My last post asked the question: what do you think about the critiques which assert that the relationship between Zen and Japanese culture – introduced by D.T Suzuki in his classic work of Zen and The Art of Tea – is largely a product of the invention of tradition? In today’s post, I attempt to answer this question by sharing some of my research.
The history of the Japanese Tea Ceremony could be concluded by the words from Tanaka Sensho (1875-1960), the founder of Dainiho Sado Gakkai: “Originally the tea ceremony in our country began with Murata Juko (1423-1502), was restored by Takeno Joo (1502-1555), and perfected by Sen Rikyu (1522-1591), and finally it has become a form of learning the national essence. The deep meaning of the real tea ceremony derives from Zen, contributes to reason, and lays down proper behavior.”
The lineage from Murata Juko to Sen Rikyu is the essential historical source which connects Buddhism and Japanese Tea Ceremony. It is said that the first Japanese Tea Ceremony founder Marata Shuko was a student of Zen Master Ikkyu. According to the Yamanoue Soji, Ikkyu taught Shuko, “The Buddha dharma is also in the way of tea.” This advice is believed to have inspired Shuko to create the first Japanese Tea Ceremony. The culminating figure in the history of Japanese Tea Ceremony is Rikyu. His disciples firmly claimed a line of direct transmission of the teachings on tea from Shuko and Joo to him.
Since Chanoyu in 16th Century, particularly in the Azuchi-Momoyama epoch, was associated with politics and merchant pursuits, the extent of Buddhism’s influence on it could be debated. Firstly, since “the medieval organization of government-sanctioned Zen monasteries, known as the ‘five monasteries’ system, was one of the primary vehicles for the importation of Chinese literati culture during much of the medieval period,” thus it is natural there is a relationship emerged between many of the Chinese arts and Zen doctrinal themes. However, it only says Buddhism was part of the cultural milieu, and might have had a marginal effect on the development of Chanoyu.
The so called Japanese Chanoyu, or Wabi tea, originally emerged for the purpose to compete with the shoin tea. Shoin tea was popular in aristocratic tea gatherings, revolving around the perfection and refinement of Sung-dynasty ceramics, and also the deep appreciation of those born of a connoisseur’s sensibility. It symbolized a learned familiarity with the master’s Chinese painting, and the discrimination ability for lacquerware and metalwork.
However, the common people, especially the less wealthy merchants, could employ only more accessible local items for two reasons. First, merchants were officially members of the lowest class of Japanese society: they ranked below noblility, samurai, and farmers. Second, even if merchants were wealthy enough to acquire such expensive Chinese karamono artifacts, the sensibility of a connoisseur could not be cultivated in short time. That is why Wabi tea first became popular in Sakai, a prosperous and independent port city, a merchants’ city, because Wabi tea started from the negation of all luxury and extravagance, producing aesthetic forms of simplicity and commonality, which was welcomed by merchants. If we consider that the Buddhist background of Juko, Joo and Rikyu had played important role on their Wabi tea, their background of merchants could not be ignored, which might play a more important role in their Wabi tea.
End of Part 1 – Part 2 will publish tomorrow, June 5.