Foundation Stones of Cha-do Conitinued: The Seven Artistic Principles of Zen

There are Seven distinct artistic principles that were co opted by Zen Buddhism when it became a prominent cultural force in feudal Japan. These artistic concepts were extant during earlier times; and known to exist in the knowledge base of China and Korea. Zen monks codified and adopted them. These principles have ideograms in Chinese and Korean script. Since I am working on Japanese models, they shall be examined from this perspective. Please understand that these concepts were well known to the Japanese court nobility; and were also well known to other older sects of Buddhism different from Zen. These principles are quite valuable since each of them can be expressed in works of art, architecture (also an art form), poetry, painting, ceramics, weaving, etc. See if you can encounter them in a Japanese garden (landscape art) or other other art form of your choice.

1.FUKINSEI–Asymmetry or dis-symmetry; suggesting things which are irregular. The opposite of geometric circles and squares. but still balanced- lever and fulcrum -with a heavy weight close to the fulcrum and a light weight on the far opposite side.

2.KANSO–Simplicity; without gaudiness, not heavy or gross; clean, neat, and fresh, yet reserved, frank and truthful; not ornate.

3.KOKO–Austerity; maturity, reduction to bare bones, basic essentials, lack of sensuousness, refers to things that are aged, weathered, venerable.

4.SHIZEN–Naturalness, artlessness, absence of pretense and artificiality; it does not mean raw nature–it involves full creative intent, but should not be forced; unselfconsciousness, true naturalness that is a negation of the naive and accidental.

5.YUGEN–Subtly profound; suggestion rather than total revelation; things not wholly revealed but partly hidden from view; shadow and darkness; hence Yugen involves the shadow areas of a garden.

6.DATSUZOKU–Unworldliness; freedom from use of compass and rulers. freedom from worldly attachments, bondage, and restrictive laws. It involves transcendence of conventional usage. It is often a surprise element or an astonishing characteristic.

7.SEIJAKU– Quietness, solitude, calmness and silence; opposite of disturbance; The saying “stillness is activity”. This characteristic should be strongly felt in a Japanese garden or other art form.

I have borrowed the descriptions from a booklet written by the late Dr. Lennox Teirney named “The Nature of Japanese Garden Art”. I wish to honor him for his work in teaching the arts of Asia and Japan to me.

pictures for visual description are as follows:

FUKINSEI–




Stone lantern at Portland Japanese Garden


KANSO—




KOKO—





SHIZEN—





Exif_JPEG_PICTURE


YUGEN—





DATSUZOKU—




SEIJAKU—






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Foundation Stones of Cha-do Continued: 12 Artistic Accomplishments of the Court Noble

This Article speaks of the Artistic Foundations that have been practiced by the nobility of the Japanese Imperial Court through out history. People from the beginnings of Cha-do to the present day have been well aware of these principles. They find their mark in the culture and traditions of Japan from ancient times, and blossomed in earlier cultures such as China, Korea, and other Asian countries.

Those who practice Cha no Yu see expressions of these artistic pursuits and principles everywhere. Those who are steeped in the practice find themselves acquiring knowledge and appreciation of them. Those students just starting out would be wise to memorize these principles and incorporate them into their own practice.

Aristocrats, and later common people found it very necessary to be competent if not talented in the following expressions of Japanese tradition.

1. The art of calligraphy. Writing with a beautiful hand is considered the highest art form. Japanese as well as Chinese and other Asian cultures place great importance on the beauty of the brush and ink. There are countless examples of how important this practice is. The Tale of Genji has many examples of how a person’s character and spirit are judged on how they form the strokes of script. It is seen as a direct avenue to a person’s soul and heart. Here in the west, we used hand writing analysis to determine various psychological states of the person who writes their name. In Japan, convicts have been given lighter sentences if the judge saw the beauty of their writing skills. Even today, people are secretly evaluated on how they handle the brush. Pieces of calligraphy find pride of place as the central pivot point in the artistic alcove- tokonoma with in the Tea room. We bow to it when we reverently approach it. This is the only object that is bowed to in the gathering. This art form finds some of its greatest expression in the Heian court; the golden age.

2. Incense appreciation and application. This substance finds its roots deep in the history of many cultures. In China, Korea, and Japan, the way of incense was very important; and considered an essential part of any and all rituals. Sandalwood was highly prized for its mellow and alluring smell. Incense was used to dispel evil spirits, purify the soul, and enliven the mind. Herbs, resins, and different woods such as Aloes wood were mixed and blended to perfume clothing and mark the person as being special and courteous. The ‘Ranjatai’ Aloes wood log is owned by the Emperor and is considered the rarest and most beautifully scented wood in Japan. Only three small blocks were ever taken from it. Each block was carefully splintered into tiny slivers to be ‘warmed’ (not burnt) in order to release its fragrance at very special occasions. It is beyond price. An entire practice (‘Kodo’or wayof Incense) has been developed with its own venerable utensils, methods and traditions. When entering the Tea room, one is greeted with the fragrance of fine incense. The formal laying of charcoal (Sumi-temae) in front of the guests is quite a treat for those involved. The incense box- ‘kogo’ is a treasured item that has a history of its own.

3. Poetry. I cannot stress enough how important Poetry is to the delicate tastes of Asian culture in general, and Japanese culture in specific. From Tanka to Haiku, and all other forms known, poetry is extremely essential to understand, memorize, and practice. The Manyoshu collection, the Nihonshu compendium, and other collections of verse have been so deeply intertwined into the life of the court noble and the common person, that you might be considered little more than an animal if poetry was unfamiliar to you. The creation myths, and the oldest writings in the history of Japan are presented in poetic form. Seasonal expressions, turns of phrases taken from ancient manuals of poetry, emotional layers, and delicate taste all find their way to glory when written down by a talented hand on the surface of exquisitely tinted and colored paper. In Cha do, the poet finds outlet in the creation of an invitation, the selection of a shikishi card that alludes to the season, or the gathering in which the guests write poems on cards to read aloud during the event. Poetry infiltrates every aspect of artistic life that is a hallmark of being a member of ‘the good people’.

4. Flower Arrangement– From the National Cherry Blossom, to the fire of the Japanese Maple in Autumn; flowers are one of the oldest and most venerable art forms of Japan. Flowers have been used for offerings in Buddhist temples flanking the main statue with soaring Lotus blossoms, and constructed in formal arrangements such a ‘Rikka’ and ‘Shoka’ styles. The term Ikebana is the name for flower arrangement, and the Ikenobo school is the oldest. Centered in court life, flowers were stately offerings to the Gods, and sprigs of seasonal flowers always accompanied letters delivered to lovers or friends by a pretty youth dressed in court attire. Contests were held during the Heian period to see who possessed the most beautiful Irises, and the family crests of nobles were mostly plant and flower based designs. The greatest example of the love for flowers is seen in the ‘Chrysanthemum Throne’ itself. A simple flower arrangement is found in the tea room which may accompany the scroll or stand on its own when thick tea is served. There is a a bit of wisdom that says if you have enough money to buy two loaves of bread, buy one loaf and a pot of chrysanthemums. You should feed your belly and feed your soul. The Japanese know this very well.

5. Dancing and Singing–The court noble would be nothing if they did not know the arts of court dances and the singing of odes. The oldest myth that describes the beginnings of Japan, court life and the formation of Japan has to do with the Sun Goddess Amaterasu- Omi kami. After her brother was being obnoxious, and destructive, She stubbornly hid herself away in a great cave. This was quite distressful to the other Gods who planned to lure her out, by placing a mirror on a Sasaki tree in front of the cave, hanging the great jewel from another branch, and dancing with music and song. Her curiosity got the best of her and she sneaked out to see what was happening. Before she could retreat back into the cave, a sacred rope with prayers was strung across the entrance to bar her from taking light from the world again. The stately dances of shrine maidens, the piercing tones of flutes drum, and bells have been part of Shinto rituals since before written records were made. Since the Emperor is the highest Shinto priest, and to be a member of his/her court is the highest honor, it is befitting that all who are members should be able to dance in the courtly style, play some sort of instrument, or sing the Odes of poetry that entice the Gods out of their sanctuaries to receive their offerings. Song and dance is mandatory at any festival. Practiced by high born and commoner alike, it is a must to know something of this art. The educated Geisha with her fan, the formal Noh actor with his mask, the court dance at a poetry contest, or the Kabuki actor in high drama; all are dancing and singing. In the world of Tea, the movements in the tea room by host and guest are so prescribed that it is a dance of stately locomotion. When a student is playing ‘tea games’ called ‘Shichijishiki’, the movements are a type of dance as each participant moves up and down in the room to perform different procedures. It is very elegant and a joy to watch!

6. Fashion–Being appropriately dressed for any occasion is mandatory for any court noble and person of taste. Color matching in fabric, fashion, and paper (letter/poetry) could make or break a career at court. There is an excerpt from Heian period writings that tells of a lady in waiting that became the subject of light embarrassment when she reached out in front of the impeccably dressed Emperor to fix a stray tassel on a screen only to find his majesty and other courtiers staring at her. Women of that time wore many layers of closely shaded tastefully colorful kimonos using subtle gradations of hue. One of her kimonos was one shade off. It was a very small, hardly noticeable mistake but she became the subject of many jokes after this slight mishap. If one makes a mistake in fashion, try to error on the side of elegance. It is easier to forgive wearing a tuxedo at a beach party, than it is to forgive wearing beach clothes to the Oscars. In the world of Tea women’s kimonos are of a single quiet color. The only extravagance is to be found on her Obi sash. Men should wear somber darker tones. Some guests go so far as to inquire about the fabrics used by the host so that they will not inadvertently wear the same design. Fabric choice can also be important in the bags that enclose certain tea utensils. The guest will ask about them and the host has to know the name of the fabric, its history, who sewed it, and how it fits into the general assemblage of the event.

7. Garden Design– The Japanese have fostered a love of nature so deeply that it is hard to imagine Japanese traditional culture without it. Gardens; be it carefully tended acres of hill and pond meant for strolling, moon viewing or boating, austere stretches of dry gravel with a few moss covered stones, or ‘Tsubo’ courtyard gardens with a single water basin and a tree with a few bushes, even aged bonsai happily growing in their pots; all are expressions of the garden art form started by courtiers over a thousand years ago. Manuals written by them on how to establish a proper garden are still extant, and studied by today’s garden designers. From the Shinto practice of clearing an area around a sacred space, tree, or stone- as can be seen at Ise grand shrine, to the estate gardens created by nobles that later became Buddhist Temple monasteries, each manifestation bring the church outside. Nature is made sacred and abbreviated through careful observation and study. Saiho ji is one such garden. There are many others to choose from. What better place to gain poetic inspiration than from wandering through a seasonal paradise?

8. Japanese tea Ceremony–This artistic expression came into vogue in a later period but the drinking of Tea is documented to be far older. All of the previously mentioned courtly pursuits found a stage to be show cased through they way of tea. Various members of the Imperial family and court members have studied this way and found it very satisfying. It is now synonymous with all things Japan. The studying of its history, subsidiary arts, and creative outlets are endless.

9.Sumi-e Ink Painting– Sister to the art of calligraphy- is Sumi-e ink painting, and the use of color wash. The same strokes used in writing are equally used in creating a landscape, a vine of Morning Glory, a cluster of fruits, or stalks of pampas grass. Adopted from older Chinese models, the Japanese explored the concept of ‘Ma’ (space). The space enfolding the subject was just as important as the subject itself. Gradations of black, gray wash, light ash, or egg shell hue would give vigor and dimension to a work. The emotive cloud of mist which might separate scenes, or add mystery was a very familiar trope. Vestiges of this uniquely Japanese design element can be seen on the bronze surfaces of ‘Dotaku Bell’ forms from the Yayoi period. Natural beauty is abundant in Japan and found iconic expression through ink and brush. Plum, Cherry, Bamboo, Maple, and Pine became constant themes that were associated with virtues such as strength, purity, longevity, and transience. Any noble would be able to create an instant work of art with the slightest touch of his brush.


10.Geomancy—The art of harmonizing individuals with their environment was well established in China and during the Asuka and Nara periods it took deep roots in a country that was already highly aware of sacred spaces, energy flow, and spirit dwellings. The invisible forces that bind humanity and the universe together was known as ‘Chi’. This was of great interest and most priests and nobles adheard to its wisdom. Certain directions were considered unlucky to travel on certain days; and courtiers followed strict protocols concerning all manner of geomancic formulas. Jennifer Anderson Sensei has written a wonderful book that has a section which covers how cha no yu relates to the ‘Bagua’ and its eight directions. There is even a procedure for making Tea that utilizes the classic five elements of Chinese Taoism. The trigram for water is drawn in a freshly sculpted ash arrangement in the portable brazier before the embers are placed in order to balance said elements.



11.Education—The nobility of the Imperial court were people of letters. The constantly studied everything from poetry, to the workings of the economy. They had to be up to date on a variety of subjects in order to hold their own during any conversation. Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Shinto, and other types of religious thought were mandatory subjects. Mathematics, metaphysics, political science, military arts, martial arts, history, and art history, were avidly studied. Court rituals, dance, etiquette, and good manners were essential for every noble person. One might call them life long learners. To constantly better ones self was the goal.

Sugawara Michizane

12. Being Content—This is not a physical art to be studied; it is an art of the soul and mind. Above all a person of learning and nobility can control their desires for this and that. Being aware of what one actually has; realizing that all is transitory and fleeting, and being grateful for the present moment is a life long practice. Easy to say- difficult to do and to be- especially in today’s world of instant gratification, entertainment and distraction. The flower blooms, releases its fragrance, and wilts. The petals wither and fall. All of it is beautiful- all the more because it changes and dies. There is a famous stone basin once used by Sen no Rikyu that is carved in the form of coin. Four characters are chiseled into it; “to learn to be content” (Ware Tada Taru wo Shiru). It is located at Ryoan-ji Temple in Kyoto japan.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If I discover more essential accomplishments of the noble arts of Japan, I will edit this list and include them as well. This list should give the gentle reader enough to think about and study as we all strive to become members of ‘the good people’.

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One to One Chakai

Mr. Bob Bates is a delightful gentleman whom I met when I was attending a Midori-kai Alumni Intensive study retreat at Konnichi-an, Urasenke- in Kyoto Japan, in June of 2018. It was great to spend time with him and the others during the very rare opportunity of practicing in the Heisei Tea rooms in the Konnichi -an precinct. The main tea rooms are undergoing major restoration and repair; so the Heisei Tea rooms are bustling with activity. While we were there he informed me that he might be able to visit me in Salt Lake City some time in August of the same year. This would be a special occasion since, aside from Sadler Sensei, there no one else in this area who is well versed in the basics of Cha no Yu. Most of the people whom I invite to any tea gathering know nothing of Cha do or its subtle expressions. When a person who is knowledgeable comes along- who is kind and thoughtful- well that is a rare treat. I do thank my lucky stars for Sadler Sensei; with out her, it would be a lonely existence of tea practice indeed.

Mr. Bob would be coming in the morning and knew that we were to enjoy usucha and a light meal. Since it was the height of the hot season so i used my small ‘Unryu-gama’ kettle and kept the fire to a minimum. The water container was wet well bucket style favored by Sen no Rikyu. The kogo incense box was an open cricket cage in the waiting room. Above it was a sumi-e of a cricket under a sprig of bush clover. Did he escape his cage? Since Bob was a traveler, I used a kamashiki pad of old maps. The meal was simple; Hash browns for the ‘rice’, yogurt for the ‘soup’, and sausage for the ‘mukozuke’. Orange juice was served in two Hawaiian tiki goblets. Cheese and fruit was served on a wooden dish in the shape of a shark’s egg. The shikishi was by one of the abbots of a sub temple in Daitoku ji. The hanaire flower container was acquired from the same trip. The chaki tea caddy was a small ceramic pumpkin/gourd made by Ginger Lieberfritz, and the chashaku tea scoop was carved and named by Randy Channel Sensei- “Ii Tomo” (good friend). We both ate together and talked of all things Tea. It was quiet, serene, and very enjoyable. It was the first time that I had hosted such an intimate gathering. Mr Bob knows his stuff; his mere presence and countenance spoke volumes of his understanding of the Cha do spirit. It was a truly special event and I will always treasure this memory.

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New Years Chakai for New Guests

The Tea Guild is a group of Tea enthusiasts who enjoy the many aspects of tea here in Utah. I was fortunate to get to know this group and was able to invite them to a special tea gathering of usucha and sweets. They are all younger than I am and had no problem sitting on tatami mats. They were respectful and interested in what was being presented to them. Thanks to a fellow Tea student named Lauren, I have been introduced to fellow travelers on the path of Tea. They are familiar with the Chinese practice of Tea and are interest in getting acquainted with the Japanese forms. They arrived during New Years of 2019. Here are the pictures.

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New Years Chakai 2019

New Years is a special time for tea people. This year, Ryu-rei style using tables and chairs was presented. Two seki’s (groups of guests) were hosted in one day….I will never do that again. My back did not like me for a while after that. Thank the Gods for Sadler Sensei who was the head guest for the first gathering. She stayed behind and helped me fine tune the presentation for the second gathering. Kaiseki cooking has been an up hill process. But steady progress occurs with practice. Besides; it’s fun! Mei-Sui was drawn from an artisanal well at 4:00 a.m. on New Years morning 2019. The cabby thought I was very interesting…and weird for doing this. It is also getting more difficult to find willow switches in this urbanized city. Here are pictures of the event.

Horai kazari display

Special water tori awase ( utensil arrangement)

evening gathering

The guests gathered in my small waiting room to see a scroll of sparrows under heavenly bamboo with the ‘Horia Kazari’ arrangement of auspicious symbols of abundance and good luck. A negoro lacquer ‘Fuji san’ Kogo incense box was also presented. After the guests were seated, Zencha was served with dried, sweetened plums coated in powdered chocolate as the sweets attending. They were placed in an Indian raised relief bowl once owned by Gary Sensei. It had been given to him by the late great flower master from India- Sandesh. The meal was abbreviated due to there being so much presented. After the initial tray, Nimono was served, and then Osechi-ryori courses of New Years foods, with toasts of non alcoholic sparkling cider. Omogashi was served after that followed by the break (nakadachi). Koicha was served. The main scroll was written by Suga Gendo of Daitokuji temple.

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Halloween Chakai

On October 31st, 2018, An open house Halloween chakai was held at my home. Guests could drop in from 6:00 p.m. to 9:30. It was a blast! I had not hosted such an event for over twenty years. Some day I will tell the tale of that event. I had planned this occasion and had fun figuring out how to present it. A Tea for ghosts and goblins! Here are photos to show what it was like…

A ‘Ghost Woman Noh mask greeted the guests in the waiting room, along with 4 wooden plaques stating that yearly memorial services had been performed by a Buddhist Priest. The sign in book was from Harry Potter’s book of monsters…from my own collection. The main scroll was an Owl painted by Getto Houzan. A ‘Demon Hagi’ bowl made by Deishi Shibuya had been broken by the Postal service in transit from Japan. The other main bowl had suffered the same fate. It was a black Seto-guro bowl that I named ‘kumo’ spider. The chashaku was named dark night’Kuro-Yo’. The Mizusashi fresh water container was a basket weave pottery design. My Kekkai was the pumpkin and leaves. I encourage you to adapt Tea to fit he holidayd that you enjoy.

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Navajo Tea Demonstration

On March 26th, at the White Horse High School located on the Navajo Reservation on the boarder of Southern Utah and Arizona, a demonstration of The Way of Tea was held for the student scholars who had made Raku bowls in the recent past. The Division of Arts and Museums made this possible, and are owed much thanks for their efforts toward the accomplishment of this project.

The students were very respectful, curious, intelligent, and very well behaved. It was an honor to serve them and I was quite impressed with their courteous,and polite manners. We held the demonstration in the Home Ec. room of the school. Georgiana Simpson was the art teacher who should also be thanked for her gracious help in this event. We featured three objects that were of Native American origin in order to show our respect and appreciation to them. The incense container was a very small basket made by the To’hono Od’ahm Tribe. The Tea container was a small jar of earthen ware made by Anna Sandia of the Jemez Tribe. The principle sweet tray was made of bent wood bark by one of the northern tribes of Alaska. We featured a red Raku bowl in order to share the artistic creativity that they infused in their own Raku ware. A fan with the Kanji writing of ‘Sei-Jaku- (Tranquility) was flanked by a chabana flower arrangement, and the incense box. The sweets were Daifuku mochi. Here are the photos. My camera’s batteries wore out during the chakai so I have had to augment with more recent photos of the objects used.

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The Foundation Stones of Cha-do, the Way of Tea

Referring to the post written by O Iemoto Zabosai Sen Soshitsu (Grand Tea Master of Urasenke), I relate the story of Rikyu and a Questioner. This article is written for beginners who might not be aware of these important rules that all practitioners and students of Cha do strive to follow.

Sen no Rikyu was once asked a question by one of his disciples about what the way of Tea truly entails. Rikyu thought a bit and stated these seven rules that every person of Tea should follow.

1. Make a satisfying bowl of Tea

2.Lay the charcoal so that the water boils efficiently

3.Provide a sense of coolness in Summer, and warmth in the Winter

4.Arrange the flowers as though they were in the field

5.Be ready ahead of time

6.Be prepared in case it should rain

7.Act with utmost consideration towards your guests

The questioner was vexed by Rikyu’s list of rules stating that these were simple matters that anyone could handle. Rikyu replied that he would become the disciple of the person who could cary them out with out fail.

Simple does not equal easy. Even though these principles are concerned with activities of everyday life, it takes great cultivation and much practice. In a sense the Way of Tea is well described as the art of living. In today’s modern age it seems even more difficult to concentrate on what these rules point toward, but the enhancement and enrichment of ones life is increased if one tries, and tries, and tries again. I hope that you will go to the Urasenke official website to read “The Spirit of Chado” article. It is a better article than this one and we can learn from the O Iemoto’s words himself. Copying these words and occasionally reading them while in practice or just before we host a Tea event is always a good idea.

There is a post that was written about the Seven Artistic Principles of Zen on this website that should also be reviewed.

The ‘Four Princples of Cha no Yu- Wa (Harmony), Ke (Respect), Sei (Purity…and cleanliness), and Jyaku (Tranquility) are fundamental concepts and words of wisdom that every student of Tea should know by heart.

Wabi: A quality of austere and serene beauty expressing a mood of spiritual solitude. Simplicity, resigned loneliness, quietude, subdued, transience, freshness, and understated elegance are also part of this definition. Examples of ‘Wabi’ are as follows, A Fresh cut bamboo lid rest, a chakin wiping cloth, cold water, steam from a simmering kettle, a newly fallen autumn leaf, a single flower with one or two leaves in a tube of old bamboo hung in the tokonoma and spritzed with water, a well soaked black or red raku tea bowl, Fresh water sprinkled on the old stepping stones of the garden path, the scent of sandalwood, Freshly glued wainscoting paper on a rough clay and straw wall, new- light green tatami mats, wet bizen ware water container, a new bamboo ladle, the green shoots of grass pushing up under winter’s last melting snows. There are countless essays and books written to describe this word.

Sabi: The quality of chill, lean, withered, imperfection, patina, flawed beauty, visible repairs, desolate, worn- but not dirty or soiled, aged, delicate, vulnerable, preserved, “mono no aware” (the awareness of the pathos of things), empathy. Examples are an old scroll with yellowed paper- the fabric surrounding the mounting is slightly faded and thin; an old Tea bowl that has been chipped and lovingly repaired with brown or black lacquer; the waddle and dob of the walls of the Tea room that show the shadow of the beams underneath; an ancient garden lantern covered in green moss; smoked bamboo eaves holding up the ceiling, The Moon partly covered in cloud, Negoro lacquer ware where the black lacquer shows underneath the dark red, an old dish or incense box made of pottery that shows every crack in the glaze; a shrike perched on a dead rice stock in a vacant late Autumn field, ice formed in the water basin, bleached wood on the front gate; and the hand of an ancient poet’s writing mounted on an old card with a crushed, dull, pewter colored, Mica paper edging.

“Ichi-go Ichi-e” a concept championed by Sen no Rikyu and elaborated on by Ii Naosuke Tairo challenges us to not waste this one opportunity between host and guest. The Tea gathering should be approached by both host and guest as a once in a life time moment where the chance of learning, enjoying, listening, being aware of, communicating, understanding, becoming one with, and being very grateful for this experience is reached for, shared, and remembered.

Do (the way that we have chosen to commit to), Gaku (Constant study of the way), and Jitsu (the steady practice through one’s life of the way).

Each one of these ‘foundation stones’ should take up an entire posting and I shall strive to add them at a later date. I know that this is a lot to take in, but it is worth stating them now and probing the details of these important issues in the future.

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Chakai in the Sky

On October 7th 2017 I had the opportunity to serve a simple Tea at “Island in the Sky” district of Canyonlands National Park located in Southern Utah. It was a gathering of only one guest and myself. It was unique in that the kakejiku scroll was the view before us and the tokonoma alcove was quite immense. It took 15 million years for nature to create the ‘scroll’ and the span that was shown in the rocks that were exposed went back 300 million years into the past. Looking down on the ‘White Rim over-look’ one could see the layers of time and the spectacular monuments that had been made by erosion. It was a sunny day that was clear and brisk to enjoy tea.

Ryaku-bon Temae seemed to suit the occasion and the sweets were small ‘Jaw breakers’ candies nestled inside of a metal hip flask. The Chawan was a Gohon Mishima style bowl that had very similar colors to the red rock that we were seated on. The Chaki tea container was a hand made piece by a tribal member of the Hopi Nation. His name is Johnny Martin whose name is also “Ma-kai-Ya”. The lid was woven by hand. The Tea scoop was a gift of Kishimoto Sokei Sensei and made of black persimmon. Its poetic name is “Looking Forward”. The ‘scroll was looking into the deep past, Tea was happening now, and we both look forward to enjoying the future in Tea. The Kensui bowl was a gift from Sauki Sensei. It is a Chrysanthemum bowl made of brass. The Fukusa purifying cloth was made from a fresh cowboy bandanna scarf. The blanket set out was an old woolen Shepard’s blanket that had been made into a poncho. The furo is an old Korean pickling pot for Kim-chi and the Tetsu-bin Kettle is an old piece with a small Fu-Dog knob and a cracked lid that lets the steam out. It was never quite vertical but then who is. The Ita board was a slice of pine.

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Tanabata Star Festival Tea Gathering

Sometimes Tea people plan for a gathering months- maybe years in advance. This was one of those times. I had been acquiring utensils and other things for years; each time thinking “Some day I will host a Tanabata gathering”. Circumstances led to this event happening sooner than I thought. The homestead where my Mother lived was being prepared for eventual sale since she was too old to live alone anymore. I made the decision to host a tea gathering on her patio next to her spacious back yard. I had amassed many things to make this event unique. The work to make this happen became weeks of preparation. Cleaning the garden clearing off the patio of the various ‘nick-nacks’ emptying the kitchen of the ‘kitsch’ and emptying the bathroom of everything was a major set of chores. Bringing up the various items needed for Tea was also a challenge full of sweat and toil. July is a hellish month in Utah with daytime temperatures reaching 103 F’ in the shade. July 7th was a work day so I held it on the 8th (Saturday) instead. I have five people to thank for their help above and beyond the call of duty. Rachel and her Mother, Laura McCullough, and Charles Galway are exemplary people whose contributions made this a very special occasion. Charles brought ‘misters’ that made clouds of fine spray float through the air to cool the guests. Rachel helped with her culinary talents, her Mother – and Charles helped get the equipment up to the house, and Laura helped to serve. We served 23 guests in four separate groups. Two groups met at different times earlier in the day and two met from late afternoon to evening.

The guests arrived at my our front yard to view the touch of a Japanese garden that was designed decades before. They made their way to the wooden back yard gate to enter an area with an umbrella and chairs. A tall bamboo plant decked with ornaments of paper greeted them. A basket with blank tanzaku cards was at hand for them to write their wishes on and to hang on the bamboo. A sign asked them to wait to be escorted to Tea. The misters sprayed delicate clouds of water to cool the guests from above next to the eves of the patio. Then Laura would come to escort them to the area to enter. A large red umbrthen they entered the ‘room’.

a Tea room was made using lengthy reed blinds on all sides to form walls that would let in a breeze. Purple felt covered the tumbling mat floor, with six table and chair sets where the guests would be seated were flanked by a Star Map on the opposite wall. Two small tables supported a bowl of salt that held a Meteorite from China, and a pad of white paper with the incense box in carved lacquer in the shape of a star. This style of Tea is called ‘Ryu Rei’ and is used for those who might not be able to sit on tatami mats without discomfort. The Ryu-Rei table was built for the 2002 Winter Olympics Tea Demonstrations and finally found some use at this event. Green felt covered its surface with adjacent tables needed to serve tea.

After the guests were seated, I came out and bowed to welcome them. Then I sat and explained the Tanabata festival, talked about the Star Map, and other objects and answered any questions. The Star map had a saying written by Robert Gillespie who is a Senior Astronomer for Clark Planetarium. On the copy of a Star map from 1661 he had written “We are all made from the dust of Stars”.

After this we served a light meal of summer foods with a bowl of rice that had a sprinkled ‘bridge’ of poppy seeds on top. Then came small moist cool towels and glasses of water. When all the guests were through we gently took everything away, asked them to wait in the ‘Machiai’ and made the room ready for Tea.

Each ‘seki’ (group gathering) had its own qualities, set backs, lessons, and delights. Before the 9 a.m. seki it was discovered that the new glass fresh water container leaked from a hairline crack. Water had soaked the whole table so we rushed back to my apartment to fetch a smaller crystal Mizusashi that was substituted. This threw me off of my game and the temae was a disaster. The ladle slipped out of my hand and sailed across to land on the floor between me and the first guest. Ah well…not much to do but go wash it off and continue.

The second seki was hotter and thank Gods for the misters. The big red umbrella had the local hummingbirds excited but they didn’t seem to know about the feeder meant for them that was nearby.

The third seki had guests who were unfamiliar with what ‘wagashi’ sweets were and poked at the bean paste with their picks. Some ate the food, some did not. It is hard to tell whether our menu was correct or not to their liking. I must confess that only five guests had any experience with tea in any way. The rest were encountering Cha no Yu for the first time. I usually tailor the gatherings for this. If I only hosted Tea for those initiated in its practices then I would not be hosting Teas at all. So I take it as it comes. Sadler Sensei brought a beautiful flower arrangement in a tall glass vase that I proudly placed next to the map.

The evening seki was very special…and very dramatic! Clouds had rolled in while the 9 p.m. guests were seating themselves. Winds buffeted the screens and made them bellow. An oil lamp was knocked over and poor Laura- who was a guest- had to hold back the screens from knocking her table over. It finally calmed down and Usucha was made by candle light. It was magical! It had been a clear night on the 7th so the two Star crossed lovers had already met and we did not worry about the clouds.

There seems to be five parts to Nodate Tea gatherings. The bringing together of things, the shipping things to the site and setting up, cooking etc, then the actual serving of Tea, then then taking everything down and shipping it back home, then the storing it all away. i am tired and there is still much to do; but there were a few moments where it was magical and surreal. i live for those moments.

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