In this post I answer several questions about the beginnings of my journey as a tea master. Tea changed my life for the better. Discovering Japanese culture as a young adolescent in Belgium completely changed the course of my life. I could have never imagined the way things turned out for me.
First what I feel is important to indicate is that the term ‘tea ceremony’ is a mistranslation. The word ‘ceremony’ only partially captures what the practice really is and calls for misunderstandings about the concept. It is a ritual but one that is not only used for ceremonial purposes. It essentially is a rite of hospitality, and that is why we prefer to refer to it as ‘the rite of tea’.
People tend to ask me what attracts me in tea ceremony. Isn't it restricting to be controlled by set movements and ways of doing things? Doesn't that limit your freedom to be creative?
Sōsen employs the daisu grand-sideboard in a large reception room for the preparation of a bowl of tea. The service presented in this video is the basic winter service of thick tea.
Regardless of the tradition or style in which a service of tea is conducted, one single such service comprises of several stages the host observes to provide his guests with a bowl of tea and an enjoyable occasion. Each individual stage has a specific function in the unfolding of the service. I will lay out the basic structure of the steps of a basic service of Japanese tea ceremony according to the praxis of the Enshū school.
It is thick tea, koicha, [濃茶] that is “tea proper”. Proper thick tea is mid-way between a liquid and a paste. It can only be blended [練(ね)る], using a bamboo whisk cut into tines that are fewer, and consequently thicker and stronger. Even for a single guest’s serving, the volume of powder required is such that, upon contact with that powder, the temperature of heated water immediately drops.
Schools of Japanese tea ceremony are not institutions in the way we envision a contemporary school as a high school or university. There are teachers, but they are not bound by a curriculum. Nor do students gather at a schoolhouse where teachers teach classes on various aspects of the tradition.
When we consider the space in which we commonly conduct a service of tea, we become aware of the wide variety of layouts and sizes that these chambers or chashitsu come in. Each tea practitioner that lived and contributed to the development of the rite of tea throughout history, constructed and employed tea hermitages or tea chambers that suited his/her personal aesthetic and functional preferences.
The rite of tea enriches our lives in myriad ways. It teaches us proper social conducts. Aligns us with essential moral values. And aids us with finding spiritual calm and focus. The rite guides us to a realm where we learn the traits of a well mannered person, from which we learn things that help us tremendously in our everyday affairs.
Let us take note of something that experience – of whatever extent – of being a Tea-guest can actually teach us all, about living in this world gracefully.