Reaching for my tea bowl as I was preparing to practice chanoyu, the Japanese tea ceremony, I was shocked to see that my chawan (tea bowl) had cracked. With my touch, the pieces fell out, leaving gaps in the bowl’s rim. Seeing the broken chawan had a profound impact on me.

I decided to consult the I Ching. Asking what the meaning and significance of this broken bowl was, the I Ching responded with hexagram #50 Ting/The Cauldron. As the I Ching described the ting and how it was used and what it represented, I saw the chawan as ting. Reading, I felt I was being introduced to the potential depth of teachings available in the study and practice of chanoyu.

In Ancient China food prepared in the kitchen was transported to the temple of the ancestors in the ting, a large, ceremonial vessel. It was then served from the ting into the bowls of the guests. Because the ting was only used in the temple on sacred occasions, its presence was indissolubly linked with that of the divine. The power and presence of the ting transformed food for the body into food for the spirit.

In the same way, the chawan is indissolubly linked to the tearoom, whose ambiance and rituals are indelibly imbued with the history and teachings of chanoyu. In this context, the chawan transforms tea which is nourishing for the body, into an elixir that nourishes the spirit.

Seeing food served was a daily occurrence in China. But seeing food served from the ting reminded people of the presence of the invisible and sacred. Boiling water and whipping tea are simple acts. But when we infuse those actions with the presence of our own spirit, especially as it has been nourished through tea and the practice of chanoyu, its profound principles – wa, kei, sei, and jaku (harmony, respect, purity and tranquility) – consecrate our actions.

The I Ching describes the image of this hexagram.

Fire over wood:

The image of The Cauldron.

Thus the superior man consolidates his fate

By making his position correct.

Wood serves as nourishment for the flame, the spirit. Together they suggest the idea of preparing food. Regarding the chawan as a sacred vessel transforms the tea into food for spirit. In chanoyu, we feel the peace and rhythm of the cosmic order in the folding of the fukusa. By crossing the threshold into the room with the right foot I consciously contribute to the balance of the universe. This hexagram illustrates how I can make my “position correct.”

Every tea bowl, cup or pot can be a ting. Sitting alone or sharing tea with others, kneeling in the tea room or sitting on the couch, every sip of tea can reconnect us with the divine spirit that resides within and permeates our surroundings