Just a Fly in My Tea


“On this particular afternoon a fly fell into my tea. This was, of course, a minor occurrence. After a year in India I considered myself to be unperturbed by insects — by ants in the sugar bin, spiders in the cupboard, and even scorpions in my shoes in the morning. Still, as I lifted my cup, I must have registered, by my facial expression, or a small grunt, the presence of the fly. Choegyal Rinpoche, the eighteen-year-old tulku leaned forward in sympathy and consternation.

“What is the matter?”

“Oh, nothing,” I said. “It’s nothing — just a fly in my tea.” I laughed lightly to convey my acceptance and composure. I did not want him to suppose that mere insects were a problem for me; after all, I was a seaseoned India-wallah, relatively free of Western phobias and attachments to modern sanitation.

Choegyal crooned softly, in apparent commiseration with my plight, “Oh, oh, a fly in the tea.”

“It’s no problem,” I reiterated, smiling at him reassuringly. But he continued to focus great concern on my cup. Rising from his chair, he leaned over and inserted his finger into my tea. With great care he lifted out the offending fly — and then exited from the room. The conversation at the table resumed. I was eager to secure Khamtul Rinpoche’s agreement on plans to secure the high-altitude wool he desired for the carpet production.

When Choegyal Rinpoche reentered the cottage he was beaming. “He is going to be all right,” he told me quietly. He explained how he had placed the fly on the leaf of a branch of a bush by the door, where his wings could dry. And the fly was still alive, because he began fanning his wings, and we cold confidently expect him to take flight soon…

That is what I remember of that afternoon — not the agreements we reached or plans we devised, but Choegyal’s report that the fly would live. And I recall, too, the laughter in my heart. I could not, truth to tell, share Choegyal’s dimensions of compassion, but the pleasure in his face revealed how much I was missing by not extending my self-concern to all beings, even to flies. Yet the very notion that it was possible gave me boundless delight.”

Eco-philosopher Joanna Macy, Ph.D.


Filed under Life Lessons

13 responses to “Just a Fly in My Tea

  1. Awrite….who posted dat?
    you know I love this stuff!

    Does this mean Zen koans will be accepted here?

  2. jammer5

    I’d a smashed the darn thing . . . after extracting it from the tea cup, of course. But, then again, if it was a lotus tea . . .

  3. fnord

    You and me sekan! đŸ˜‰

    I always find something I need in my life in parables. Strangely, I can read the same one on different days and find a different lesson. I think it depends on what I need at the moment.

    This one, today, said to me that each of us sees the same situation differently. And if we learn to see the other perspectives we will be on the way to being able to get along.

    What did it say to you?

  4. prairiepond

    Heheheh. I saw my girlfriend do something similar. A spider was crossing the floor, and I offered to stomp it, being a hunter, chicken chopper, fish cleaner, etc.

    “No” my vegetarian lover said. “I’ll get it”.

    So I thought she was being all chivalrous and going to protect me and all. And what does she do?

    Scoops it up with a piece of paper and carries it to the door, where she gently put it on the ground.

    Now, for a farmer like me, that was stunning. I was incredulous. But then I really got what a committed vegetarian she is.

    Not that I was going to EAT the damn spider, but still it boggled my mind. I had to think about all the gratuitous killing I do.

    Yet another reason why I love her….

  5. wicked


    Some believe that killing a spider is bad luck. After all, spiders eat other insects that might otherwise become even more…pesky in greater numbers.

    And, as sekan said, there’s the Zen thing. Flies, spiders, all insects, plants, trees are living things.


  6. frigginloon

    Hmm, it isn’t the fly I would be worried about, it is someone else’s finger in my tea !

  7. iggydonnelly

    This thread is zen enough, that I may not be off topic when I say that I was struck by this line:
    “… by ants in the sugar bin, spiders in the cupboard, and even scorpions in my shoes in the morning.”

    My mother was adopted and when she 19 years of age, and I was in gestation, she went to meet her biological mom in the Red River part of Texas. This may have had some unique environmental effects on me, for all I know.

    As my mom’s oldest kid, I had a role of being connected to my mom’s bio mom. I would ride the Texas Chief every summer to Texas.

    To be cool, in the summer, in that part of Texas, one had to sleep outside. I slept in a bed on my grandmother’s porch. But every morning, before I put my shoes on, I had to shake them out to make sure there were no scorpions there. Those invertebrates are some of the nastiest animals that God or Satan ever invented.

    Thanks for the memories.

  8. Loons comment reminded me of another zen story.
    A story about a zen master who was very rigorous and demanding in all things, especially the revered ‘tea ceremony’.
    Every small detail must be perfect to suit him, and he trained his students in this ardous task of how to present and serve the tea. One student had perfected this and took great pride in that fact.
    The master noticed the student’s pride after serving perfectly, so after all the tea was poured, the master rose and silently went from cup to cup and irreverantly stuck his finger in each cup!

  9. iggydonnelly

    Good story, SKB. When I was in college, a well-off student from Japan told me this story. His parents wanted him to be a Zen master, but he failed.

    My friend went to a Zen camp, and he sat among a group of students and the Zen master who stood before the class, held up a stick, and asked when he held up the branch:

    “Students, what is this?’

    A student answered, tentively, “Zen master, it is branch.”

    The Zen master said: “Sit down, you know nothing of Zen.”

    A second student said: “Zen master, it is part of a tree.”

    The Zen master said: “Sit down, you know nothing of Zen.’

    An assistant to the Zen master strode up and walked onto the stage, grabbed the stick and broke it over his knee.

    The Zen master said: “Ah, yes, you know Zen.”

    My friend was so confused after this experience that he decided he wanted to come to America to study business. I don’t think I could blame him…

  10. frigginloon

    I lived in Japan for a few years, very confusing for a Loon. But in keeping with this Zen thread ….
    So the Zen master steps up to the hot dog cart and says: “Make me hot dog with everything.”
    The vendor fixes a hot dog and hands it to the Zen master, who pays with a $20 bill.
    The vendor puts the bill in the cash drawer and closes the drawer.
    “Where’s my change?” asks the Zen master.
    The vendor responds: “Change must come from within.”

  11. jammer5

    Zen: What is the sound of s**t happening

  12. prairiepond

    Yeah Wicked, I get it. And spiders and bugs really dont bother me at all. Like Iggy, we had to watch out for scorpions in Austin, but only in west Austin. I guess they didnt cross I-35? WTF?

    I confess, I still kill all snakes on sight. I know bull snakes are beneficial, eat mice, keep the rattlers away, etc. And they are living beings.

    But I’m sorry, the only good snake is a dead snake, as far as I’m concerned. I know it’s irrational and not very Zen at all, but that’s the way it is on my farm!

    And the only thing I’ve ever seen my afore mentioned sweetie kill, was a snake. Given, the snake was wounded and perhaps she was putting it out of it’s misery, but I think even her Zen nature was put to the test by a close encounter with a pissed off snake!