The Foundation Stones of 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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