Continued from Tuesdays With Norwood: In Japan – Part 6

One historian avers Rikyu’s fall came about because he was “not indifferent to money” and abused his unrivaled skill as a connoisseur of tea wares to enrich himself and curry favor with the great. Others think it was Rikyu’s irksome appearance of saintliness that event ally provoked Hideyoshi. (After all, any wabi tea master could have made do on Rikyu’s annual stipend of three thousand bushels of rice.)

Whatever the case and despite his seventy years, having composed a farewell poem and smashed his favorite tea bowl, Sen-no Rikyu enjoyed the privilege of dying by his own hand. Nothing exemplified his life so much as the leaving of it, and the tea ceremony that he purified and codified has retained the form he gave it ever since, a path to enlightenment or way of being unto itself. Just fifty-four years after Rikyu’s death, Musashi, the greatest samurai Japan ever produced, began his book on strategy, The Book of Five Rings, as follows: “Strategy is the way of the warrior….There are various ways. There is the [way] of salvation by the law of the Buddha, the way of Confucius governing the way of learning, the way of healing as a doctor, [poetry], tea, archery, and many arts and skills.” Musashi’s word for tea is chado.

Obviously with Rikyu and his doctrine of wabi, which he inherited in part from Shuko, the tea ceremony enters its aesthetic stage. But wait a minute, the Western mind protests: Tea drinking as a way of life? Tea as a path toward holiness? Whoa!

An excerpt from New Tea Lover’s Treasury, by James Norwood Pratt

To be concluded in Tuesdays With Norwood: In Japan – Part 8