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."


No comments:

Post a Comment