Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Mindful Tea - Part 1 - A Traditional Chinese Experience

During the Summer of 2006, my partner and myself travelled to 23 locations around China. Many of the locations were mountains and temples steeped in historical Taoist and Buddhist significance.

One of the most memorable experiences took place on the Kōngtóng Mountains (崆峒山), one of the sacred mountains of Taoism, in Gansu Province.

Part of a painting Xuan Yuan Inquires of the Dao on Kōngtóng Mountains.
We were initially concerned at the lack of any other tourists there, and the rusting, squeaking old cable car that was necessary to take us up and into the park. Later this was to become a positive dimension, since we had the mountains mostly to ourselves, and we could soak up and enjoy their beauty uninterrupted.

A view from KongTongShan, Summer 2006.
Temple buildings in a forest on KongTongShan, Summer 2006.
Small temples were placed within forests and along cliff edges, often with well-tended flower and vegetable gardens. The feeling of retreat from village or city life was very tangible.

A cliff with a cave on KongTongShan, Summer 2006.

A temple garden on KongTongShan, Summer 2006.
Some temples were Taoist, while others were Buddhist, like this Chán (Chinese Zen) temple with the character for 'heart/mind' carved into the wall in front of it:

A Chán temple on KongTongShan, Summer 2006.
We arrived at a complex of small shrines and temples - a mixture of Buddhist and Taoist, where an old Taoist priest, a very old Buddhist nun, and a middle-aged Buddhist monk were sitting together at a table.

Steps up to a complex of small Buddhist and Taoist shrines on KongTongShan, Summer 2006.
The Buddhist monk was writing out what appeared to be a sutra using traditional Chinese calligraphy, while the old nun was mending something, and the Taoist priest was pottering around his shrine. For the first time, after having already been past many good luck pay & pray shrines during my travels, I decided to do the deed at this one, so I knelt down, prayed, gave my money, and afterwards felt that I wanted to spend some more time there. There was a strong feeling of natural peace and harmony.

The author praying at a Taoist shrine on KongTongShan, Summer 2006.
The old Taoist priest had a very comfortable, friendly character and we struck up an awkward (on our part) interaction with him, since our spoken Chinese was minimal.

An old Taoist priest on KongTongShan, Summer 2006.
He motioned for us to sit at the small table in the sunshine with his friends and then he disappeared, only to return with some pears and apples he had taken from his shrine. We felt a little uncomfortable eating offerings intended for his deities, and yet his general happy-go-lucky attitude made us feel the situation was appropriate. He then got an old plastic pharmaceuticals container, opened the lid, and poured out some green tea into two empty jam jars, and leaving a third of the tea in the white plastic container for himself, proceeded to add hot water to make cups of tea.

We sat there for more than two hours enjoying the fruits, tea, weather, fresh air, insects buzzing past, the peaceful view and surroundings, and the warm-hearted company. It remains one of my fondest memories of my time in China. Little did we know that on that day we shared in an ancient practice that apparently predates the use of tea in Northern China, the use of tea in village or city life in Southern China, and the use of tea as a beverage anywhere else in the world outside of China.

In the next parts of this Mindful Tea series, the history and cultural context of mindful tea use in China and throughout the world will be looked at.

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