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A Cup Of Tea – Zen Buddhist Spiritual Story By Osho

A beautiful story is told about a disciple of Gautam Buddha. He was a young monk, very healthy, very beautiful, very cultured. He had come – just like Gautam Buddha – from a royal family, renouncing the kingdom.

In the West, just as Cleopatra is thought to be the most beautiful woman in the whole past of humanity, in the East, a parallel woman to Cleopatra is Amrapali. She was a contemporary of Gautam Buddha. She was so beautiful that there were always golden chariots standing at the gate of her palace. Even great kings had to wait to meet her. She was only a prostitute, but she had become so rich she could purchase kingdoms. But deep down, she suffered. In that beautiful body there was also a beautiful soul which hankered for love.

When a man comes to buy the body of a woman, she may pretend great love for him because he has paid for it, but deep down she hates him because he is using her as a thing, as an object – purchasable; he is not respecting her as a human being. And the greatest hurt and wound that can happen to anybody is when you are treated as a dead thing and your integrity, your individuality, is humiliated.

This young monk went into the city to beg. Not knowing, he passed by so many chariots of gold and beautiful horses he was amazed: “Who lives in this palace?” As he looked upward, Amrapali was looking from the window, and for the first time love arose in her heart – for the simple reason that the moment the young monk saw Amrapali, he bowed down to her with deep respect. Such beauty has to be respected, not to be used. It is a great gift of existence to be appreciated – but not to be humiliated.

At the moment this young, beautiful monk bowed down, suddenly a great upsurge of energy happened in Amrapali. For the first time somebody had looked at her with eyes of respect, somebody had given her the dignity of being a human being. She ran down, touched the feet of the monk and said, “Don’t go anywhere else; today be my guest.”

He said, “I am a bhikkhu, a beggar. In your great palace, where so many kings are waiting in a queue to meet you, it won’t look good.”

She said, “Forget all about those kings – I hate them! But don’t say no to my invitation, because for the first time I have given an invitation. I have been invited thousands of times by kings and emperors, but I have never invited anybody. Don’t hurt me, this is my very first invitation. Have your food with me.” The monk agreed.

Other monks were coming behind him, because Buddha used to move with ten thousand monks wherever he went. They could not believe their eyes, that the young monk was going into the house of the prostitute. With great jealousy, anger, they returned to Gautam Buddha. With one voice they said, “This man has to be expelled from the commune! He has broken all your discipline. Not only did he bow down to a prostitute, he has even accepted her invitation to go into her palace and have his food there.”

Buddha said, “Let him come back.”

For the first time Amrapali herself served food into the bowl of the monk. With tears of joy she said, “Can I ask a favor?”

The young monk said, “I don’t have anything, except myself. If it is in my capacity, I will do anything you want me to do.”

She said, “Nothing has to be done. The season of rains is going to start within two, three days…” And it was the rule of Buddhist monks that in the rainy season they stayed in one place for four months; for eight months of the year they were continually moving from one place to another, but for the four months of the rains it was absolutely necessary for them to stay somewhere where they could get a shelter.

Amrapali said, “In the coming four months, this palace should be your shelter. I don’t ask anything. I will not disturb you in any way. I will make everything as comfortable as possible for you, but don’t go for these four months.”

The monk said, “I have to ask my master. If he allows me, I will stay. If he does not allow me, you will have to forgive me: it is not in my hands, it is my master who decides where one has to stay.”

He came back. Everybody was angry, jealous, and they were all waiting to see if Gautam Buddha was going to punish him. Buddha asked, “Tell me the whole thing. What happened?”

He told Buddha everything. He also said that Amrapali… He did not use the word prostitute – that is a judgment. You have already condemned a woman by the very word, condemned her that she sells her body, that she sells her love, that her love is a commodity, if you have money you can purchase it.

He said, “Amrapali has invited me for the coming rainy season, and I have told her that if my master allows me, I will stay in her palace. It does not matter…”

There was great silence among the ten thousand monks. Nobody had thought that Gautam Buddha would say, “You are allowed to stay with Amrapali.” They could not believe their own ears; what were they hearing? A monk who has renounced the world is going to stay for four months in the house of a prostitute?

An old monk stood up and said, “This is not right! This man is hiding a fact. He says a woman, Amrapali, has invited him. She is not a woman, she is a prostitute!”

Gautam Buddha said, “I know, and because he has not used the word prostitute I am allowing him to stay there. He has respect – no judgment, no condemnation. He himself does not want to stay, that is why he has come here to ask his master. If you asked me to stay there, I would not allow you.”

Another monk said, “It is a strange decision. We will lose our monk! That woman is not an ordinary woman but an enchantress. This man, in four months, will be completely lost to the virtuous life, the good life, the life of a saint. After four months he will come as a sinner.”

Gautam Buddha said, “After four months you will be here, I will be here; let us see what happens, because I trust in his meditations and I trust in his insight. Preventing him will be distrusting him. He trusts me; otherwise there was no need to come. He could have thrown away the begging bowl and remained there. I understand him, and I know his consciousness. This is a good opportunity, a fire test, to see what happens. Just wait for four months.”

Those four months, for the monks, were very long. Each day was going so slowly, and they were imagining what must be happening, they were dreaming in the night about what must be happening. And after four months, the monk came back with a beautiful woman following him. He said to Buddha, “She is Amrapali. She wants to be initiated into the commune. I recommend her – she is a unique woman. Not only is she beautiful, she has a soul as pure as you can conceive.”

She fell at Gautam Buddha’s feet. This was even a bigger shock to those ten thousand people! And Buddha said to them, “I know these four months have been very long and you have suffered much. Day in and day out your mind was thinking only about what was happening between the monk and Amrapali, that he must have fallen in love with the woman and gone down the drain; four months will pass, the rains will stop, but he will not return – with what face?

“But you see, when a man of consciousness enters the house of a prostitute, it is the prostitute that changes – not the man of consciousness. It is always the lower that goes through transformation when it comes in contact with the higher. The higher cannot be dragged down.”

Her name, Amrapali, means… She had the biggest mango grove, perhaps one hundred square miles, and she presented it to Gautam Buddha – it was the most beautiful place. And she presented her palace, all her immense resources, for the spread of the message of Buddha.

Buddha said to his sangha, to his commune, “If you are afraid to be in the company of a prostitute, that fear has nothing to do with the prostitute; that fear is coming from your own unconscious because you have repressed your sexuality. If you are clean, then all judgment disappears.”

Osho, Reflections on Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet, Chapter 33

Osho's Explanation: So the awakened has no judgments of what is good and what is bad, and the child has no judgment because he cannot make the distinction – he has no experience. In this sense it is true that every awakened person becomes a child again – not ignorant, but innocent. But every old person is not an awakened being. It should be so; if life has been lived rightly – with alertness, with joy, with silence, with understanding – you not only grow old, you also grow up. And these are two different processes. Everybody grows old, but not everybody grows up.

What is the Spiritual Moral / Meaning of Osho's “A Cup Of Tea” Story?

This story beautifully illustrates the transformative power of respect and compassion in breaking through the barriers of prejudice and condemnation. As we navigate our own spiritual paths, we are invited to recognize the inherent dignity and worth of every being, regardless of their external circumstances or societal status. In doing so, we create space for profound healing and transformation to unfold.

At the heart of this story lies the theme of unconditional love and acceptance. Through the simple act of bowing down with deep respect, the young monk ignites a spark of recognition and awakening within Amrapali. This moment of genuine reverence serves as a catalyst for her soul's longing for love and connection to blossom. In our own lives, we are called to embody this same spirit of unconditional love, recognizing the divine essence within ourselves and others, regardless of past actions or societal roles.

Central to the spiritual journey is the practice of forgiveness and redemption. Despite Amrapali's past as a prostitute, the young monk extends compassion and forgiveness, embodying the teachings of Gautam Buddha. Through his willingness to accept her invitation and share a meal with her, he offers her the opportunity for redemption and transformation. As spiritual seekers, we are reminded of the power of forgiveness to heal wounds and liberate both the forgiver and the forgiven from the shackles of judgment and resentment.

The story also highlights the importance of trust and faith in the guidance of a higher wisdom. Despite facing opposition and skepticism from his fellow monks, the young disciple remains steadfast in his trust in Buddha's wisdom and insight. This unwavering faith ultimately leads to a profound revelation of the transformative power of consciousness. As we navigate the complexities of our own spiritual journeys, we are invited to cultivate trust in the guidance of our inner wisdom, surrendering to the flow of divine grace and guidance.

One of the most profound teachings of this story is the recognition that true transformation begins from within. When a person of consciousness enters into the presence of lower vibrations, it is the lower that undergoes transformation, not the higher. This profound truth invites us to take responsibility for our own inner growth and evolution, recognizing that external circumstances and influences are mere reflections of our internal state of being. Through the cultivation of mindfulness and self-awareness, we have the power to catalyze profound shifts in consciousness, illuminating the path of awakening for ourselves and others.

Ultimately, this story serves as a powerful reminder of the interconnectedness of all beings and the inherent divinity within each soul. As Gautam Buddha so beautifully articulates, fear and judgment arise from the shadows of our own unconscious, reflecting our own unresolved wounds and insecurities. Through the practice of radical self-love and acceptance, we can transcend the limitations of fear and judgment, embracing the fullness of our being with open hearts and minds. In doing so, we become vessels of divine grace and compassion, illuminating the path of liberation and awakening for all sentient beings.

Personal Reflection Questions

Spiritual stories are an opportunity to reflect on your own life. Here are 10 questions you can use to go deeper with the teachings in this story:

  1. Reflect on a time when you experienced a profound shift in perception, much like Amrapali when she felt love arise in her heart upon being respected by the young monk. How did this shift in perception change your understanding of yourself and others?
  2. Consider the significance of respect and dignity in your interactions with others. How do you honor the inherent worth and humanity of those around you, regardless of societal labels or appearances?
  3. Explore the theme of judgment and condemnation as portrayed in the story. How do societal judgments and labels influence our perceptions of others? How can we cultivate a mindset of non-judgment and compassion in our daily lives?
  4. Contemplate the transformative power of love and compassion, exemplified by the young monk's acceptance of Amrapali's invitation. How can we cultivate a love that honors the autonomy and growth of others, free from expectations or attachments?
  5. Reflect on the role of trust and faith in the face of uncertainty and doubt, as demonstrated by the young monk's unwavering trust in Buddha's guidance. How can we cultivate trust in a higher wisdom or guidance, even amidst doubt or opposition?
  6. Explore the theme of transformation and redemption as depicted in the story. How do moments of personal transformation contribute to our growth and self-discovery? How can we create environments that nurture and empower others to awaken to their highest potential?
  7. Consider the significance of acceptance and forgiveness in fostering healing and reconciliation, as illustrated by Amrapali's gesture of hospitality towards the young monk. How can acts of acceptance and forgiveness contribute to greater harmony and understanding in our relationships and communities?
  8. Reflect on the notion of societal norms and expectations, particularly in relation to sexuality and morality. How do societal norms shape our perceptions and behaviors towards others? How can we cultivate a mindset of openness and acceptance towards diverse expressions of human sexuality?
  9. Contemplate the power dynamics inherent in relationships, as portrayed in the interactions between the young monk and Amrapali. How do power dynamics influence our interactions and perceptions of others? How can we strive to create relationships based on equality, respect, and mutual empowerment?
  10. Explore the theme of self-discovery and authenticity, as exemplified by Amrapali's journey towards embracing her true nature and potential. How can we cultivate authenticity and self-awareness in our own lives, free from societal expectations and judgments? How can embracing our true selves contribute to greater fulfillment and purpose?