The Art of Boiling Water For Tea

May 20, 2012

“In my own hands I hold a bowl of tea; I see all of nature represented in its green color. Closing my eyes I find green mountains and pure water within my own heart. Silently sitting alone and drinking tea, I feel these become a part of me.”–Soshitsu Sen, Grand Master XIV, Urasenke School of Tea

Tea. Hot beverages in general. We all enjoy something hot to drink, especially when it is cold. It warms the heart, and some say, the soul. Some say a hot cup of tea on a HOT day actually helps to cool you down……hmmmmm.

The Japanese ( and other cultures) have a “practice” of making a cup of tea. In Japan it is called Chanoyu, or, The Way of Tea. And while you do get to sip a bowl of warm, frothy tea, the “practice” is not really all about the tea, it’s about getting there….about preparing, about boiling the water…the journey to the end, not the end itself.

For many of us, we experience life by striving to be aware and mindful of the journey we are on and try not to put too much emphasis on the what comes at the end of the road. Don’t get me wrong, the end result of our work, commitment and sacrifices are very important! But the experience of the journey…….that’s what molds us.

Back to tea!

History tells us tea was first introduced to Japan from China with Buddhism in the sixth century. In the 12th century Eisai, the founder of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism in Japan, introduced powdered tea and tea seeds that he brought back with him from China. The tea seeds were planted by his friend the priest Myoe (1173-1232) at the Kozanji temple in the hills northwest of Kyoto.

The monks discovered that tea helped them in their practice, by keeping them alert/mindful.

In later years, the Way of  Tea became something more. It became a ceremony  based on  a meditation with tea, and the practice was meant to support awareness,  and harmony.

By learning and following precise steps and rituals, the mind becomes focused on the movements and actions….thought and distraction fade away.

It might be helpful to think of it in terms of tea consisting of 3 elements that teach us about our daily life:

Water‘s fluidity reminds us of the constant changes we face
Leaf represents life, and the community of life (people, nature) around us
A Vessel (cup or teapot) reminds us of that spiritual principle that part of us must be emptied so that we may be filled with something better.

The Way of Tea is a reminder of Ichigo, Ichie, the principle of one chance, one moment. Never again will that exact combination of tea, environment, and people (i.e. their perceptions) meet in precisely the same way. Savor the moment, and be intentional with it.

Tea drinking became identified as an act to represent the Zen belief that every act of daily life is a potential act that can lead to enlightenment.

Within the setting of a formal Tea Ceremony, we are also called to be mindful of the act of gathering together, of community. Beautiful tatami matted tea rooms were prepared especially for the quests…simple and elegant. A flower arrangement, a poem or calligraphy drawing to reflect upon, and silence. Except for the sound of the bubbling water.

For many of us today, the idea of this kind of ceremony is not always possible or interesting. For those of us committed to working on our own personal mindfulness practice, the link below offers a simple guide for preparing a cup of tea for ourselves in the same traditional and spirit of Chanoyu:

In the world of grande mocha lattes with soy and splenda, whipped up by a chatty barista , a cup of tea sounds pretty good.

What potential is there for you in  silently preparing a cup of tea, aware of every step required, and drinking it slowly and with intention?

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