Chanoyu is a ritual that draws from the wisdom of ancient Taoism, Shintoism, Zen Buddhism, and the Chinese and Japanese cultures. Zen came to Japan from monks who studied in Ch’an, China. Ch’an, or Zen, developed from Taoism.

Taoism was based on “The Great Tao,” the unnameable, unknowable way. The Japanese tea practitioners adopted this term and aptly called the ceremony “The Way of Tea.” The Zen founders of the Japanese tea ceremony that is practiced today drew from their roots the “conception of greatness in the smallest incidents of life,” writes Okakura in The Book of Tea. It was Zen and the idea of wabi, or simplicity in everyday life, that encouraged a conservation of resources, as well as an effort to see the whole universe within any one thing and to experience natural beauty.

In chanoyu, the degree of awareness that’s applied to every task and movement is not something we typically see in our usual way of doing and thinking. Chanoyu teaches us to move slowly, treating every utensil as a prized possession, and helps the body to absorb these movements through artful, focused repetition. When the whisk for whipping the tea into a frothy foam is to be set down on the mat, it is placed just so, as we move from our center with our hands, arms, and even each finger in a certain manner…

Once we have made chanoyu part of our lives, we begin to notice that there are little things that we do differently, like setting the lid of the cooking pot down on the counter carefully. Or not knocking into the furniture as we vacuum. We may enter a room and pause to notice the surroundings, and we may set our shoes together by the door rather than kick them off in a pile. Where once we were careless, now we are careful; where we were distracted, now we are focused; where we were unaware, now we are sensitive; where we were frantic, now we are calm. Where we once took things for granted, a sense of awe for the simple pleasures at hand fills us with joy. We’re not constantly making and drinking tea, but tea consciousness begins to steep into the fiber of our muscles and our being. The way of tea becomes a way of life.

From Tea Here Now, by Donna Fellman and Lhasha Tizer