Sunday, September 27, 2015
"To the latter day Chinese, tea is a delicious beverage, but not an ideal...It is in the Japanese tea ceremony that we see the culmination of tea-ideals."
Obviously, Okakura Kakuzo, you are proud of your Japanese culture in The Book of Tea. In this second chapter, you go into a brief history of the leaf during the various dynasties of China. You favor the tea culture of the Sung:
"The enthusiasm of the Sung people for tea knew no bounds. Epicures vied with each other in discovering new varieties, and regular tournaments were held to decide their superiority...tea began to be not a poetical pastime, but one of the methods of self-realisation."
Tea tournaments bringing about self-realization? Really, Kakuzo? I'm not seeing how competition fosters positive reflection on your inner being. In my experience, competition can bring out the worst in people. Though seeing your bad side can be illuminating at times...
You mention the emperors of dynasties a lot, and I can't help but wonder about the luxuries of the upper courts in ancient China and how the pastimes of the wealthy and powerful few were only available on the backbreaking work of the peasants who surely did not spend hours in elaborate tea contests. Then you go on to describe the "barbarian" invasion of the Mongols and the Manchus and the subsequent loss of tea as something more than just a drink in China, with only Japan continuing the Sung tradition. But tea is just a drink, Kakuzo. And this is coming from someone who loves tea.
"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."
Ah, I see how the specialness is in the sharing of the tea. When are we the host? When are we the guest? In our lives, when do we give? When do we receive? Many religious traditions emphasize that it is in the giving that we receive. In my role of teacher, this is always true. I learn so much from my students. Perhaps that is what you mean, Kakuzo. Every interaction, even something as simple as making tea, can be elevated to beauty of two people dancing in serving and being served, all at once.
"For life is an expression, our unconscious actions the constant betrayal of our innermost thought."
Move with intention.
Saturday, September 19, 2015
(That delicious brew was from Main Course in New Paltz, NY.)
Last year when I began this blog, I wrote about life and how it relates to tea (most of the time.) This year I'll be flipping things around and exploring how tea relates to life (I think there is a difference. Maybe.) I call upon the expert Okakura Kakuzo, the author of The Book Of Tea published in 1906. I have had this book on my shelf for a few years, purchasing it at The Boston Museum Of Fine Arts after enjoying their Asian exhibit (much of it collected by Okakura while he was curator at the beginning of the last century.)
Join me as I journey through the words of a man who tried to show how Eastern and Western lives needed to understand each other to survive in an increasingly interconnected world. He used a simple beverage to convey this: tea.
"Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence."
Sordid facts? Kinda harsh there, Kakuzo. Though I'm reminded of what my father told me very intensely during an especially hard year for him, "Sometimes the only way to get through the day is knowing you first take vitamins, then brush your teeth, and finally wash your face." I was a teenager and couldn't relate, but I tucked away the advice for future use. I guess Kakuzo's quote is a similar meaning: focus on the simple to cope with crap.
"[Teaism is] a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life."
Yes, even on bad days I can force myself to get ready for bed, or make myself a cup of tea. Tea is possible, doable, accomplishable. I boiled water, yes! Added some leaves, points to me! Sipping it, win! And to be honest, there are days when my cup is the highlight.
"...when we consider how small after all the cup of human enjoyment is, how soon overflowed with tears, how easily drained to the dregs in our quenchless thirst for infinity, we shall not blame ourselves for making so much of the tea-cup."
Ah, I don't blame you, Kakuzo. We all want so much. I have a "quenchless thirst for infinity" too. I dream, plan, try, fail, and somehow have new dreams. Sometimes after a failure, I swear I will stop trying. But then the ideas come, the excitement, the passion, and I start again. Maybe with an eye squinted this time around, perhaps with a dollop of cynicism, but hopefully enjoying the process more than the outcome. If making tea into a cult is what gets you through it all- that's pretty good.
I wish I could sit with you Kakuzo. Ask you why life is impossible. If life were possible, obvious, easy, would it be worth anything in the end? I dunno. Life is really tough. Appreciating tea is not. And I make a decent cup.
"Meanwhile, let us have a sip of tea. The afternoon glow is brightening the bamboos, the fountains are bubbling with delight, the soughing of the pines is heard in our kettle. Let us dream of evanescence, and linger in the beautiful foolishness of things."
Move with intention.
Tuesday, September 8, 2015
You have a guest... If they ask you for a cup of tea, there is a desire in mind. Inquire, and oblige with your supplies on hand. Never apologize for not having exactly what they want. Simply offer an alternative; it is the best you can do. They will accept or decline; that is their choice. If they answer, "anything," decide what you will have and share. Often they will be happy to share a sip and company with you- as that was truly their only desire.
If you want to offer a cup of tea, first ask yourself why: the polite thing to do? you want one yourself and feel obligated to share? your guest looks thirsty? conversation has stalled? The desired outcome of presenting tea to your guest will flavor the tea itself.
To invite someone specifically for tea is the liquid embodiment of intention. It may be to share your excitement over a new find, a setting for a much-necessary conversation, or a gift of service. Be aware of your environment, type of tea, and serving ware, which will create the perfect blend for your desired outcome.
It can be difficult to sort through our intentions and purposes throughout our day. Tea is a simple act which gives a perfect opportunity to practice mindfulness. We often serve thoughtlessly, assuming the fact that something is given means it's automatically "good." But gifts can be tainted with negative desires, both our own and the receiver. We can only control ourselves. To serve in obligation is a bitter brew. But a cup shared in compassion is more precious then...well, all the tea in China.
Move with intention.