The meaning of the Tea-Way: boil water, whisk the tea and drink it with a sincere heart.
Sen no Rikyū
Within the Way of Tea (jap.茶道, chadō or sadō), the tea ceremony (jap. 茶の湯, chanoyu, lit. «warm water for the tea») is best known in the West. It is one of the many ways inspired by Zen Buddhism to reach inner peace and harmony with nature.
From the Way of Tea many traditional arts have evolved, like calligraphy (shodō), floral arranging (chabana), ink wash painting (sumi-e), the artistic and gracious preparation of dishes (kaiseki) and also incense ceremony (kodo) or garden art (niwa). Not to mention the considerable influence of Chado upon japanese pottery and architecture. Without doubt, Chado is at the heart of japanese culture.
A full-length formal tea ceremony involves a meal (chakaiseki) and two servings of tea (koicha and usucha) and lasts approximately four hours, during which the host engages his whole being in the creation of an occasion designed to bring aesthetic, intellectual, and physical enjoyment and peace of mind to the guests.
To achieve this, the tea host or hostess may spend decades mastering not only the measured procedures for serving tea in front of guests, but also learning to appreciate art, crafts, poetry, and calligraphy; learning to arrange flowers, cook, and care for a garden; and at the same time instilling in himself or herself grace, selflessness, and attentiveness to the needs of others.
Though all efforts of the host are directed towards the enjoyment of the participants, this is not to say that the Way of Tea is a self- indulgent pastime for guests. The ceremony is equally designed to humble participants by focusing attention both on the profound beauty of the simplest aspects of nature— such as light, the sound of water, and the glow of a charcoal fire (all emphasized in the rustic tea hut setting)—and on the creative force of the universe as manifested through human endeavor, for example in the crafting of beautiful objects.
Conversation in the tearoom is focused on these subjects. The guests will not engage in small talk or gossip, but limit their conversation to a discussion of the origin of utensils and praise for the beauty of natural manifestations.
The objective of a tea gathering is that of Zen Buddhism—to live in this moment—and the entire ritual is designed to focus the senses so that one is totally involved in the occasion and not distracted by mundane thoughts.
The students go to their teacher for two hours at a time, sharing their class with three or four others. Each takes turns preparing tea and playing the role of a guest. Then they go home and come again the following week to do the same, many for their whole lives.
In the process, the tea student learns not only how to make tea, but also how to make the perfect charcoal fire; how to look after utensils and prepare the powdered tea; how to appreciate art, poetry, pottery, lacquerware, wood craftsmanship, and gardens; and how to recognize all the wild flowers and in which season they bloom. They learn how to deport themselves in a tatami (reed mat) room and to always think of others first.
Each time there are slight variations in the routine, dictated by the utensils and the season, to guard against students becoming complacent in their practice. The student is reminded that the Way of Tea is not a course of study that has to be finished, but life itself. It is the process of learning that counts: the tiny accumulation of knowledge, the gradual fine-tuning of the sensibilities, and the small but satisfying improvements in the ability to cope gracefully with the little dramas of the everyday world. The power of the tea ritual lies in the unfurling of self-realization.
The four principles of Chanoyu
- Wa (和), harmony is the ultimate ideal for human beings. It is the positive interaction between the host and the guest in a tea gathering or among people in any situation in life. Tea is the sharing between the host and guest and is not a solitary pursuit. Harmony extends to nature, as well, and to tangibles such as tea utensils, everyday utensils and life itself. True harmony brings peace.
- Kei (敬), respect is the ability to understand and accept others, even those who we may be in disagreement with. When we are kind to others, and can humble ourselves, we can receive respect. In tea the host thinks of the guest and the guest of the host. It is this continued sharing and consideration that makes the tea gathering both memorable and successful. Ideally, all are of the same rank in the tea room. It is important to treat everything and everybody with the same respect. Treat utensils of various pedigree the same. The price of an object should not dictate how it is treated. Extend a pure heart and true respect can be realized.
- Sei (清), purity is the ability to treat oneself and others with a pure and open heart. This is really the essence of tea training. This purity is not one of absolute cleanliness but one of pure heart. With a pure heart, harmony and respect can be realized. When the tea garden is cleaned ones heart and soul are also being purified. When one wears clean clothes this purity also exists. A pure heart is not showy but natural. Sen Rikyu's ideal of purity was the natural look of the garden after it was cleaned and a few leaves from a tree fell onto the freshly manicured moss.
- Jaku (寂), tranquillity is the point in ones training and practice where a level of selflessness is reached. While on the one hand it is the ultimate goal, on the other it is the beginning once again. A true master reaches this highest level and then putting the ideals of harmony, respect and purity into practice, begins again with a fresh and enlightened heart. At this point the endless possibilities of life can be realized.
Calligraphy by Sōshitsu Sen XV