Tuesday, 6 May 2008

The Proper Use of Tea

What does it mean to drink tea ‘properly’? As I mentioned yesterday this is a question which has been occupying me for some time. I have read Tea Life, Tea Mind and am currently reading The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzo, both of which discuss Teaism or Cha Dao as a Zen practice.

I find this both inspiring and intimidating – and I’m probably not alone, I suppose. Why else would it take years to become practised in the arts of Zen and tea?

Questions (I’m hoping I’m not the only lunatic who actually goes around wondering about these things…):
* Is it acceptable to drink tea while you’re doing something else?
* If I boil water in a kettle, is that bad? The alternative is a saucepan on the stove (which is what I use if I’m heating water for a tea that need a lower temperature, like a green or white tea; while practical, I can’t help but feel it lacks finesse).
* But should I stand there and watch it the whole time, or can I leave it (or, with less potential for disaster, the kettle) and run around the house hanging up washing or making my lunch?
* Can I drink tea at my desk at work?
* For that matter, can I drink water or eat an apple at my desk at work while I’m doing something else – because the whole point is (as I understand it) that Zen is about mindfulness and being in the moment whatever you’re doing. So there is not much worth in only applying that mindfulness to tea and not to the way I live the rest of my life.

(Feel free to correct me if I am not getting this right. I want to learn.)

I want to be able to enjoy tea, many times during the day. I feel that richer, deeper enjoyment will come from mindfulness, so I will do my best to cultivate that. But refusing to allow myself to drink tea in situations when I can’t be fully mindful will probably be counter-productive… I want to ‘do tea right’ but I don’t want it to become about rules and regulations.

The other day I was comforted to read, in the wonderful online magazine The Leaf , an article by Thomas Leons entitled ‘The Conscientious Tea Consumer’. In this article Leons emphasises the importance of trying different styles of tea for oneself – forming one’s own judgements but always listening with respect and an open heart to the recommendations of others. There is no one Way!

I don’t have the book to hand right now, so I am remembering this off the top of my head, but I think that Okakura Kakuzo said in The Book of Tea that Teaism is the worship of the Imperfect. I will try and hold this thought in my heart.

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