Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Mindful Tea - Part 6 - Formal Eastern Mindful Tea Methodology

"TEA IS A WORK OF ART and needs a master hand to bring out its noblest qualities." - The Book of Tea (2001), p11
"Mastery of the Way of Tea requires thorough understanding of the moral and spiritual principles underlying it, erudition in terms of its literary, historical, and artistic foundations, and the ability to pull all these together in one’s training and actualize them in one’s practice." The Japanese Way of Tea: From Its Origins in China to Sen Rikyu (1998), xvi.
"In the Nanporoku, Nambo Sokei quotes the great Tea master Rikyu as saying, [Chanoyu] is nothing more than lighting a fire, boiling water, and drinking tea. There should be nothing else. It is just because of this that the Buddha-Mind becomes manifest." - The One Taste of Truth: Zen and the Art of Drinking Tea (2013), p48.
"Master Rikyu said, “imagine your life without tea, and if it’s any different than it is now, you don’t understand tea.” That is a very deep level: one in which the tea life doesn’t even need tea anymore." - The Way of Tea: Reflections on a Life with Tea (2010), p149.


The Chinese Zen tea sage, Lù Yǔ (733–804), in the book that elevated him to the status of 'Tea God'; The Classic of Tea, gave very detailed instructions on his 'perfect' method of tea drinking. The Japanese Way of Tea: From Its Origins in China to Sen Rikyu (1998), gives an overview as follows, p25:
"First, he said, one must manufacture the tea. Next one must sharpen one’s powers of discrimination among tea types. Then, there were the problems of securing the correct implements, building the right kind of fire, and selecting the right water. Next one must roast the tea properly, grind it well, and brew it perfectly. Finally, one must drink the tea."
A rough guide to manufacturing and tea types were explored earlier in this blog series, so the formal mindful attitude underlying the coming together and drinking of tea in the Far East will be looked at below.

It was not the preparation and drinking of the tea itself, so much as all the conditions within and surrounding those acts, which gave the practice of 'Zen tea' it's deeply transcendent cultural importance, p.xxv:
"The Way of Tea has created a special culture that seeks to transcend the commonplace through the extremely common act of drinking tea. The practice of tea drinking, of course, is not limited to Japan. It can be found anywhere in the world." 
It is this common, very ordinary and necessary act of consuming something nourishing which gives it a relatively special status - a regular reminder of one's seamless relationship to and dependence upon one's environment, and an opportunity to stop and reflect, and in this common, mundane dimension lies a potential for refinement, p.xxvi:
"What we call chanoyu is nothing more than the occasion for the partaking of a bowl of tea. It is only the ordinary act of eating and drinking that can be seen in daily life. Nevertheless, in the requirement that we sweep away the impurities of this world, we can see the operation of an other-worldly concept that makes us conscious of having put aside the concerns of mundane life. One seeks to transcend the scorn that holds the ordinary to be vulgar."
In the Far East it seems it was Taoism that brought such a conceptual framework to bear on drinking tea. Since all is One in the Dao, then drinking tea is as 'good' an activity as any other, as stated in The One Taste of Truth: Zen and the Art of Drinking Tea (2013), p.xxvii:
"In Taoism, each and every phenomenon of life, no matter how large or small, is equally full of purport and importance. A rat’s liver is as significant as a mountain range, and the drinking of tea as paramount as governing the state. This is because, according to the early Taoist philosophers, Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, and Lieh Tzu, all phenomena have their place on the great flowing grid of the Tao, and each has its own particular virtue, or te, that cannot be replaced by another."
Tea-drinking just happens to lend itself to the pursuit realizing the Tao as part of a mindfulness practice, p.xxviii:
"Among the many Ways of developing this attention is the simple act of drinking a bowl of tea."
The way drinking tea mindfully brings people together, nourishes their bodies and spirit, and draws attention to the basic elements governing life no matter the time or place, means that it is potentially a  deep art form in harmony with the aims of a holistic philosophy like Taoism or Buddhism, as stated in The Way of Tea: Reflections on a Life with Tea (2010), p130:
"Drinking tea with Tao takes place in the heart, a cultivation of a stillness that can be there even in mirth, laughter, sociability as well as mountain-like serenity. Tea’s ability to both stimulate our awareness and calm us down at the same time makes it the ideal center for a natural and spontaneous meeting with the Tao."
 It was this 'Way' that Lù Yǔ pursued and popularized in Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) China, p65-66:
Lu Yu believed in the purification of every aspect of tea, and by concentrating on the refinement of the tea, the water, the fire, etc. one could also master oneself. Lu Yu writes extensively about the cultivation and harvesting of tea during his time. [...] Lu Yu also demanded that the whole tea ceremony be treated with reverence, as an art in the purest sense. He outlined all aspects of tea preparation from the baking and grinding of the leaves, the water preparation, and even the arrangement of the tea sets. He emphasized the higher ideals of enlightenment throughout the book, suggesting that the golden mean of Confucianism, the Buddhist quest for higher truth, and the ancient Taoist quest for harmony with Nature all found their perfect expression in the tea ceremony. He also suggested that tea drinkers should be virtuous above others, so that the tea ceremony itself was pure, perhaps knowing that as such it could result in a sharing of hearts — life-changing experiences as one comes to know the Tao. Like the other tea sages of his day, Lu Yu also spent much of his time sleeping in temples, winding up through mountain peaks and valleys, talking to farmers, and drinking tea beneath the moon. He suggested drinking three bowls, a reference to Taoist and Buddhist numerology, signifying that enlightenment was possible after these three draughts."
The social dimension to preparing and drinking tea mindfully is one of its strongest aspects - an opportunity to enjoy serving and caring for others, especially when the guests present are also interested in mindfulness practice, p152:
"Tea is a “ceremony” in the sense that it is a sacrament, a celebration of life as it is lived in the ordinary moment. It is a promotion of awareness to the level of Presence, a connection to the Tao, and also a means for people to associate with one another in Calm Joy. [...] ...the true tea ceremony is loose and free, like the Tao itself, adaptive to the needs of the situation. There need be no specific ritual at all. In fact, the best tea ceremonies follow no guidelines. There is no recipe for peace. The serenity of having a daily tea ceremony isn’t in the formalization; it isn’t a list of dos and don’ts or guidelines to the preparation of tea. The purest tea ceremony comes from within, following the intuition of the one brewing and the spirit of the present moment."
Another aspect of the practice attractive to the modern tea drinker is the simple, holistic dimension that manifests in the tea ceremony, p42:
"Perhaps a part of what Cha Tao represents... is ... a return to the simpler and more ecologically sound days before tea became a commodity, attracting the attention of businessmen and merchants interested only in profits."
In this way it can be a solitary pursuit, but the company of like-minded others is a welcome addition, p145:
"Cha Tao is about finding and creating a space within which we can find harmony with the Universe, the Tao. And perhaps beyond that it is a way for us to share some time and space with others, in our true natures, as One."
The Chinese Ming Dynasty (1368-1634) author of the book Tea Records, Zhang Yuan, wrote that the number of guests for a tea ceremony should ideally not exceed four people, p109:
"Tea should ideally be drunk with a small number of guests. Many guests lead to a noisy atmosphere, which diminishes the refined pleasure of tea drinking. Sipping tea alone can be called spiritual; two people is superb; three or four is entertaining; five or six is excessive; and seven or eight is charitable alms-giving."
The company of others should be valued and not taken for granted while tea is prepared and drunk - a unique transcendent experience each and every time, p172-173:
"....each tea session is a unique gathering of unique individuals that will never meet again. The Japanese tea masters expressed this in the words “one encounter, one chance (ichie go ichie).” According to Buddhist and Taoist philosophy, even if you and I share tea every day (and it is the same tea) each encounter will still be unique in every possible way, including the fact that you and I will be changed — completely different people, actually. This forces us to remain present, to focus on the matchless, irreplaceable chance that is here before us: to connect to each other, to ourselves and to the Tao."
This kind of presence has been referred to in Japan as "tea mind", even, as related by Japanese Zen tea connoisseur and Psychotherapist Tara Bennett-Goleman in her classic book Emotional Alchemy: How Your Mind Can Heal Your Heart (2003), p26:
"The phrase "tea mind" refers to Zen-like qualities of awareness inspired by the Japanese art of tea - harmony and simplicity, a mind alert but at rest, clear attention to the moment. During the tea ceremony attention focuses on the present..."
The late Japanese Soto Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki (1904-1971) defines this "tea mind" as the "big mind" of Zen Buddhism, with reference to the Japanese 'Tea God' Sen no Rikyū's (1522-1591) formal Zen tea practice, in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (1995), p45:
"...when we have the sword of big mind, there is no dualistic world. The only thing which exists is this spirit. This kind of imperturbable spirit was always present in Rikyu's tea ceremony. He never did anything in just a dualistic way; he was ready to die in each moment. In ceremony after ceremony he died, and he renewed himself. This is the spirit of the tea ceremony. This is how we bow."
Preparing and drinking tea mindfully outdoors can be an enriching experience, and yet due to nature of the necessary equipment and various resources involved, it is more convenient being within a residential dwelling.

Some traditional mindful tea practitioners reserve a room especially for tea drinking and nothing else. The history of such a room has deep links with the ancient Zen Buddhist practice hall - a sacred space holding priceless potential. The Japanese Way of Tea states, p.xxv-xxvi:
"...the ordinary act of drinking tea, when it becomes chanoyu, comes to share with Buddhism the concepts of meditation. It is because a room, no matter how simple or cramped it may seem, when it becomes a tea room, comes to be a hall for Buddhist contemplation and is, therefore, more majestic than the most sumptuous palace of gold or jade."
The Book of Tea (2001) outlines how monastic Zen traditions even influenced the adornment of Japanese tea rooms, p36:
"The simplicity and purism of the tea-room resulted from emulation of the Zen monastery. A Zen monastery differs from those of other Buddhist sects inasmuch as it is meant only to be a dwelling place for the monks. Its chapel is not a place of worship or pilgrimage, but a college room where the students congregate for discussion and the practice of meditation. The room is bare except for a central alcove in which, behind the altar, is a statue of Bodhi Dharma, the founder of the sect, or of Sakyamuni attended by Kashiapa and Ananda, the two earliest Zen patriarchs. On the altar, flowers and incense are offered up in the memory of the great contributions which these sages made to Zen. ...it was the ritual instituted by the Zen monks of successively drinking tea out of a bowl before the image of Bodhi Dharma, which laid the foundations of the tea-ceremony. We might add here that the altar of the Zen chapel was the prototype of the Tokonoma, — the place of honour in a Japanese room where paintings and flowers are placed for the edification of the guests."
In Japan, the construction and decoration of a Zen tea room became an art form in itself - with some reflection upon a Mahayana Buddhist story of a lay practitioner called Vimalakirti, a contemporary of the Buddha, whose dwelling space, although small, miraculously accommodated large numbers of people. The book Basic Buddhism: Exploring Buddhism and Zen (1997) explains the influence of Vimalakirti's story upon early Zen Buddhism in China as follows, p173-174:
"The abbot's dwelling place in the temple was called the fanh-zhang, which means "ten foot square room". This is derived from the Vimalakirti Sutra, which says that though Vimalakirti's room was only ten feet square, it could hold a vast assembly of enlightened beings. Because of this it was also common to call the abbot of the temple himself the fang-zhang."
This all began formally with the Chinese Zen master Bǎizhàng Huáihái (720–814), p211:
"Baizhang taught the Zen monks discipline and frugality. He institued the practice of the general call to labour, and taught that all monks high and low were to work on an equal footing. The elder of the community lived in a room ten feet square, like Vimalakirti's room. Zen temples were not to establish a shrine with an image of Buddha, but only a Dharma hall, to show that the Dharma went beyond verbal expressions and images. [...] All the Zen communities throughout China submitted to Baizhang's Pure Rules like grass bending down before the wind. The special practices of the Zen school began with Baizhang."
And so the Japanese tea hut followed in this tradition - a small humble building reached after passing through a 'zen garden' of sorts, as stated in The One Taste of Truth, p.xix:
"The traditional venue for the service of chanoyu, or what we call the Tea Ceremony, has often been compared to Vimalakirti’s small room. Often only about ten feet square, it can take the form of a special room in a house or restaurant, or of a detached hut best situated in a garden consisting of a cluster of trees, a path of irregular stepping-stones, and perhaps a moss-covered granite lantern. The path itself — and by extension, the entire garden — is called the roji (露地), or the “dewy ground,” but an alternative reading for the first character, “dew,” is “to manifest,” for it is on this path that we should exhibit the simplicity and poverty of spirit necessary to enter the true nature of the place. Once we have entered through a low door, perhaps the most remarkable thing about the tea room itself is that there is almost nothing inside. There are, of course, a charcoal hearth set into the straw-mat floor, a cast-iron kettle of boiling water over the hearth, a clay tea bowl for the tea, and a very few other implements — a small canister containing the tea, a thin bamboo scoop, a dipper to transfer the boiling water to the tea bowl, and an extra clay pot for water to rinse the tea bowl. Elemental materials — water, fire, earth, and wood — for the elemental practice of drinking tea. There is one place in this otherwise bare room, however, that captures our attention. This is the tokonoma, an alcove extending slightly out from a wall, which is said to have developed from a similar structure for altars, religious paintings, or flower arrangements in Buddhist temples of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. It is in the tea room tokonoma, with its subtle, indirect light, that the calligraphic scrolls containing the words of the patriarchs are displayed, setting the mood for our visit."
The scrolls hanging in the Japanese tea room, setting the cultural tone, are considered a key feature, as outlined in this excerpt from the Nanpōroku (Book 1:19) by Japanese 'Tea God' Sen no Rikyū, in The One Taste of Truth, p.xii:
"Among the implements of Tea, there is nothing as important as the scroll. For both the guest and the host, it is the scroll that has them grasp the Way of One Mind and absorb themselves in Tea. A scroll of calligraphy in India ink is the best. One holds the words of such calligraphic works in deep respect, and appreciates the essential virtue of the calligraphers, the men of the Way, and the Buddhist patriarchs. . . . A scroll on which the words of the Buddha or the patriarchs go well with the calligrapher’s art is the best. Nanporoku, "
Once the objects in the room are prepared, the room needs to be kept clean in the same way a Zen monastery is kept clean, which is a symbolic practice in itself. The Way of Tea has the following to say about this, p170:
"Long ago in Japan, one’s ability to host a tea gathering was in part judged by the cleanliness of the tearoom. Every corner was swept, the dust removed; even the garden was cleaned and sprayed with water, suggesting Nature’s own refreshing hand. This cleanliness is not about a tidying up of unwanted refuse. In fact, the spontaneity of all Zen art, as we mentioned above, means that the creator should be a part of the natural creation, rather than molding an inanimate medium to his or her will. The cleanliness, like all of the tea life, is within. The sweeping of the tearoom is the sweeping of the mind; the wiping of the dust like polishing the “mind mirror” — until one reaches the state of realization that there is no dust and nothing for it to cling to."
And, p175:
"The tea space is a reflection of our minds. If our space is a mess, so are our lives. So much can be read in the way a person organizes their home. If the tea space isn’t cleaned, neither are we. In meditation, one cannot leave a single speck of dust anywhere in the mind. Use the cleaning of the tea space as an expression of that same wisdom."
The purity and simplicity of one's external space, reflected in one's internal space, is carried through in everything one wears and does within the tea ceremony. Emotional Alchemy states, p26:
"In the tearoom no one wears a watch. You forget about time as you settle into the present moment. There's nothing to discuss except what pertains directly to the tea experience at hand. There is nowhere else to be but the present. You are just as present to the bare moment even when you are outside the tearoom, in the tea kitchen, when you prepare and clean up. No one sees you there, but you sustain a mindful awareness as though you were serving the bowl of tea to your guests in the tearoom."
Moving on to the preparation of the tea, the natural mindful premises of the methodology need to be seamlessly integrated into the manners and actions of person doing the brewing, so that the atmosphere is not a stuffy, formal or technical affair, as is stated in The One Taste of Truth, p65:
"If the man of Tea is too mindful of ritual and etiquette, he may ignore his guests and lose the very meaning of drinking tea together."
Rikyū had the following to say about observing etiquette, p53:
"In the Zencharoku, we read: The etiquette for preparing Zen Tea is not complicated; there are no hidden transmissions of authorizing documents or initiatory instructions. If you chase around after a Tea that attaches importance to rules of etiquette for the preparation of tea, or if you spend time in obtaining documents of authority and diplomas, you will not have attained the true Way of Zen Tea."
This necessary natural freedom beyond prescribed rules is in line with Taoist philosophy, which as discussed in a previous post, had a major influence on Zen practices. The necessity to explore this 'natural grace', or harmony with the Tao, is referred to in The Way of Tea as follows, p44:
"...if the one preparing the tea isn’t steeped in the Tao, the Way of Tea is but a performance that is just so many empty and echoing motions and gestures, rather than a sanctification of the essence of tea itself. To be with Tao, Cha must be a “sacrament” as Thoreau’s dictionary defines it, “an outward and visible expression of an inward and spiritual grace.”"
And, p152:
"...there can be no right or wrong way to make tea — the right way is dependent upon who, where, and when you are. You might say that the question is not which method of tea preparation is right, but which is right for you. The Way to make tea an expression of the greater energy of the universe is all in the relaxation of any of the impositions you usually put on some parts of your life; it is, in essence, a letting go of the mind — approaching the moment unaffected and pure, allowing it to flow through us. Rather than attempting to observe it from the outside, we try to participate and connect to the moment mindfully."
Such harmony with the Tao lies beyond mere emulation of masters or putting on airs, it depends on genuine mindful presence, p155:
"If it becomes a performance, it loses all its presence and power, like so many other sacraments hollowed out by years of repetition. Even those only interested as a hobbyist often fail to understand that the tea brewed by the master didn’t taste better because he knew some secret about water temperature or had better cups—it was better because he was present, connected to the Tao of the moment."
Bennett-Goleman referred to a personal experience of hers with a Japanese tea master which reflects this sentiment nicely, in Emotional Alchemy, p39:
"Every step in the tea procedure is precisely choreographed; there is a correct form for every detail, from how to fold the silk napkin to how to whisk the tea. Being a proper tea student, I expected all the formalities and ritual order of serving tea. But this old master was a study in the informal spirit of Zen that originally informed the tea ceremony. He followed the general form for serving tea, but improvised in his own way. At the tea school we had learned the precise and graceful ways to fold the silk napkin before using it to wipe the teaspoon. This master, however, didn't have the requisite silk napkin, so he just reached for a box of Kleenex and casually wiped off the teaspoon. At first I was taken aback; I thought, "But he forgot to . . ." Then, as I watched him, I noticed that he paid perfect attention to what he was doing, and broke the rules in the most natural way. It was an earthy contrast to the rarefied decorum of the tea school - a lesson in challenging preconceptions."
In amongst the actions, there is a signficant material dimension to the tea ceremony - after all, one is intending to make a good cup of tea. This means that good quality tea and water are essential - no amount of skill or insight can change this physical aspect of the proceedings. In Lù Yǔ's The Classic of Tea, he went into great detail about the choice of water, as stated in The Japanese Way of Tea, p23:
"As for the water used to brew the tea, he preferred that from the mountains but would accept river water, while he advised avoiding water from wells. Of mountain water, that rippling gently among the rocks made the finest tea, while turbulent, rushing water should not be used. He also ingenuously explained that it was best not to drink water that flowed from the mountains and sank into the ground without finding an outlet, for from the seventh through the ninth months there might be harmful poisons that have emanated from dragons there. If you must use such water, he said, first let it flow for a while and drain a good bit off before drawing from it. He also advised that when using river water it should be drawn far from human habitation and that one should use well water only after first drawing a large quantity of it. In this way, Lu Yu was quite strict and detailed in his advice: “Use mountain water in preference to river water and river water in preference to well water.” “Don’t use water from the mountains if it is too turbulent or if it is stagnant.” It was his ideal to use only the finest water if at all possible."
Moving on to boiling the water - this was traditionally done using a brazier upon which a pot would be placed, and Lù Yǔ wrote in his book that he had a specially-made brazier wrought with symbolic features, as explained in The Japanese Way of Tea, p18-19:
"The fourth section took up the twenty-four types of utensils needed for brewing tea. It is extremely difficult today to reproduce precisely the utensils used at that time. We can, nevertheless, perceive the underlying spiritual tone that runs through Lu Yu’s description of them. The discussion of the brazier for boiling the tea provides an illustrative example. He advised that the brazier be made of brass or iron and shaped like an ancient ding, a vessel with three legs. His own brazier had traditional script adorning each leg, with one signifying the trigrams for water (kan), wind (xun), and fire (li). These were in their appropriate positions with water above, the wind for the draught below, and the fire in the center. A second leg gave the date of casting as the year after the Tang armies defeated the Mongols, and the last indicated that one could avoid disease by keeping the five elements of traditional Chinese scientific thought in proper balance. Between the legs there were three windows and another at the bottom, for the draught and for removal of ashes. The trigrams signifying water, wind, and fire cast into the brazier, and the references to the harmonizing of the five elements and the avoiding of disease are noteworthy, for they demonstrate that Lu Yu’s brazier had been cast in conformity with the prevailing Chinese world view that was based on the traditional concept of changes, as in the Classic of Changes, the Yijing, for example. Naturally, water, wind, and fire were essential for the brewing of tea, and these inscriptions conveyed the sense that, precisely because they were so necessary, one must pray for them from the depths of the heart. For Lu Yu the five elements of Buddhist thought, earth, water, fire, wind, and sky (the void), plus the five Chinese elements of wood, fire, earth, metal, and water melded together into a unitary whole. He believed that drinking tea provided quotidian benefit, for in doing so one balanced the elements to make the body healthy and thereby avoided the myriad illnesses."
This elemental focus, by way of the symbols on Lù Yǔ's brazier, points to a root in natural forces - a recognition of the primal essences governing our lives and environment, The Japanese Way of Tea, p20:
"This adornment allows one to see clearly Lu Yu’s attitude as he prepared tea. He was not merely brewing a beverage for drinking, for in making the tea there was a spiritual dimension. As he boiled the water, he invoked the spirits that controlled the wind and those that controlled the fire and water. The tea itself became a kind of offering. This attitude demonstrates, therefore, that in terms of his underlying approach to tea, Lu Yu was determined to plumb to the heart of nature in each cup."
As to the addition of tea leaves to the water, Lù Yǔ sided with simplicity - a hallmark of the Zen approach, outlined in The Way of Tea as follows, p65-66:
"Lu Yu scorned the addition of other plants, flowers, or fruits to tea, stating that real tea connoisseurs must drink the leaves simply, to taste of their essence. During his lifetime, tea was processed into cakes, then ground into a powder form. Lu Yu refined the process and popularized it amongst the literati and royalty of his day..."
And, p158:
"...the simplicity of bowls and hot water is enough — the pure mountain water and the essence of the Leaf were sufficient for people as sensitive as they were."
As The Book of Tea relates, however, he did not strip the beverage down to the 'leaves only' simplicity it would later enjoy in the Song Dynasty (960-1279), since, p14:
"He eliminates all ingredients except salt."
The method of selecting good quality tea has already been covered in this blog series.

After mindfully steeping the leaves, then cups would be prepared for drinking, providing another opportunity to harmonize with the Tao, as stated in The Way of Tea, p157:
"...the art of tea can and does capture the essence of the Tao and express what could otherwise not be said, even in its more physical aspect as teaware."

The Japanese are fond of the calligraphic work known as the ensō circle, symbolizing absoluteness, totality, infinity, completeness, and oneness of the universe, and the circular shape of the teacup rim can present us with a version of this symbol. The One Taste of Truth states, p1:
"This is the circle signifying the freedom, impartiality, and equality of the Buddha, in which nothing is lacking. It is the symbol of absolute or true reality, and therefore of enlightenment. The enso is a popular subject in Zen painting, and perhaps, more than in the calligraphic art itself, is said to demonstrate the painter’s state of mind. It is usually executed with a single brushstroke, with the end of the brushstroke often trailing to meet the beginning. In this way, the enso indicates that the world is at once both perfect and imperfect (absolute and relative), or perfectly imperfect: it is the slightly misshapen tea bowl from which we drink tea, said to be the flavor of Zen."
This asymmetry present in traditional tea bowls of the Far East is taken as a necessary aspect of the world beyond human constructs - beauty in imperfections - just as a tree is perfect in it's chaotic, apparently random arrangement of branches and roots, p92:
"...the asymmetry in nature that is so highly valued in the construction of the tea room, and in the shapes of some of the most highly valued tea bowls. Such bowls remind us of the “flaws” in our own character, proof that we are perfectly imperfect, each of us having our own unique place in the universe."
And, p79:
"Discriminating between things only clutters our vision with values that we ourselves have created, and which are relative at best. Without placing value on the things, the tea master can drink tea from a chipped bowl, appreciating its asymmetry"
The choice of cup colour can affect the experience of mindful tea drinking also, something Lù Yǔ spoke about, as related in The Book of Tea, p14:
"The Celestial porcelain, as is well known, had its origin in an attempt to reproduce the exquisite shade of jade, resulting, in the Tang dynasty, in the blue glaze of the south, and the white glaze of the north. Luwuh considered the blue as the ideal colour for the tea-cup, as it lent additional greenness to the beverage, whereas the white made it look pinkish and distasteful."
The Japanese Way of Tea shares the following translated excerpt from Lù Yǔ's book The Classic of Tea, going into more detail on the preferred appearance of teaware, p21:
"Yue ware, having a greenish hue, enhances the true color of tea. That is yet a third way to describe Yuezhou’s superiority to Xingzhou in the way of tea bowls. In his poem on tea, Du Yu speaks of the équipage and of a moistly glossy bowl that originated in the East. The bowl was Yue ware. Hence for him Yuezhou made the best of bowls. The lip does not curl over, but the base is round and shallow and will hold fewer than eight ounces. Stoneware from both of the Yuezhous is of a blue-green shade. Being so it intensifies and emphasizes the color of the tea. If the tea is of a light red color, it will appear as red in the white bowls of Xingzhou. If the tea is red, it will look a rusty brown in Shouzhou bowls, they being of a yellow glaze. Because Hongzhou ware is brown, the tea will look black. All of those are unworthy of tea."
Before pouring the tea, the Zen tea ceremony requires that, in the presence of one's guests, one washes one's hands and face, as well as the tea cups. This has obvious hygeine benefits, and yet, as explained in The Way of Tea, just like cleaning the tea room, it also holds deep symbolic value, p171-172:
"The washing of the hands and face, the rinsing of all the teaware and tea is about washing off the “Dust of the World.” The idea is that the tea space is otherworldly, beyond the realm of the ordinary. In fact, the gate and dewy path (roji) are also designed to impart the feeling of traveling away from the ordinary world, perhaps hiking up to the abode of the ancient hermits: lost up among the cliff trails, wandering above the clouds. Ancient Taoist mendicants called the life of laypeople below the “World of Dust,” and leaving it behind “shaking off the Dust.”[...] "Washing off all the cups, pots, pitchers, and then rinsing the tea itself is further a practice of purifying the tea space of all ego. It is, in effect, saying to your guests that here we are free to be ourselves. We don’t need to carry on with any of the pretension or competition that is going on in our ordinary, business lives."
The tea is then poured and the guests take their cups to experience the fruit of all the preparation; something which speaks beyond words - simply and purely for itself. The One Taste of Truth presents Lù Yǔ's comments on this situation as follows, p.xxii:
"...as Lu Yu, the author of the Ch’a Ching, stated, there is nothing pretentious about it. Significantly, he added: 茶之蔵否存於口訣 The decision of whether tea is good or not resides in the mouth."
To fully experience the tea, as for wine tasting in Europe, a standard methodology emerged, as presented in The Way of Tea, p141:
"A complete experience of any tea must involve fragrance, liquor, taste, sensations in the mouth and throat (cha yun) and Cha Qi."
The conceptof Qi is often misrepresented - a relatively subtle dimension to the universe, but allegedly detectable within the practice of mindful tea drinking, albeit rather rarely these days, p141:
"...Cha Qi is often discussed less amongst tea connoisseurs who appreciate it because it is considered to be more subjective, or perhaps less understood."
In traditional Chinese calligraphy, the qi of a written sentence is the perceptible flow connecting the characters written one after another - the process linking the parts together as a natural, dynamic whole. It would be wise to consider this definition when considering any conception of the qi present when drinking tea mindfully - the process of the tea integrating itself into one's being, p138:
"...there is definitely a very real sense of Qi in tea. One might think of it as a sort of dialogue going on inside the body between the soul and the tea."
Our bodies are dynamic systems with energy constantly flowing through us, and the tea joins this process as it enters our body - one could say that the change in feeling of one's general dynamic internal makeup after drinking the tea allows one to identify the qi involved - a change in a dimension that was already there before the tea entered one's body, p139:
"It can’t be stressed enough that Qi is not a synonym for caffeine; it is not a heightened sense of hyperactivity, a warmth in the chest; it is not sweating or heat — all of these are either the effects of the Qi as it moves through us, characteristics of the tea itself, or perhaps merely the reactions of the body on a gross level."
This tasting and experiencing of the tea could traditionally have involved anything from between one to five cups depending on the quality of the leaves, as stated in The Japanese Way of Tea, p25:
"...it is noteworthy that Lu Yu wrote that one should take only three cups of tea when the brew is freshest and its flavor most outstanding. As many as five cups were permissible when the quality was somewhat less. That is, the rarer the flavor, the less one should drink in order to appreciate its quality."
Beyond these discrete stages of the tea preparation and drinking process, however, there lies a seamless, complete existence - the Tao - which is the true goal of the tea ceremony, as stated in The Way of Tea, p22:
"The hardest part of Cha Tao to describe, or achieve, is the Tao, not the Cha..."
It's only through mindfulness - genuine presence and interaction with the elements involved - that we can gain some experience of this Way; a process illustrated in Emotional Alchemy, p26:
"...as we savour the subtle details of the occasion: the taste of the tea, the aroma of the incense, the sound of the whisk as the host mixes the green tea powder into a frothy brew. We slow down to appreciate the gracefulness of the movements, the silent communication, the simplicity of the room, the beauty of each tea object. The mind grows empty, and each movement becomes more full. Nestled in timelessness, attention wraps itself intimately around each moment."
All these subtle aspects of making good tea demand such mindfulness from the practitioner, to the point that with time, the simple act of drinking tea - the room, the meeting with others, the nourishment, and the sharing in silence, can become a kind of map of mindfulness practice to be extended to one's whole life; dwelling in spaces, socializing, eating, charity, etc.

Alongside a formal mindfulness practice, the Way of Tea accompanies and encourages an unfolding of True Nature - a witnessing of an underlying familiarity between all things that breaks down the divisions one habitually places between objects. This is something referred to in The Way of Tea as follows, p109-110:
"There is a very real sense in which the mind of the one brewing tea has a tremendous impact on the quality of the flavor, aroma, and Qi of the tea liquor: a sense of sharing from the one pouring to the one drinking. It is almost as if she were pouring herself into the cup."


Saturday, 25 January 2014

TIME: The Mindful Revolution

TIME magazine online published an article with the date 3rd February 2014 in the main magazine section titled: The Mindful Revolution.

The article required subscription, but appeared to be the main article of the issue, as the title was printed on the cover as follows:

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Bloomberg: At Davos, Rising Stress Spurs Goldie Hawn Meditation Talk

On 21st January 2014 Bloomberg online published an article in their News section titled: At Davos, Rising Stress Spurs Goldie Hawn Meditation Talk.

Here are the key quotes:
"The “mindfulness” panel with Hawn, star of the 1975 hit film “Shampoo,” is among 25 sessions at the 2014 World Economic Forum discussing wellness, mental health, and the potentially pernicious effects of technology on the brain. That’s at least 50 percent more wellness-related presentations than in 2008.

The theme shows how anxiety over stress and its impact on business is mounting among the Davos set, who’ve spent the last five years dealing with crises from the collapse of Lehman Brothers to the Syrian civil war -- all connected 24/7 to their beeping, buzzing smartphones. Mental health-related illnesses may cost $16 trillion in lost output over the next 20 years, according to figures from Harvard University and the WEF.

“People are becoming aware of the huge economic impact” of illness, said Norbert Hueltenschmidt, a partner at consultancy Bain & Co. who is involved in seven Davos sessions on physical and mental health. “Healthy living is at the top of this year’s agenda and you see it throughout the program -- there’s never been a year like this one.”
For businesses, “there is accumulating evidence about how one’s psychological well-being effects one’s productivity,” said Laura Tyson, a Davos participant who headed the U.S. Council of Economic Advisers during the Clinton administration.

In the last two years Lloyds Banking Group Plc (LLOY) and Barclays Plc (BARC) have seen executives take extended leave or resign due to stress and exhaustion. And Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Credit Suisse Group AG, and Bank of America Corp. are among firms that have limited working hours for junior staffers in an effort to retain talent and cut stress. A Bank of America intern in London, Moritz Erhardt, died of an epileptic seizure in August after working day and night in the weeks beforehand, prompting the New York-based firm to review its practices."

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Mindful Tea - Part 5 - A History of Formal Eastern Mindful Tea

"The Sanskrit root of the word Buddha means “to wake up.” This is the goal of both Zen and Tea. This is emphasized in the Zencharoku, which states, “[In this way], preparing tea reflects perfectly the intent of Zen, and has become a Way of enlightening people of their fundamental selves.” - The One Taste of Truth: Zen and the Art of Drinking Tea (2013), p9.
"..bodhisattvas work hard but not so hard that they don't stop for tea."  - Red Pine, The Heart Sutra (2004), p54.

A Chinese legend states that tea was discovered by the 'Divine Farmer' ShénNóng who is said to have ruled in China more than 4000 years ago. The book The One Taste of Truth: Zen and the Art of Drinking Tea (2013) describes the story as follows, p.xix:
"According to ancient Chinese tradition, one pleasant afternoon in 2737 b.c.e., Shen Nung, the Divine Agriculturalist, sat down under a tree to rest. He had already invented agriculture and acupuncture; but his bullish nature, reflected in the two small horns that grew from his head, kept him working hard, and he was now diligently at work on a book of medical cures that would eventually include 365 substances, from plants, animals, and minerals. As he sat resting before a boiling pot of water, some dried leaves wafted up from twigs stoking the fire and landed in the pot. The water turned to a pleasant amber color, and Shen Nung, who preferred to test everything on himself, took a sip. Finding the slightly bitter drink to be both invigorating and refreshing, he meditatively finished off what he had drawn from the pot. This was the first cup of tea."
It is also alleged he went on to experiment with tea and discovered some medicinal potential to it:
"...he prescribed it as a remedy for dull eyesight, headaches, and fatigue."
Another legend suggests that the the first Patriarch of Zen, Bodhidharma, arriving in China shortly before the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), brought it with him from India, or even created the plant itself from his eyelids, p.xiv:
"Tea in China preceded the T’ang dynasty, and, according to Zen tradition, was brought from India by the first Zen patriarch, Bodhidharma (470–543), or grew from his eyelids when he cut them off and threw them to the ground after falling asleep during meditation. Going even further back is the Taoist tradition that Kuan Yin, the keeper of the Han Pass, offered Lao Tzu a cup of tea before requesting that he write the Tao Te Ching in the fifth century b.c.e."
Nevertheless, tea drinking was explicitly written about when Zen (or 'Chan') Buddhism was established in China in the early Tang dynasty, apparently due to the meeting of two popular Chinese schools of practical philosophy with Indian Buddhism, pxxix:
"By the time of the T’ang dynasty (618–907), ...two sets of values — Taoist and Confucian — had evolved into a single ethic of ritualizing many aspects of Chinese daily life. ...this ritualizing activity had begun in the court and among the nobility, and had later been absorbed by other classes of society. In the Zen monasteries, now inhabited by hundreds and even thousands of monks, this ritualization developed into extensive sets of rules that would instruct the society of monks on how to perform every action, from entering the various halls of the monasteries, to eating meals, to bathing, and even to using toilet facilities. Among these activities was the drinking of tea. Whether in imitation of the secular world, or as a form of entertainment for the nobles who were their sponsors, or just to celebrate certain national or local holidays, the ritualized serving of tea eventually became one of the most important social events within the Zen monasteries. This would become one of the best examples of the mixing of Indian spirituality and Chinese everyday practicality...."
The overlap between Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism was one of recognising a natural positive condition at work within the heart of every individual. The book The Way of Tea: Reflections on a Life with Tea (2010) refers to this overlap as follows, p109-110:
"...there was one fundamental principle that the Confucians and Taoists agreed upon: that the inner-nature of all things was to be trusted. Confucius called our inner virtue “ren,” which is often translated as “humanity” or “humanness.” However, when he was asked to define this quality, like Lao Tzu, he declined, arguing that it was something that needed to be felt, rather than explained. [...] So much of tea is about sharing our ren with others. Even to the ancient Taoists, tea often represented a means of communication. Since the Tao is by definition ineffable, they had to seek other ways of sharing it from friend to friend or master to student — a tradition that would be continued in Chan [Zen] Buddhism."
The Book of Tea (2001) illustrates how the Zen monastery setting provided the necessary practices for something like tea to be explored in the depth that it has been, p30-31:
"The organisation of the Zen monastery was very significant of this point of view. To every member, except the abbot, was assigned some special work in the caretaking of the monastery, and curiously enough, to the novices was committed the lighter duties, while to the most respected and advanced monks were given the more irksome and menial tasks. Such services formed a part of the Zen discipline and every least action must be done absolutely perfectly. Thus many a weighty discussion ensued while weeding the garden, paring a turnip, or serving tea. The whole ideal of Teaism is a result of this Zen conception of greatness in the smallest incidents of life. Taoism furnished the basis for æsthetic ideals, Zennism made them practical."
The rules about food in Buddhist monasteries gave tea a special role in the monks' lives, as stated in The Way of Tea, p52-53:
"The Buddhist precept that admonishes monks not to eat any food after twelve noon, quickly made evening tea an important aspect of the day, fostering awareness during the evening and nighttime meditations, and many of the early tea scholars, poets, and “immortals” were also fond of carrying their tea sets to remote regions to enjoy moonlit sessions."
Some of these people even aspired to become tea 'sages', p55:
"These early tea scholars were in some ways like the tea sages of long ago, in that they cared for every aspect of the tea ceremony. [...] They gathered their own waters and traveled to the mountains in search of wild or cultivated tea plants, slept in Taoist or Buddhist temples or simple huts, devoting their lives to tea. They then picked, baked, ground, and boiled the tea they drank by themselves, often fresh."
One such aspirant was so successful in his pursuit of the perfect cup of tea, that he became known as the 'Tea God' - Lù Yǔ, author of the The Classic of Tea. The One Taste of Truth refers to Lù Yǔ's practice relative to the appearance of a solid Zen school in China as follows, p.xiv:
"It can be said that true Chinese Ch’an (Zen) began with the Sixth Patriarch, Hui-neng (638–713), just prior to the writing of the Classic on Tea (Ch’a Ching, 茶経) by the eighth-century scholar-official Lu Yu. Tea drinking soon became popular among Zen monks, in part because of tea’s stimulant properties, and in part due to the simplicity, mindfulness, and aesthetic beauty of the ceremonial gatherings that developed around it."
The earliest example of a tea-drinking scene as the background for a Ch’an dialogue goes as follows, from The Bodhidharma Anthology: The earliest records of zen, (Jeffrey L. Broughton, 1999), p113:
"One day when the Master was drinking tea, thirty secretaries and imperial functionaries of the military government happened to come by for an audience. Having taken their seats, they inquired: "The Master has a great liking for tea.” The Master said: "It is so.” He then recited from the Verses on Tea:
"Luminous plants grow in dark valleys,
Fit to be a catalyst for entering the path.
Mountain dwellers pick the leaves,
And the exquisite flavor flows into cups.
In the quietude it settles false thoughts,
And the enlightened mind illuminates the platform of understanding.
Without expenditure of human energy and strength,
Immediately the Dharma gate swings open.
[...] ...the disciples being treated to tea are part of the military establishment, a situation that parallels the later relationship between the renowned master Lin-chi I-hsiian and a powerful military figure in the Northeast. The recorded-sayings genre is beginning the process of coming out of the cloister and meeting a variety o f laypeople of the secular world.”
This deep dimension to tea meant that the practice of drinking tea was integrated into standard monastery life, to the point that teachers would refer to drinking tea when teaching students, as in the case of the Chinese Zen master Jiāshān Shànhuì 夾山善會, referred to in Red Pine's The Heart Sutra (2004), p166:
"Chia-shan (805-881), aka Shan-hui.... One of the most prominent Zen masters of the late T'ang dynasty, famous for his use of tea as a means of instruction."
The book Zen's Chinese Heritage - The masters and their teachings (2000) adds the following, p187:
"Jiashan Shanhui was the first Zen master known to closely link Zen with drinking tea. He described their intimacy as “Zen, tea, one taste.”"
In the book The Compass of Zen (2012), it seems the late Korean Zen teacher Seung Sahn (1927-2004) attributed very similar stories to the Zen Buddhist master Zhàozhōu Cōngshěn (778-897) living at the same time as Jiāshān Shànhuì, p312-313:
"A monk once asked Joju, “What is Buddha?”
Joju replied, “Go drink tea!”
“But Zen Master, I have already drunk tea.”
Joju said, “If you have already drunk tea, then why do you come here with such questions?” The monk was stuck and could not answer. Perhaps he hadn’t correctly drunk his tea, yah? When you correctly drink tea you attain something,"
The Zen monks applied their mindful practice to everything they did as part of pursuing what they considered a more 'correct life', and so drinking tea was included in this approach. Drinking tea was a kind of 'time out' activity that did not spend any significant amount of resources, and which refreshed the mind as well as purified the body; a kind of simplified microcosm of that which takes place during formal seated mindfulness meditation, p385:
"What is Dharma?” “Go drink tea!” This answer is very, very deep. It contains correct situation, correct relationship, and correct function. If you correctly drink tea, you attain your correct situation with regard to tea. You attain your correct relationship to it and therefore your correct function. That is correct life."
Going to drink tea was considered a normal 'next step' necessary mindful activity like washing one's bowl after eating breakfast - living the dharma through action beyond conceptual manipulation, as outlined in this story involving a new Zen student asking his teacher about Zen, p385:
"Someone asked Zen Master Joju, “Master, I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me.”
Joju said, “Have you had breakfast?”
“Yes, I have.”
“Then go wash your bowls.” Piitchhuu! The monk got enlightenment. He attained his own everyday life job, his own mind."
Other similar anecdotes exist from the same period, such as this one in Zen's Chinese Heritage, p163:
"A monk asked, “When the great matter of life and death arrives, then what?”
Dasui said, “If there’s tea, drink tea. If there’s food, eat food.”
The monk said, “Who receives this support?”
Dasui said, “Just pick up your bowl.”"
And, p214:
"Once, Qinshan, Yantou, and Xuefeng were sitting together and Dongshan brought some tea. Qinshan closed his eyes.
Dongshan said, “Where have you gone?”
Qinshan said, “I’ve entered samadhi.”
Dongshan said, “Samadhi has no gate, so how have you entered it?”"
Also, p240:
"A monk asked, “The ancients said that if you meet Bodhidharma on the road, speak to him without words. I’d like to know how one speaks this way?”
Xuefeng said, “Drink some tea.”"
And another, p264:
"A monk asked, “What is the most profound teaching you offer?”
Cuiyan called to his attendant, “Come and boil some tea!”"
Many people seem to think that it is the tea itself which is profound in these stories, but as the following recorded mysterious interaction illustrates, the tea is just part of the ancient Zen monastery practice, p379:
"One day, three monks arrived at the monastery.
Yangqi said to them, “Three people traveling together must have one wisdom.”
Yangqi then picked up a cushion and said, “Practitioner, what do you call this?”
The monk said, “A cushion.”
Yangqi said, “Really?”
The monk said, “Yes.”
Yangqi then again asked, “What do you call it?”
The monk again said, “A cushion.”
Yangqi then looked to the left and right and said, “This practitioner possesses the eye.”
Yangqi then said to the second monk, “If you want to travel a thousand miles, you must start with the first step. What is the first phrase?”
The monk said, “Arriving here at the master’s place, how dare I extend my hand?”
Yangqi then used his hand to draw a circle in the air.
The monk said, “Complete.”
Yangqi then extended both of his hands.
When the monk started to speak, Yangqi said, “Complete.”
Yangqi then asked the third monk, “From where have you recently departed?”
The monk said, “From Nanyuan.”
Yangqi said, “Today, you monks have discovered Yangqi. Please sit and have some tea.”"
The late Japanese Soto Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki (1904-1971) relates a similar story in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (1995), p54-55:
"There were two good friends, Chokei and Hofuku. They were talking about the Bodhisattva's way, and Chokei said, "Even if the arhat (an enlightened one) were to have evil desires, still the Tathagata (Buddha) does not have two kinds of words. I say that the Tathagata has words, but no dualistic words." Hofuku said, "Even though you say so, your comment is not perfect." Chokei asked, "What is your understanding of the Tathagata's words?" Hofuku said, "We have had enough discussion, so let's have a cup of tea!" Hofuku did not give his friend an answer, because it is impossible to give a verbal interpretation of our way. Nevertheless, as a part of their practice these two good friends discussed the Bodhisattva's way, even though they did not expect to find a new interpretation. So Hofuku answered, "Our discussion is over. Let's have a cup of tea!"
This practice of mindful 'Zen' tea also existed in Japan, and remains to this day, famously so, and yet the date of its first appearance in Japan is not so clear, as stated in The One Taste of Truth, pxxix-xxxiii:
"No one knows when tea actually arrived in Japan. Certainly, the people who began to migrate to the Japanese archipelago through the Korean peninsula in the third century b.c.e. had been exposed to Chinese culture, and just as certainly, Chinese culture would become more and more important to the Japanese as the centuries progressed. But it is not recorded if they knew about or drank tea during the time when the country was being established. Possibly, if they were aware of the plant or the drink that could be made from it, they simply ignored it; for one of the early Chinese chronicles concerning Japan tells us only that they were a happy people, fond of liquor. By the sixth century c.e., however, the Japanese were becoming extremely interested in Chinese culture, and how they might acquire and apply it to their own country. And along with Confucianism, Buddhism, poetry, architecture, city planning, and a host of other imports came tea. Tea was, indeed, closely associated with Chinese poetry and the atmosphere that encouraged creativity in the written arts. The drinking of tea at leisure, it was felt, put one into an ethereal world beyond everyday reality, one appropriate to the nobility and Buddhist monks and scholars"
However, mindful tea drinking of course stepped up a notch in Japan with the arrival of Lù Yǔ's The Classic of Tea, as stated in The Japanese Way of Tea: From Its Origins in China to Sen Rikyu (1998), p.xxvi:
"For both Chinese and Japanese the source of it all was Lu Yu, the author of The Classic of Tea, whom both esteemed as their “tea ancestor.” Several Chinese works clearly demonstrate how highly his countrymen venerated him."
The Way of Tea gives the following biography about the 'Tea God', p63-64:
"Lu Yu was the first scholar to ever write a detailed treatise on tea. His Cha Ching (茶經), The Classics of Tea, is the definitive book on the cultivation, processing, and preparation of tea in the ancient world. It also teaches us how to find the Universal Tao in the particular. Like so many sages before him, he recognized the power tea had to speak to the soul, and spent his life trying to convey its teachings in words. [...] Scholars estimate Lu Yu’s birth to around 730 ce, in Jinling County (today, Hubei Province). At that time, China was in another of its many periods of war and chaos, and for whatever reason Lu Yu was abandoned as a baby. Like the mythical “Hero with a Thousand Faces,” Lu Yu was abandoned in a basket by the river. He was found and adopted by the abbot of the famous Dragon Cloud Monastery and raised as a novice. At the monastery, he was first exposed to tea, and we can only envision that it affected him in the same ways it has affected us."
The authenticity of this story is a little unclear, however, as stated in The Japanese Way of Tea, p7:
"The writers were unable to verify his antecedents."
Much more is known about what Lù Yǔ actually wrote and how it was disseminated, however, via a Tang Dynasty historical record called 'Fengshi Wenjianji (封氏闻见记)', written by a writer named Feng Yan, p10:
"According to the Fengshi Wenjianji, Lu Yu wrote a treatise on tea in which he explained its efficacy as a beverage, how to roast and prepare it, the twenty-four tools needed to cultivate it, and how to store it. It went on to say that Chang Boxiong supplemented the work and disseminated it widely, thereby establishing in basic outline the way of tea so that there was no one among the most illustrious in the land who did not partake of the beverage. In other words, this work gives credit to Lu Yu and Chang Boxiong for the widespread popularity of tea."
There is an ending to Lù Yǔ's story that suggests he transcended his intellectual life through this mindful tea practice, and became a recluse until he died. This is referred to in The Way of Tea, p67:
"It is said that in his old age, Lu Yu returned to the monastery were he grew up to share tea with the abbot that had raised him. He had come full circle, realizing that the peace and quiet of the mountain were actually more in tune with the Way of Tea — as opposed to the scholarly, intellectual method he had pursued for most of his life. His trip through the carnival of senses that is the World had brought him back to the peace that his life had begun in. Lu Yu then retired to Xiao Qi (now Wushing county, Zhejiang) to spend the rest of his days in quiet seclusion, drinking tea and meditating on his growing beard. It is assumed that he left behind a whole body of other work besides The Classics of Tea, including an often-mentioned book on the best sources of water in China, though sadly all the other ink that flowed through his brush was later lost."
Lù Yǔ's mindful tea practice was apparently carried to Japan not so long after he had established it in China, via a man called Kukai. The One Taste of Truth states the following on this, p.xxx-xxxi:
"...by 729, we find that the emperor Shomu served tea to one hundred priests on the second day of a ceremonial reading of the Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra. Tea was not now just something to drink. Tea was culture, and close to religion. The person who seems to have truly established tea in Japan, however, was Kukai, the Buddhist priest who went to study Shingon Buddhism in China in 804. Kukai was a man of remarkable, and even astonishing, abilities. Of extraordinary intellect, he was a religious theorist, writer, calligrapher, artist, poet, engineer, and, apparently, a very quick study. After only two years of religious training in the Chinese capital of Ch’ang-an, where he no doubt sipped tea both ceremonially and into the late hours of the night as he pored over his esoteric books, he was pronounced his teacher’s successor and sent back to Japan to promulgate the faith. When Kukai returned to Japan in 806, along with a great many sutras, commentaries, statues, mandalas, and other Buddhist implements, he brought tea and possibly tea seeds. This drink he recommended for its many qualities to the emperor Saga, who was apparently quite taken by the beverage. In a poem to Kukai, reflecting both the elegance of tea drinking and his sorrow at the monk’s return to his mountain temple, Saga wrote:
Long years have passed; yours in the Way, mine in worldly life.
I am fortunate to speak with you this autumn,
Drinking fragrant tea until late.
Painful though the parting may be, I bow to you as I see you off to the distant clouds."
Kukai united the rather Daoist idea that all is equally worthy of veneration in the universe (or Dao), through his particular faith in Shingon Buddhism and the idea that pursuing any fine art can help one to arrive at something deep and transcendent, p.xxxi-xxxii:
It was Kukai’s faith and his aesthetic application of that faith, however, that would have a deep and lasting effect on Japanese culture in general, and on what would develop as chanoyu, or the Tea Ceremony, some eight centuries later. It is a major tenet of Shingon Buddhism that the great cosmic Buddha, Mahavairocana, is not apart from worldly phenomena, but rather is immanent in all things and beings, transient as they may be. The Dainichi-kyo, one of the most important sutras of this sect, states that “all things, just as they are, dwell in Truth,” and a commentary on the sutra informs us that “wherever the Buddha appears cannot be elsewhere than in this place.” Thus, although we are not aware of it, Mahavairocana not only reveals himself through the sense objects, emotions, and thoughts of the phenomenal world, but actually preaches the Dharma or Truth through them. Kukai took this a step further. In understanding that art is both form and the quintessential expression of form, he explained that each creation of art is itself a Buddha manifesting the Way. In other words, art and religion are of one nature. “Suchness transcends forms,” he said, “but without depending on forms, it cannot be realized.” And: Thus the secrets of the sutras and commentaries can be depicted in art, and the essential truths of the esoteric teaching are all set forth therein. . . . Art is what reveals to us the state of perfection...."
Thus the art of drinking tea accompanied the development of other Japanese mindfully-honed fine arts such as swordplay and calligraphy, p.xxxii-xxxiii:
"It must be added that for Kukai, art is not limited to painting, but also includes sculpture, both poetry and prose, “gestures and acts,” and the very implements used in cultural and religious activities. This concept, accepted intuitively and enthusiastically by the Japanese, would have a far-reaching effect on arts as disparate as calligraphy, Noh drama, Tea Ceremony, and even swordsmanship. For if meditation and the entrance to enlightenment can be based on the use of tangible objects and formalized actions, these objects and actions themselves, however secularized, are not only expressions of the Buddha, but, within the proper frame of mind, the very embodiments of transcendent Reality. Art is thus religion, and religion, art; and the very smallest gesture of the hand in performing that art becomes a mudra unifying the individual with the universe. The Heian period culture, of which Kukai was a part, was learning the aesthetic value of drinking a bowl of tea. At the same time, it was learning that the rituals and objects involved, and even the tea itself, could be of a transcendent religious significance. In this way, the essence of Kukai’s most famous phrase, 即身成仏 Becoming a Buddha in this very existence could be attained through an activity both ordinary and artistic, both spiritually purifying and mundane."
In China, after the Tang Dynasty was replaced by the Song Dynasty (960-1279), mindful tea drinking was further formalized and developed in the Zen monasteries, p.xxix:
"...the rules for this activity, laid out in detail in the Sung dynasty (960–1279) Ch’an yuan ch’ing kuei (禅苑清規), or Purity Rules for the Zen Monastery, were extensive and precise."
The Way of Tea provides the following details on these developments, p56:
"In the Song Dynasty (960-1279 ce), tea art would truly prosper, growing with all the verve and creativity of a passion backed by the wealth of the ruling class. Very soon, a whole array of new teaware developed around the art of making powdered tea, expanding beyond the already full tea set of the Tang Dynasty, and each was sophisticated as emperors came and went; and many of these innovations, like the earlier ones, happened in the monastery."
It was during this time that the ceremonial drinking of tea was carried from China to Japan, apparently by a Japanese Buddhist priest called Eisai, who would be the founder of the Rinzai school of Zen. The One Taste of Truth speaks of him thus, p.xv:
"True ceremonial tea drinking began with Eisai (1141–1215), who came back from China with the precepts of Zen Buddhism, tea seeds and possibly bushes, and the customs and uses of tea he had learned in Chinese Zen temples. Eisai enthusiastically advocated drinking tea and wrote a short treatise, Drinking Tea and Maintaining Health (Kissa yojoki, 喫茶養生記), which popularized tea drinking all the more."
During his time in China, Eisai felt Zen Buddhism and tea drinking were the two most valuable practices he could take back to Japan, p.xxxiii:
"...he remained in China until 1191, when he returned once again to Japan, this time with two acquisitions he felt would help save the nation: Zen and tea. In China, Eisai had found that the Zen (Chinese, Ch’an) sect was the only viable form of Buddhism taken seriously there, and that, indeed, it seemed to play a strong and supportive role in Sung dynasty culture. He studied the precepts and meditational style of the sect enthusiastically, reading through the Ch’an yuan ch’ing kuei, drinking tea both at temple ceremonies and on his own, and looking into the medicinal effects of the beverage."
From Eisai, these practices spread outwards into Japanese society, p.xxxiv:
"Upon his return to Japan, Eisai eventually made his way to Kamakura and introduced both Zen and tea to the new warrior government. Back in Kyoto, he shared the tea seeds he had brought back with him with a number of priests, one of whom, Myoe, established the country’s first tea garden at the Shingon Kozanji Temple. Eisai was strongly convinced that a rigorous adherence to the precepts and meditation of Zen would strengthen Japan’s moral and spiritual condition, and that drinking tea would ameliorate the people’s health. To that effect, he wrote two treatises: the Kozen gokoku-ron, or The Promotion of Zen and the Protection of the Nation, explaining the benefits of establishing this new sect; and the Kissa yojoki, Drinking Tea and Maintaining Health. The latter short book, written entirely in classical Chinese, is for the most part a practical explanation of why tea drinking promotes health. His approach is a mixture of Confucian philosophy, traditional Chinese medicine, and Shingon symbolism, but his main emphasis is this: the heart is the primary organ of the body, and tea is the heart’s medicine. Everyone should drink tea for a more healthy life. Eisai was taken seriously, and within a matter of decades Zen would become a major religious and cultural force in Japan, while tea drinking would become ubiquitous."
This popularity began with a focus on green tea's alleged medicinal properties - something Eisai wrote extensively about, p.xxxiv-xxxv:
"...although he did not write about the tea ceremonies he would have joined in China, and likely shared with his colleagues back home, as it is Eisai who is credited as popularizing tea in Japan, it is worth including a short excerpt from [his book] the Kissa yojoki here. "Tea is the medicine for nourishing the health of the saints, and has the wondrous ability of extending the years of your life. Growing in the mountains and valleys, it contains the very spirit of the earth. People who pick [and drink] this herb will be longlived. . . Long ago, men [were as healthy as] heavenly beings, but nowadays they have gradually become sickly and weak, as though their internal organs were rotting away. This being so, acupuncture and moxa only damage them, and hot springs have no effect. . . . It is wise to maintain your life and to protect the years given to you by Heaven; and the wellspring of maintaining your life is in nourishing your health. The technique of maintaining your health is in keeping the internal organs tranquil. Now among the internal organs, the heart is king, and the wondrous technique of building a strong heart is in drinking tea. On the other hand, if the heart is weak, the other internal organs will all be infirm. Now when you drink tea, your heart will be strong, and you will have no illnesses at all. And you should know this: when the heart is infirm, your complexion will be poor, and the inevitable will be on its way. . . . Only in China do they drink a lot of tea, and therefore the people have no heart disease and are long-lived. In our country, many people are thin and sickly, and this is because they don’t drink tea. When your spirits are low, you should drink tea without fail. This will regulate your heart and rid you of myriad illnesses. When the heart is well, though the other organs be ill, you will experience little pain. Eisai is said to have cured the regent Hojo Sanetomo’s bad cold with bowls of tea. This was noted by others in the warrior government, and eventually in the population at large, and tea soon became the national drink. The various ways of drinking it would be determined in the decades and centuries ahead."
It was Esai's trips to China that inspired the would-be-founder of another famous Japanese school of Zen and big fan of tea drinking, Dogen, after an encounter between the two, to leave his homeland in search of authentic Buddhist teachings, pxxxvi-xl:
"A year before he passed away, Eisai was visited by a young monk, also looking for the correct path to Buddhism, and dissatisfied with current conditions on Mount Hiei and other monastic communities. In 1223, this monk, Dogen (1200–1253), followed Eisai’s example and sailed to China. When he returned four years later, he brought back a new sect of Zen — Soto in contrast to Eisai’s Rinzai...[...] As tea would have been a regular part of monastic life at Dogen’s temple northwest of the capital of Kamakura, it can be imagined that the formal and ritualized serving of the beverage there would have been just as regulated — if not more, due to his convert’s zeal — as in the Zen temples in China. [...] ...with time, these practices were taken up by society at large — at first among the warrior class, later among the merchants and even farmers — and while the rituals of the ceremonies might be followed closely, such solemnity would soon get quite short shrift."
Unfortunately the more serene dimensions to tea drinking in medieval Japan were intruded upon by the warrior classes interested in Zen practices, pxxxvi-xl:
"Zen Buddhism and the warrior-class government emerged nearly concomitantly in Japan, and the warriors took up Zen with some enthusiasm. Although a study of the sutras is a part of Zen, it eschews scholasticism as a way to enlightenment, relies heavily on the immediacy and uniqueness of the moment, and encourages an intuition informed by meditation. Zen also defines enlightenment as the “great matter of life and death,” and this was a vocabulary and concept with which the warrior class could clearly identify. With Zen came the drinking of tea and its dignified and appealing rituals. Warriors, however, were not monks, and within a hundred years, this parvenu class of men had added gambling, contests to determine the quality of the tea, and inordinate luxuriousness to the venues of their ceremonies, making them occasions for entertainment rather than solemn rituals. According to the records of the times, leopard skins covered the chairs and benches, rare objects from both China and Japan filled the rooms, and expensive prizes were awarded to the winners of the taste competitions. Moreover, tea cultivation had spread around the country from the late thirteenth century, making tea — and all of its social features — available to everyone from warrior to farmer. Only the wretchedly poor were referred to as mizu-nomi, or “water-drinkers.” Eventually, then, such “entertainment” was not contained within the warrior class, but spread to the Buddhist and Shinto priests, the aristocrats, and the newly emerging wealthy merchants."
At the same time, in China, the Song Dyanasty was being replaced by the Yuan Dynasty (~1271-1368) as a result of the invading Mongols, and much of the cultural heights of the Song became down-trodden and stagnant. The Japanese successfully repelled the Mongols, and so managed to preserve and develop upon much of the mindful tea culture they had carried back from Song Dynasty China, as stated by the Japanese author of The Book of Tea, p19:
"Our successful resistance of the Mongol invasion in 1281 had enabled us to carry on the Sung movement so disastrously cut off in China itself through the nomadic inroad."
This meant that the crude parties continued as well as the Zen Buddhist practices, to the point that the two groups of tea enthusiasts eventually mixed to produce what is recognized as the Japanese Zen tea ceremony still in existence today. The One Taste of Truth explains as follows, p.xxxvi-xl:
"By the fifteenth century, these events had gotten so out of hand that tea contests and parties were officially but ineffectually prohibited. It is at this point that the “Tea Ceremony” begins to emerge. Interestingly, the transformation toward the modern Tea Ceremony would come from within the warrior class itself, albeit from its highest echelons. The shoguns and the most aristocratic of the warlords were not without aesthetic ambitions, but were aware enough to understand that they would need assistants of substantial abilities in the selection, care, and display of the Chinese artworks with which they wished to impress their colleagues. Such assistants, who specialized in art and good taste, were called doboshu (同友衆), or “companions.” They may or may not have been Buddhist monks, but they did shave their heads, and took names ending in -ami, suggesting connections with Amida Buddha."
One such doboshu introduced a specific room for tea drinking, pxxxvi-xl:
"Noami (1397–1471) was a doboshu under the patronage of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa, a man not only concerned with the administration of the state but also addicted to tea. It was this Noami who developed the practice of using a smaller room in the style of a Zen monastery reading room where Yoshimasa’s art treasures might be tastefully displayed as his guests drank tea according to a slightly altered monastic ritual. Originally, Chinese scroll paintings, most often of Buddhist themes, were displayed on the walls, but eventually the tokonoma, or alcove, was developed so that just one scroll might be hung, accompanied by an incense censer or a vase containing an artistic arrangement of flowers. This interesting venue, soon to be imitated by other warrior tea enthusiasts, set a new paradigm: it at once avoided the crass contest-type tea affairs that had become so common, and at the same time afforded the ostentation of expensive tea wares and other art pieces on a much more focused scale. Added to this was the hint of the austerity and cultural values of the Zen temple"
Noami's student, Murata Jukō (1423–1502), further built on his master's practices, p.xv:
"The Way of Tea (Sado, 茶道) was further developed during the early fifteenth century by a Zen adherent, Murata Juko, as an activity for aristocrats, warriors, and even the common people. It was Juko who is credited with coining the phrase “Zen and tea are of one taste” (禅茶一味)."
Noami's room became the thatched hut in which the Japanese tea ceremony is conducted today, pxxxvi-xl:
"Murata Juko (1423–1502), originally from the ancient capital of Nara, set the new standard for the Tea Ceremony by building himself a small thatched hut for his own meditative tea drinking. Troubled by his own slack attitude toward his priestly superiors and the fact that meditation simply put him to sleep, Juko had spoken to a doctor to see what could be done for him. The doctor, apparently quite familiar with Eisai’s Kissa yojoki, prescribed tea. Inspired by the Chinese poets’ accounts of mountain hermitages, and perhaps by Tao Yuan-ming’s lines:
I built a hut right in the city,
But there is no noise of horses and carts.
You ask me how this can be so,
But when the mind is far away, the land follows of itself.
Juko then cut miscanthus and constructed his own hut (his father had been both a priest and a master carpenter)."
The final touches to his tea hut were some sparse yet meaningful decor, pxxxvi-xl:
"On a suggestion from his fellow Zen student and teacher Ikkyu, he then hung a scroll of calligraphy in the alcove of this hut, so that its words might lead him to enlightenment. To be sure, he used rare and artistic Chinese tea implements and utensils, but considered that ostentation and attachment in general, and of such goods in particular, were impediments to the simplicity and mental calm that Zen study required. To Juko, the proper drinking of tea would be no different than sitting in meditation, and after some time he concluded that “Zen and Tea have the same taste” (禅茶一味). This concept informs chanoyu to this very day, and, beginning with Juko, this tea/meditation would be guided by the scroll in the alcove. If his hut was cramped, he did not mind. For, just as when the Buddha’s disciple Shariputra was confronted with the question of where all the bodhisattvas and sravakas would sit in Vimilakirti’s small room, he responded, “We came here to hear the Dharma, not because we wanted a place to sit.” Juko somehow found room in the simple and unpretentious hut for the study of Zen/Tea as well. Other men would further develop the aesthetics of this ideal, and would write more emphatically on the singularity of tea and Zen, but it was Juko who moved us into the tranquility and unobtrusiveness of the grass hut, and sat us down with the scroll, in the company of the patriarchs. In chanoyu, this is where we still are today."
The Book of Tea elaborates on the result of all this as follows, p19:
"Tea with us became more than an idealisation of the form of drinking; it is a religion of the art of life. The beverage grew to be an excuse for the worship of purity and refinement, a sacred function at which the host and guest joined to produce for that occasion the utmost beatitude of the mundane. The tea-room was an oasis in the dreary waste of existence where weary travellers could meet to drink from the common spring of art-appreciation."
This appreciation culminated, in the 16th century, in Japanese society awarding the title of 'Tea God' to a Japanese person, just as the Chinese had done with their very own Lù Yǔ more than 700 years before, and that person was Sen no Rikyū (1522-1591). The Japanese Way of Tea states, p.vii:
"There is no more revered personage in the history of chanoyu than Sen Rikyu (1522–1591). Perfecter of wabicha (chanoyu based on the wabi aesthetic), national tea master and arbiter of taste, personal adviser to the hegemon Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536–1598), Rikyu is a towering figure not only in the cultural records of the late sixteenth century, when he lived, but also in those of chanoyu through all the centuries that have followed. In the Edo period (1600–1867), Rikyu was deified as the god of tea, and from at least Tokugawa times all tea schools have traced their lineages, either in genealogical fact or in spirit, back to him."
One cannot help but wonder how truly free from social ritual and norms the Japanese Tea God Rikyū had been, however, since his death was so in line with the extremely strict social rules of those times, p.ix:
"Hideyoshi ordered Rikyu to commit suicide by disembowelment in 1591."
Nevertheless, this art of mindfully appreciating tea in humble surroundings continues on today in Japan in the spirit of Japanese Zen, having grown from and influenced so many other mindful arts, p.xii:
"Few subjects in Japanese cultural history compare in importance with chanoyu. Taking its basic form during the medieval age, from the fourteenth through sixteenth centuries, chanoyu has drawn upon and, at the same time, has influenced many spheres of culture, art, and religion, including architecture, interior room decoration, ceramics, painting, calligraphy, flower arrangement, and Buddhism, especially Zen. [...]  Today chanoyu is, among other things, a repository of traditional Japanese taste and etiquette, a medium for intimate, formalized social intercourse, and a continuing source of spiritual inspiration."
Spreading beyond the confines of monasteries and aristocratic halls, Japanese mindful tea remains available to everyone. The One Taste of Truth states, p.xv:
"While tea is used to ward off sleepiness during Zen meditation, chanoyu (茶の湯), what is called in English the Tea Ceremony, incorporates the mindfulness, quiet, and simplicity required for Zen study and meditation. Perhaps most important to both is the awareness that each and every moment is unique, and is to be valued and savored. Thus, adherents of Zen and adherents of Tea traveled similar, often intersecting Ways. It is important to note that both disciplines were studied not just by specialists, but by members of the warrior class, aristocrats, townspeople, and farmers alike."
The next part of this series will look into the the details of the formal mindful tea methodology practiced in the Far East over the centuries.

TIME Ideas: We Need To Take Meditation More Seriously As Medicine

On 17th January 2014, TIME Ideas posted an article online in the Heath & Science>Psychology section titled: We Need To Take Meditation More Seriously As Medicine.

Here are some key quotes:
"...a new review study, published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine, suggests that the ancient Eastern practice of mindful meditation can offer real help for patients with depression, anxiety, and pain. And researchers are increasingly demonstrating the measurable influence of meditation on the brain, proving that mindfulness programs can make us feel happier, have greater emotional resilience and take fewer sick days.
...what’s most striking about the JAMA findings is that people weren’t meditating for very long. Many in the underlying studies meditated for as little as 2.5 hours per week for two months. As Dr. Goyal points out, because meditation is a skill that’s learned over time, it’s unlikely the respondents reached a high level of expertise. So according to him, it’s plausible to think that people would experience even greater benefits with more rigorous training and practice."

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

The Guardian - Julie Myerson: how mindfulness based cognitive therapy changed my life

The Guardian posted an online article on 11 January 2014 in the Life & style > Health & wellbeing section titled: Julie Myerson: how mindfulness based cognitive therapy changed my life.

Here are some key quotes:
"...got me a place on a six-week, NHS-funded MBCT course at the Maudsley hospital in south London. And – there is no less cliched way of saying it – that course, and the meditation practice I've done every single day since, changed my life.
I drove off shopping one morning and, only yards down the road, was overwhelmed with panic. My husband had to come and rescue me. I tried to shake it off but it happened again and again – once, scarily, causing a minor prang on a country road...
I was also beginning to remember why I'd resisted the idea of meditation for so many years: it was difficult, dull and uncomfortable. What was the point?

Quite how this changed – but change it did, and profoundly so – is hard to say. Somehow, somewhere, across those six weeks, something happened inside me – in my head? my body? my soul? – and I began to understand. Sitting still became a boon and a comfort, even a luxury, rather than a threat or an irritation. And the present moment, right here, right now, began to seem a very comfortable (and comforting) place to be, bereft of dread and full of the possibility of peace and calm.
I could see that they were simply that: thoughts. I did not have to judge them, act on them or indeed do anything very much about them. Sometimes they were interesting, sometimes less so, but they were no more than "events" that arose in the mind and then dispersed again. They did not, as I'd previously imagined, have the power to undo me. Only someone who has suffered from chronic, debilitating anxiety will understand quite how exhilarating this realisation felt. I had made peace with the workings of my mind. I was no longer afraid of myself.

It didn't feel as if I had done much to make this happen, apart from turning up and being prepared to sit there. But that, of course, was everything. Still, it felt oddly effortless, as if something in my head had been subtly rerouted. And it turned out that there was far more space in there than I'd ever realised. Like finding a whole new room in your home that you never knew existed (imagine the excitement), I could wander around my mind and luxuriate in the boundless space.
As our teachers memorably told us, there is no such thing as a "bad" meditation, apart from the one you don't do. Mindfulness is not about trying to change things, but accepting them as they are, non-judgmentally, with as much kindness and gentleness as possible."