Yoga Wicca Buddha

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The Tin Cup

Posted by on in Paths Blogs


Krishna Das tells the story of an important teaching he received from a fellow disciple of his guru, Maharaji: The disciple showed him with great ceremony an object hidden deep in a cupboard, wrapped in a dirty cloth. It was a small beat-up aluminum pot. The disciple unwrapped it and showed it off reverently. “Do you see?” he said. “You don’t have to shine. You don’t have to shine.” *



When I first heard this story as part of my yoga training, it struck a deep chord. It echoes Buddha’s teachings on releasing self-image. In pagan myth, humility typically wins divine favour while hubris precludes it. And even the most radiant gods knew the power of humbling themselves occasionally, whether to gain wisdom or make atonement. Zeus roamed in human form. Odin and Tyr sacrificed their power. Heracles and Apollo served human masters. Other gods are more routinely low profile—deities like Hestia and Hermes, Heimdall and Mimir, whose roles are central, but understated.


It can be lovely to shine. But you don’t have to.


This was deeply consoling to me. As a child, I was always being told (by adults)  how smart I was. My solos at Christmas concerts supposedly foretold an opera career, while my good grades prompted lectures about how I could do anything I wanted and should be aware of opportunity.


Great things were predicted for me. But I knew that reality had to come for me eventually. At a certain point (somewhere in grad school) I stepped off the path. I stopped pretending to be the person others had assumed I was.


The truth was, I had no bliss to follow, no passion to live out. I had interests and skills and pleasures, and what’s more, the love of a good man. Gradually I gave myself permission to let these be enough, even if they didn’t lead to advanced degrees or brilliant careers.


I came to feel comfortable with the idea of not shining.


Lately, the story of the old pot has been resonating for me in another way. My mother died recently at 97, but decades ago she sent me off to my first apartment with a box of kitchen utensils, including a dented tin measuring cup, which I’ve used every since. It has raised markings: lines and the words “one-fourth, one half” and so on. Its flared top helps the baker distinguish between one cup and “one cup scant”— a term from my grandmother’s time. It has a charming formality, suggesting measuring is a serious endeavour.


Lightweight and with a satisfyingly matte finish, it is humble and useful. It does not shine. But it brings my mother back to me, with memories of our times baking together. These were moments when we were in tune, sharing useful tips (like how to measure butter by submerging it in cold water) and a certain desire for precision. Baking was practical, challenging, and a relief for me—a respite from the world of academics and competition.


Looking back, I realize that my mother was not one of the people telling me how bright my future was. She merely advised me to learn how to type—a handy skill should I fall on hard times. And with a prescience I appreciate only now, she refrained from conveying any more specific expectations, leaving me lots of space to find my way. We had our conflicts over the years, but I don't think of them when I'm using the cup. 


Someday perhaps one of my kids will end up with it. But I am not ready to let it go just yet. I still cherish that link to the past, to memories of careful acts and acts of care, given without fanfare. The tin cup is there in the cupboard every day, teaching me its lesson. 


Battered but serviceable—the tin cup and I, we understand each other.


  • Krishna Das, Chants of a Lifetime, pg. 171
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Archer has been trying to make sense of religion since her parents first abandoned her at Sunday School in the 60s. She’s a mom, yoga teacher and repository of useless bits of information on ancient religion, spiritual practices and English grammar. Check out her column “Connections” in Witches and Pagans.


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