The Coffee and the Cup
A group of alumni, who were highly established in their careers and lifestyles got together to visit a former university professor of theirs. The reunion started with warm greetings and hearty smiles, as the former students shared their success stories and various experiences. Soon, however, the conversation turned to complaints about stress at work and the overwhelming burden of responsibility.
To lighten up the mood, the professor offered his guests coffee. He went to the kitchen and returned with a large pot and an assortment of cups, and asked them to help themselves. There were a wide variety of cups – porcelain, plastic, glass, crystal, some plain looking, some expensive, others exquisite. Admiring the assortment, each one quickly chose a cup and poured hot coffee for themselves. When they all had a cup of coffee in hand, the professor drew their attention to an interesting fact. He said: “Did you notice that everyone chose all the nice looking, expensive cups, and the plain and cheap ones were left behind on the tray?” The alumni were taken aback by this profound observation. “What all of you really wanted was coffee, not the cup,” the professor pointed out, “but you consciously went for the best cups and were eyeing each other’s choices. It is normal in today’s time to want only the best for ourselves; however, that is the very source of our problems and stress.”
The professor explained: If life is the coffee, then our jobs, money and position in society are the cups. These things are just tools to hold and contain ‘life’ – like the cup holds the coffee. The problem is, we treat life like a competition or a race. We dedicate our time, our priorities and literally all our energy into achieving the best jobs, more money and higher social position. Basically, we want the best cup, and eye the cups that others have, rather than enjoy the coffee.
Desire is a very natural part of life. For instance, we may have a sweet tooth, and cannot resist a bite of a tasty dessert. Perhaps we cannot stop munching on salted chips all day long, or we may be addicted to TV serials, iPads, computers, shopping, or making money. We smell the rich chocolaty aroma of the dessert and we want to taste it. We see a scrumptious packet of chips, and we have the desire to munch. We hear our favourite program playing on TV and we cannot resist watching an episode … and the list goes on.
Desires can be small, big, controllable or not – either way, they are endless, and in turn they create a domino effect. Tap one domino tile and it tips over to the next, which tips over to the one after that, and on and on it goes. Similarly, what began as a tiny desire starts a chain reaction with unimaginable and infinite outcomes. In other words, desire activates the mind; the mind interacts with the world; mind sees a means to fulfil the desire; mind in turn instructs the body to act; action has reaction; action against reaction has more reactions. Actions and reactions are endless – another life is required to clear actions and reactions. New actions made in a new life; more lives are required to clear old accounts of actions and reactions, and before we realize it, we are stuck in the creation, being reborn over and over again.
Birth is for those who die weeping with desires unfulfilled. Desires are the cause of suffering, and he alone is poor who has unfulfilled desires. He who is free from desires is richest. All desires arise in the mind, and when the mind is subdued and is merged in the sound current, the game is won.
Maharaj Sawan Singh, Spiritual Gems
Thus, according to Maharaj Sawan Singh, it is our desires which cause all our births, rebirths, bondage and suffering. Being selective about our choice of cup causes us to lose our peace, serenity and comfort compared with what we would have had, had we simply drunk the coffee without thinking about the cup.
He further urges us to understand the true worth and real value of worldly things. They are meant to serve us, just as the cup (job, money and society) is simply a means to hold the coffee. We are not to become their slave. For instance, we earn money for our living, but what is its true worth? Will it help us at the time of death? Will it take us nearer to God?
Maharaj Sawan Singh insists that nothing we do during the twenty-four hours of the day and night is ‘our own work’. The money we earn is for our spouse and children. The rest of it is spent on serving our relatives and friends. We give some time each day to looking after our body, but even this body will leave us one day. This body is not our real self. He compares the body to a bag of dirt which will be cast away and burnt in fire or buried in the earth. Our own work is to save our self, our soul, from this never-ending cycle of transmigration and to take it back to the home of the Lord.
Which brings us full circle back to the cup and coffee story: the reason we find ourselves stressed and tense in life is due to our priorities – giving more importance to the design and quality of our worldly life (our jobs, money and our social positions) rather than taking time to enjoy the true purpose and essence of life.
The saints present us with this precious and practical advice: Live in the world, but do not be of the world. Do all our work with a detached mind – hands to the task, and mind to the Lord. Cultivate the habit of keeping our mind aloof from the world and concentrate on returning to the Lord. In other words, enjoy the coffee and don’t be obsessed with the cup.