Our tradition is based on a life of tea, and whether as tea monks who are committed full time or householders who may only devote a portion of their energies to this Way of Tea, the goal is the same: awakening and presence through tea. This life and practice is to help cultivate our own inner wisdom, and to then share our inner peace with others in the true spirit of tea—leaves and water offered freely in recognition of the oneness of Being, and the healing power in commune with Nature and each other.
As a tradition it is important to remain living, just as tea itself has so much more healing power when it is alive and vibrant. For that reason we must tread carefully around dogma and formalization, allowing future generations to adapt this Way of Tea to the truths and situations they face, passing on these tools of cultivation without any attachment to the concepts or words that surround them. The living wisdom that flows must be flexible, growing and adapting to the contours of the world. It must be an open system, able to evolve and absorb any truth, now and then.
We wayfare together as individuals, each with his or her own destiny, and each with his or her own unique abilities and capacities for service. Our goal is to facilitate an awakened destiny in everyone, without exclusion. As we are all of one heart, we are also of one tradition: the tradition of the Earth.
We have arbitrarily divided this life of tea into eight bowls, eight aspects, but they should not be regarded dogmatically. The division is merely for communication; it isn’t important. Far more relevant is the daily consumption of these eight bowls of tea life in this tradition, and the resulting transformations in consciousness—awakenings that ring across the very heartstrings of the world. Each of the eight bowls has reflected on its dewy surface the other seven, like the diamonds of Indra.
One of our masters says that if you want to brew tea well, you must first learn to be a person. For example, without meditation and prayer there is no mastery of the sacred, and without that a life of tea would be fruitless. In that way, each of the eight aspects of this life as it is lived is a fractal in each of the others.
In Zen, teachers often ask the students koans to delve their understanding of the tradition. The answer is a state of consciousness rather than certain words or poetry, and as long as one embodies that state, the teacher will know it and any answer will suffice. This is why many such dialogues involve the master repeating the student’s answer verbatim—when the student gave the answer, it was wrong, but when it was uttered from within the consciousness of the master, it was correct. Similarly, a life of tea needs to be lived, not discussed. These eight practices are a Dao, a Way of life. Understanding them has no meaning aside from true participation.
Though this introduction might help clarify the work and its directions, each of the different aspects of this Dao will look and feel differently as they are embodied in different individuals, and a true knowledge of their efficacy will only come in the living form of each. The drawings of the local flora in an encyclopedia are very different than the living plants, in infinite ways. Guidance and understanding are often wonderful incentives to practice, though a rather poor substitute for even the smallest bit of participation, as discussion of tea is no replacement for a true bowl. And like the Zen master, the proof is in the tea itself. When others who are awakened drink of your cup, they will know the state of mind it was prepared in. Cultivating and sharing spiritual awakening through tea is ancient, older than mankind.
First Bowl: Skillful Means; Moral Uprightness
Rather than speaking in right and wrong, involving judgment and rank, let us define morality in terms of that which is skillful, wholesome and healthy. We are what we do, and the way we treat ourselves and others affects our tea. We should consequently honor life, and not kill; avoid greed and desire, with a love of freedom from material possession. We know that our actions, words and most importantly thoughts towards ourselves and others affect our ability to live a life of tea in every way. Rather than formalizing a moral code of conduct, we practice self-effacement and recognition of the true oneness of all Being. From such an awareness, comes true love and compassion. And in that state, all conduct is pure conduct. In that way, we walk with heads held upright. Knowing oneness, there is no opportunity to behave unskillfully—life flows like tea, from empty vessel to empty vessel. ‘Love and do what thy will’ shall be the whole of the law.
End of Part One.
The remaining bowls will publish on the dates below:
Bowl Two: Mastered mind; Meditation April 8
Bowl Three: Humility and Gratitude; Study, Contemplation and Prayer April 15
Bowl Four: Cleanliness; Purity April 22
Bowl Five: Physical wellbeing; Diet and Movement April 29
Bowl Six: Healing and Community; Work and Service May 6
Bowl Seven: Connection to the Great Nature; Bowl tea May 13
Bowl Eight: Grace and Beauty; Gong fu tea May 20
“Eight Bowls of Life” was written by Wu De and first published by Global Tea Hut February 2013. Loading image from TChing archives. Post images courtesy of Global Tea Hut.