This is the last in Lisa Dong’s three-part installment on the concepts of “Tea Person (Cha’ren)” and “Chadao.”
“A unique meet for never (一期一会)” is one of the philosophies of Japanese Chado proposed by the great tea guru Murata Shuko. It means that a particular cup of tea will never be duplicated because of differences in the tea, the drinking atmosphere, and the people in one’s life. Thus, one should always strive to make good tea and to treat guests with all of the heart; guests, in turn, should recognize the preciousness of meetings and attend them with the knowledge that they will never be repeated. Applying the philosophy of “a unique meet for never” to daily life encourages living in the present.
To Murata Shuko, Chado meant connecting people’s hearts by drinking tea together. Murata Shuko established the rule that a tea room should be small – only large enough to accommodate five or so people. This is not because he preferred cramped quarters, but because in a room that was large enough to accommodate 50 people, regardless of how quiet it was, the ability to focus was nearly impossible, meaning connecting people’s hearts was nearly impossible. Murata Shuko also established the rule that the tea room should be decorated simply because a shiny room distracts people from focusing and connecting. This idea developed into Wabi, which means quiet or sober refinement. Shuko also emphasized the purity of the inner heart, believing that pride and obstinance were the worst traits and that arrogance and stubbornness were the worst enemies of Chado.
Although Sen no Rikyu later developed the Japanese tea ceremony and refined Japanese Chado’s four principles of harmony, respect, purity, and serenity, the ceremony henceforth turned into a ritual with complicated rules and processes that are meant to establish harmony and respect. However, for me, Murata Shuko’s Chado comes straight to the point. His Chado is simple, lacking refining characteristices, but full of heart.
Through Murata Shuko’s Chado, you can easily see how the practice of Chadao is the way to Prajnaparamita by viewing things as empty, as stated in the Heart Sutra. First of all, wisdom is the ability to face the truth that all things are empty. But the ability to see emptiness in Chadao takes practice – the changing of the tea, the drinking atmosphere, and the guests. Today’s guest may be the same as tomorrow’s, yet he is a different person. The same is true of you, that is, today’s you is different than tomorrow’s you. Likewise, you will not be able to create today’s atmosphere tomorrow. They are all expressions of emptiness. Nothing stands on its own. Everything depends on something else. When one changes, so do the others. Secondly, when you practice emptiness, you are practicing non-attachment, that is, not being attached to matters, a dualistic view, and emptiness.
Most tea lovers like beautiful teaware. I am one such tea lover; in fact, Song porcelain is my favorite. Song porcelain really taught me something. When you hold a piece of Song porcelain, you think you are indeed holding a piece, right? But actually it holds you. Think about how old it is. More than one thousand years old. How many people have owned it? Perhaps you have no idea. But one thing is certain – that those owners died, but the Song porcelain is still here, beautifully. So it is not that the owners hold Song porcelain, but that it holds the owners. So why the desire to grasp it, to hold it? This is an example of practicing non-attachment to matter. Of course, this is not the Buddha’s reasoning, but it works for me.
According to Buddhism, if you have the wisdom of insight that nothing has a fixed nature and that all things are in process, that suggests letting things go, detachment from the grip on what must inevitably disappear. This is non-attachment to matter. The same applies to detachment from ideas, which is the practice of non-attachment to a dualistic view. However, this is much more difficult because of our mind’s need to come to conclusions, to understand concepts, to grasp, and to fixate. Even the process, as I am doing, of writing about the concept of a tea person is a form of attachment. We all tend to hold on very tightly to everything.
The Buddha had already given us advice indirectly on how to practice non-attachment to the dualistic view, beginning with minor things such as making tea. Actually, Chado is a way to practice non-attachment to the dualistic view. Think of it as a kind of meditation. When you have no thoughts in your mind, the tea you make in that state will likely be wonderful! Murata Shuko emphasized the purity of the inner heart in Chado. I believe what the purity of the inner heart refers to is the state of no thought.
Another effective way is to practice the perfection of generosity. Attitude is essential to the practice of generosity. That’s why the virtues of nondiscrimination and impartiality are required in the practice of Chado. If a “tea person” treats people differently according to their status or their clothes or anything else, then he is just a person related to tea, not a real “tea person.” The virtue of modesty is also important. As Murata Shuko said, pride and obstinance are the worst traits and arrogance and stubbornness are the worst enemies of Chado. The point is that there is no notion of self (tea owner), no notion of the receivers (guests), and no notion of a gift (tea) in the practice of Chado. To practice Chado is to practice emptiness, meaning there is no me and no you, there is no mine and no yours, there is no owner and no guests, there is no giver and no receivers, and there is no self-satisfaction and upset. This is the practice of non-attachment to the dualistic view through the practice of generosity.
Some people will say, “Come on, let’s just have a tea meeting and a cup of tea.” But it is difficult to practice non-attachment to the dualistic view in a tea meeting because you have your preference for people. It is easy to create a harmonious atmosphere with those guests you like. However, the purpose of Chadao is to transform your perspective to that of a “non-self” compassionate entity. When you treat everybody in a nondiscriminatory manner, then you are a tea person.
Why then do we need to practice “seeing emptiness” and non-attachment? Because doing so eliminates fear and frees us from mistaken views and illusory thinking, thus allowing us to reach the Final Nirvana. Once I read this part in the Heart Sutra, I felt so much more peaceful. Through reliance on prajnaparamita, we can make our minds more flexible, and more open. Since there is no obscuration of the mind, there is no fear. Why do we fear? Because we need security and confirmation. Thus we have to grasp, hold on to things, and seek certainty. As long as we need security, there will be fear; as long as we need certainty, there will be fear; and as long as we need to grab on to something, there will be fear. Actually, emptiness lets you be realistic, which might not make you feel secure, but points out the truth by focusing on the present. That’s the reason we need to practice “seeing emptiness” and non-attachment. Furthermore, prajnaparamita is the ability to face the truth and not be afraid. Thus, Chadao is the way of tea through which to achieve enlightenment.
Last, but not least, a Chadao practitioner should treat everybody in a nondiscriminatory fashion and should be modest, not regarding himself as a “tea person.” The concepts of Chadao and “tea person” are both based on Buddha’s teachings. While Buddha’s teaching on emptiness, or shunyata, is actually that of “absolute emptiness,” it emphasizes the importance of non-attachment to all concepts. There is a saying that says “if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill the Buddha.” This means you must kill any conceptualized notions you harbor, including the concept of emptiness. Certainly, a “tea person” is a conceptualized notion. If you believe that you are a “tea person,” which connotes that there are others who are not tea people, then you are stuck in a view of duality that is considered dangerous according to Buddha’s teachings. “If the bodhisattva even perceives the perfection of wisdom, he has fallen away from it. The perfection of wisdom is empty of the perfection of wisdom,” Buddha said.
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In this series of three posts, I have tried to explain the concepts of a “tea person (Cha’ren)” and “Chadao” based on the Buddhist concept of emptiness and Prajnaparamit literature’s teachings, mainly on the Heart Sutra. The concept of a “tea person (Cha’ren)” came from the teachings of a Korean monk, whereas the concept of “Chadao” was one that I proposed. Both concepts are different from the conventional understanding set forth in most tea books.
In my opinion, Chadao is the way of tea, through which one might gain enlightenment. It can be divided into three stages: in the first stage, it is simply a way of tea, which refers to the art or skill of making tea. In this stage, the practice of concentration is also required, which actually is a preparation for the practice of “emptiness.” In the second stage, which is the most important, Chadao is a path to enlightenment, through the practice of emptiness (shunyata). In the third stage, as part of real-life practice, one becomes a “tea person”: modest, indifferent, and able to see emptiness.
Therefore, a “tea person (Cha’ren)” does not refer to a person who relates to tea. The tea lover, tea businessman, and the lady who does tea art performance are not necessarily “tea people (Cha’ren).” A “tea person (Cha’ren)” is one who through the way of tea, views the world empty of matter, empty of duality, and empty of empty, in order to achieve ultimate enlightenment or the profound perfection of wisdom.
If you would like more information on the sources Lisa used for this post, please contact her directly.