The Spiritual Path of Tea

Tea is a spiritual path, a Dao. In living a life of tea we realize that in all we do, we are preparing tea. What we eat affects our tea, as does the way we treat people. One of our masters always says, “If you want to learn to make tea, you must first learn to be a person.” That’s easier said than done.

The Four Virtues of Tea

Sen No Rikyu left us four virtues of tea: Reverence, Purity, Tranquility and Harmony. They form the basis of any tea practice. We must cultivate a reverence for tea, for our guests and ourselves, our teaware and tea space.We consummate this respect by purifying ourselves, our instruments and our space—for they are truly sacred. A purified space leads to tranquility, within and without. And when we are tranquil, we find a sense of completion, presence. Nothing is missing from this moment. In this way, these four virtues steep seamlessly into one liquor. A single draught of such an elixir can be transformative.

Tea is a reverence for the ordinary moment: the grains in wood or stone, the sunlight illuminating a stream of incense, or the steam from a bowl… It is about finding the sacred in everything, every moment of our lives. As we brew tea with reverence, we are purified; and the more purified we become the more we can brew tea with reverence. Tranquility and harmony are also cultivated within and without. First, we practice outer quietude in order to meet the more powerful inner stillness.

Rest in Stillness With Tea

When we rest in stillness, it no longer matters that there is turbulence around us. We could then brew tea downtown and still experience and share peace with others.

They say that the Way of Tea is 80% cleaning— inner and outer. We work on purifying our hearts in order to make purer tea, the kind that transports people, heals them and connects them to Nature. This requires humility, purity, a mindful, meditative mind and other wholesome qualities. The student asked his master how to brush the perfect scroll of calligraphy and the master responded, “Perfect yourself and paint naturally!” In that way, we live our Zen-mind in our tea. We perfect ourselves and brew naturally. Our wisdom is then communicated to the world through our tea, which speaks louder than any words ever could, and much more directly as well.

The most important element in fine tea isn’t the teaware, water or charcoal; it isn’t even the leaves. It is, rather, the mind of the one brewing. Some of our best, most transformative tea sessions were held in simple surroundings and the tea was nothing to speak of—simple green tea brewed in a cracked, old bowl. Other times you find very expensive teas in elegant surroundings ruined by a lot of ego trumpeting, while the tea is unfortunately neglected. When tea is offered and received pure-heartedly, magic happens.

Living tea is a leaf grown sustainably and ecologically, full of the Qi of the Earth. It is also what we do with that energy once it has been consumed. After conversing with our master, the Leaf, what we have learned and how we apply that wisdom are important determiners of progress. If we do not heed Her wisdom, She may turn her back on us. We must learn to follow her lifeways, living and beaming the spirit of tea. This is to say that the reverence, purity, tranquility and harmony didn’t come from Rikyu—he just named them. They are inherent qualities of Tea itself. Rikyu learned them from Tea, just as we must. In fulfilling such qualities in our lives, we live the energy of Tea itself—we become an expression of tea spirit.