the Way of Tea and the Japanese Tea Ceremony
Chado – the way of tea is a tradition that represents Japan in its deepest spiritual and cultural values. Tea and Zen are one – or so it is said in the poster for this presentation. But then, what is Zen? I do not have an answer for that. So, while I was entertaining these kind of thoughts, the question that came to me was: : “why and what am I doing here tonight?”The answer that I have accepted for you is this: Chado is a way of life. For me it is a way of life. A way of life that embraces an aesthetic exercise, a Zen discipline, a unique way of social interaction, a never ending road to perfection through the in depth understanding of the beauty of imperfection.
Out of the number of people present here tonight, some will go back home saying “how silly, I wasted my time” – these people have been now liberated from a doubt that was lingering in their mind – they came here tonight to clarify their doubt and they did.
Some will go home thinking that it was a good add on to their general culture, perhaps a good subject of conversation and nothing more than that. They did not loose anything coming as well, they rather gained some humble insight.Some will perhaps say, “interesting, this is maybe what I was looking for, I should give it a try”. They will do that and some of them will quit quickly not feeling comfortable with the degree of dedication required.
But there may be one person that will come to practice not knowing exactly why, and not asking too many questions why, and then practice and practice and slowly start to understand the values and secret meanings of this tradition. That person may one day carry forward in the future the tradition of tea and there is not enough that I could do to help that person pursue Chado.2 Brief History
Tea came in Japan from China around the 8th century.Lu-Yu is respected as the Sage of Tea for his contribution to Chinese tea culture. He is best known for his monumental book The Classics of Tea the first definitive work on cultivating, making and drinking tea. It is at this time that we start to have records about growing and using this plant.Tea in Japan is the result of the work and curiosity of traveling monks. In 1191, the famous Zen priest Eisai (1141 – 1215) brought back tea seeds to Kyoto. The oldest tea specialty book in Japan – Kissa Yojoki – How to stay healthy by drinking tea – was written by EisaiBuddhism is at the basis of the practice, in particular the evolved form specific for Japan – Zen. Eisai was also instrumental in introducing tea consumption to the warrior class.
The evolution of the tea drinking, which across the time became perhaps the most established cultural tradition in Japan, followed the predictable path of any phenomena that resists distruction by time and transforms itself in time adapting itself to the forever changing present.
In Japan, across over 1000 years: the game between progressive and conservative forces specific to each historical period shaped the way tea drinking was approached by people.
Once inside Japan it became the object of medicinal interest, maintained a role in the practice of Buddhist faith and Zen practice, found itself at the center of entertainment during extravagant tea contests, it defined the exquisite taste of aristocracy, the court practices, the art collectors and least but not last, supported the development of the samurai culture. Tea contests were part of greater parties intended for entertainment in which participants displayed skills in games, renga and waka poetry, No theater etc.
To understand what tea is today one has to have an idea of what it meant for Japan to be an island, to vote for isolation, to be in the proximity of major Asian cultures, such as China and Korea to have such an abrupt change from a feudal culture to a modern culture and so on.
Tea was shaped by this game between opposing forces one of them in action and regressing while developing its potential, the other in its full potential form progressing toward action
Around 14th century, the need to move away from tea drinking as an extravagant, luxurious and entertainment oriented way became evident. The Japanese soul was looking for something else. Zen did not shake hands well with the earthly pleasures and human vanity.
Murata Shuko (1423 – 1502), a Zen priest during Muromachi period started to introduce the importance of spirit and mind in the tea ceremony. Shukō saw the tea ceremony as something more than just an entertainment or medicine and temple ceremony; his idea was that preparing and drinking tea allows for the expression of Zen values, as enlightenment must be found in everyday activities. Shuko brought in ideas that later will define the concepts of wabi and sabi aesthetics, concepts that are hard to discuss about in such a brief presentation but which are defining the way of tea.
Takeno Jōō (1502 – 1555) was part of a rich family of merchants in Sakai and not foreign to the arts of poetry and the practice of Zen. Takeno became one of the greatest tea masters of his time. He continued the road opened by Shuko exploring the meaning of wabi and sabi and trying to bring the tea closer to people like him, merchants and business people as well as simple people that could not afford the luxury life style of the rich. One of the students that he had was Sen Rikyu.
Sen Rikyu (1522 – 1591) was himself born in Sakai in a rich merchant family. Sen Rikyu is considered the character with the most profound influence in the development of Chanoyu, the way of tea. He is the founder of the tea the way it is practiced today.Rikyu served as tea advisor to several emperors. In his later years he felt the need to enhance the practice of tea in its pure form of austerity and simplicity. He moved away from the Shōin style – the style of extravagance – following the line defined by Shuko and Jōō – and defined the style of Sōan – the “the grass hermitage”, the practice of the simple, the respect for imperfect. He created a new form of tea ceremony using very simple instruments and surroundings. This and his other beliefs and teachings came to be known as sōan-cha (the grass-thatched hermitage style of chanoyu), or more generally, wabi-cha.Sen Rikyu ended up committing suicide at the request of emperor Hideoshi, once a mentor and a friend. The events surrounding his suicide remain, perhaps for good, a mystery, and a large number of legends try to define the true cause of his suicide. Just before committing suicide Rikyu was pardoned by the emperor Hideoshi. Yet, he did not hesitate to continue the final gesture. Was it a free will act? And if so, why?All styles of serving tea existing at the time did not survived beyond Rikyu He transformed them all according to his wabi taste. All contemporary styles of tea service can be directly or indirectly traced to Sen Rikyu.This "line" of chanoyu that his descendants and followers carried on was recognized as the Senke-ryū or the School of the house of Sen.
There are three iemoto (sōke), or "head houses" of the Japanese Way of Tea, that are directly descended from Rikyū: the Omotesenke, Urasenke, and Mushakōjisenke, all three of which are dedicated to passing forward the teachings of their mutual family founder, Rikyū.
I belong to the Urasenke school which today is lead by the current ō-iemoto Daisosho SEN Genshitsu the 16th ō-iemoto in the lineage from Sen Rikyu. After obtaining my tea name under the guidance of Sensei Duane Feasel, Sensei Yoshihiro Terazono and Sensei Hisashi Yamada I continued to practice under the guidance of Sensei Nogiri Michiko who is responsible for Urasenke Tea Practice Groups in Europe.
3 The philosophy and aesthetics of Chado
An enormous body of published material is available for the study of the philosophy and aesthetics of tea.The roots of the philosophical concepts are of course anchored in Buddhism and Shintoism. What that means in the end, is an inclination for beauty of imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. That may be however understood only by someone who experienced the perfect, the permanent and the complete and comes to terms with the vanity of his or her experience.
The concepts of wabi and sabi evolved from the application of Buddhist and Shintoist norms. Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, simplicity, modesty, intimacy, purity, harmony, respect and the close connection to the natural processes and the seasonal aspects of nature.
The four principles that ended up defining the aesthetics of Chanoyu are:3.1 HarmonyHarmony comes from the focused efforts of both host and guest to create an atmosphere of peace. This combined effort produces a mutual attention that is as natural as the rhythm of nature. The host interacts with the guest, both thinking of one another as if their roles were reversed. In a tea gathering, the host chooses a theme that sets the tone for the occasion, often one inspired by a season or time of day. A theme reflected in the calligraphy, flowers, and utensils. It is the harmony of these elements that encourages contemplation, humility, and moderation, and heightens a sense of the passing moment.3.2 RespectRespect refines the exchanges that take place between host and guest and among the guests. It encourages everyone to look within and discover the inherent bond between themselves and their environment - their dependence on one another and the earth upon which they live. Thus, the etiquette and consideration of host and guest are not merely forms but essential in daily life.3.3 PurityPurity begins with the physical surroundings of the tea gathering. The care given the garden, the tearoom and utensils before, during, and after a gathering, establishes an essential order that centers the host and guests. Host and guests perform gestures of purity to cleanse the heart and mind off the “dust of the world.” The aesthetic ideals of the Way of Tea, which emphasize the use of simple, natural materials and the avoidance of ostentation, is another aspect of purity.3.4 TranquillityTranquility is a deep sense of peace that occurs when purity, respect, and harmony are present.
3.5. The elements of a ChajiThe final pragmatic objective of practicing Chado – the way of tea – is the acquiring the mastership of organizing a successful Chaji – a tea gathering. This is not an easy task. It requires dedication and never ending practice as one teaches the body how ‘to be’ and the mind to experience ‘mu’ – nothingness. Why is this needed? We will see.Chaji or any other form of tea gathering is a Ceremony. It has very well defined rules. Sen Rikyu was the first to completely define what is known as ‘kiku sadō’ – literally ‘standard etiquette’, the complex and precise set of rules required during the Ceremony.Chaji is defined by people who perform a service. In doing so they use objects and utensils. The Ceremony takes place is a special space – the ‘chashitsu’ or the tea house, surrounded by a garden.3.5.1 The ServiceThe service, including the preparation of the garden, the tea house, the utensils, the purifications of all things, the preparation and serving of food and drink, the preparation of the charcoal andfire for the tea, the preparation and service of tea, the cleaning of utensils afterwards, is built on three elements: position, action, orderPositionThe position, shape, material, role of all the elements from the tea container or the tea spoon to the size of the room and locations for any single object is well defined based on clear Ying-Yangprinciples and rigorously measured to ensure efficiency and naturalness. Yet it allows for adaptation. A student starts by measuring each time an object is placed yet, in the end, one can ascertain the precise position naturally and intuitively, thanks to a sharp, refined sense of place.ActionI will cite here some of the words of Sen Soshitsu XV. “Beauty of action, of movement is an expression of the heart. It must express, naturalness, consideration, a sense of restrain and lack of exaggeration.Rikyu thought, following the precepts of Zen, to use movement as a basis for heightening theideal of directing all inward and penetrating to the heart of the void. Movement as a way to enter the realm of non-self. When ‘mu’, nothingness lives within the man of tea and infuses his performance, tea is no mere formality but it is the height of the freedom. A true beauty of the movement inspires the guests allowing them to experience the wabi taste without the burden of words.OrderJust as there is order to the days and seasons so there is order in all actions in chashitsu. When the body plays on the rhythm of the order while the mind is in profound meditation and the spirit of consideration prevails then the ballet can start. There will be an artless modulation of movement just as if one were following the rhythm of a silent verse.3.5.2 The UtensilsThe number of utensils as the number of procedures to make tea seems endless. Chinese (karamono) and local (wamono) utensils are used and the sentiment is different. They are related to the seasonal aspects and have to be harmoniously selected to reflect the spirit of the Chaji. An appropriate selection enchants the soul of the guests and contributes to the success of the Chaji.
3.5.3 The SpaceChashitsu – the tea house is a place of seclusion. It has a strong mythical symbolism. One has to have the privilege to arrive there. He must leave behind the mundane, pass through the outer and the inner gardens (roji) crossing the gate (chumon) into another space and time. He has to purify his spirit by symbolically washing his hands at the water basin (tsukubai). The guest will humble himself entering the tea room through a small door. Once inside into a space in which the relations Ying Yang are everywhere, where water, fire, wood, metal, earth meet together into a well calculated relation,the guest will acknowledge the message in of the scroll in the alcove. The Ceremony can begin.
3.6 The mythological dimensionIn analyzing the mythological dimension of Chado one may perhaps find a possible answer to the question as to why are people outside Japan interested in the practice of the Tea Ceremony.Mythology preserves and transmits essential cultural truths by creating a realm which speaks to our present situ¬ation through timeless images and symbols.Each person is structured, or “coded”, to live best in his particular transaction with the Great Tao; he has his private Tao. As each of us opens himself to the operation of his secret code, he progressively functions more harmoni¬ously.... The same inner coding or wisdom that heals a cut or mends a broken bone can heal the psychic wounds that each of us suffers.It is not impossible that the ritualized movements, pre¬scribed order of procedures, codified manners, patterned speech, physical set¬ting, utensils, and symbolic nature of Tea place the participant in proximity to mythic archetypes and in so doing, the guest relives the ancient and sacred jour¬ney of the hero.
A Chaji or Chakai is a mythological journey. The guest - the mythological hero - proceeds to the threshold of adventure.... Beyond the threshold, then, the hero journeys through a world of unfamiliar yet strangely intimate forces some of which give magical aid (helpers).... When he arrives at the nadir of the mythological round, he undergoes a sup¬reme ordeal and gains his reward... intrinsically it is an expansion of con¬sciousness and therewith of being (il¬lumination, transfiguration, freedom). The final work is that of the return.... At the return threshold the transcendental powers must remain behind; the hero re-¬emerges from the kingdom of dead (re¬turn, resurrection). The boon that he brings restores the world (elixir).
The time spent in a Chaji which is a special time, the purifications using pure water, the obstacles passing through the garden to arrive at the Tea room, many time called a temple of numbers, of Ying Yang relations and sacred mandalas, the food for body and soul, the preparation of the sacred fire, the ritual of tea preparation as a ritual of initiation, the balance of the opposites and the return, all these elements support well the mythological potential manifested in the seclusion of a Tea House and the participation in a Tea Ceremony.
4 Green Tea – an APPENDIX for those who really just want to drink some tea and feel good about it.
Feb 20, 2010
a brief introduction to Chado