A teacher said, “It’s like filling a sieve with water.”
The student thought about this for some time, but didn’t understand.
The teacher took a sieve and they went to the sea.
The student poured water into the sieve and it poured out again.
“How do you do it?” she asked.
The teacher threw the sieve out into the ocean,
where it floated for a moment and then sank.

“Filling a sieve with water” sounds like a task you might encounter in a fairytale. Something along the lines of picking out a wagonload of poppy seeds from black flour dust or telling the king how many hairs he has on his head. The one assigning such a task in fairy tales and myths do not expect the person to succeed, and even hope for failure.

In the case of koans, inviting someone to fill a sieve with water is suggested knowing that the person can accomplish the task and may even have already accomplished it, though they may not know it themselves. The task is our life, and we are always living it whether we notice it or not. Our life may feel like a sieve full of holes as we feel unable to hold onto anything. But not being able to hold onto anything is just the way life is, the way a sieve cannot hold onto water.

We can spend a lot of time trying to plug up the holes of our sieve-life and may even succeed in making it hold water. But then it is no longer a sieve and it is no longer life. To fill a sieve with water is to appreciate that like the cracks that let the light in, holes in a sieve, in our life, let the light, let life in.

And what about that moment when the sieve floated before it sank?

—David Weinstein, April 23rd, 2024


David Weinstein Roshi

 

 

David Weinstein Roshi, Director of Rockridge Meditation Community

 

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