar way, our minds are already full of beliefs, conclusions, judgements, and our own understanding of the facts. We are more interested in what we already think we know than we are in learning something new. But when we have a genuinely open-mind, we have a sense of wonder and inquiry that allows us to learn something new, something we didn’t even know that we didn’t know. In order to be able to hear whatever truth is speaking to us, we must first learn how to listen. It’s like listening to music. When you listen to a song you’ve never heard before, you have no preconceived ideas, no intellectual interpretation of what the song is supposed to mean. Your mind is empty, you just listen and enjoy. That is how you need to listen when you want to learn something new.
2) Pay attention to what you’re looking at.
Truth can be likened to the bright moon in the sky. The finger can point to the moon’s location. However, the finger that points to the moon is not the moon. To look at the moon, it is necessary to gaze beyond the finger. “When you receive a gift, is the wrapping paper just paper – or part of the gift? Does the designer label on your shopping bag make the bag more valuable than the contents inside? Are the ceremonies and rituals of religious observance more important than what is being observed?” (Rebel Buddha by Dzogchen Ponlop).
“When the wise man points at the Moon, the idiot looks at the finger.” – Confucius
It’s difficult to overcome our cultural conditioning. We tend to analyze fingers without even noticing it. We can discuss models or concepts but ultimately, we need to go out and experience these things directly. What happens in philosophy and in religion over and over is the intense discussion about fingers. As you go through life, try to pay attention to the moments when you’re caught up analyzing the finger that points to the moon versus actually looking at the moon.
“Analyzing the pointer is pointless.” – Eckhart Tolle
3) Question everything
The search for truth is about questions, not answers. You may think that having questions is a sign of ignorance. The more questions you have, the more you don’t know and the more answers you have, the wiser you are. This is not true! Knowing what you don’t know is already a form of wisdom. “Real ignorance is not knowing what you don’t know. When you think you know something you don’t, it can lead to a kind of make-believe wisdom, an imaginary sense of knowledge…”
“Having a questioning mind is the key to starting your spiritual journey. A healthy dose of doubt and skepticism will lead us to precise and clear questions. Doubt that leads us to authentic knowledge and confidence turns out to be wisdom in the end.” (Rebel Buddha by Dzogchen Ponlop). Real wisdom is finding the right question rather than finding the right answer.