The Tea Plant

These leaves are earth, soil and rock, wind and water. Through them we drink in the weather. And they are also an expression of what is beyond our planet, absorbing sun, moon and starlight in photosynthesis. Plants don’t have a feeling of separation or disconnection from their environment: they breathe in and out, take in the rain and sun, minerals and energy. It all flows through them, open in the receiving and the giving alike. Plants are a part of their environment, connecting completely to the Life that surrounds them. Tea offers us this connection, for we too are a part of this Earth and grew out of it just as it has. As we drink in this herb, the boundaries between outside and in grow fuzzy: at first the tea isn’t us, then it is . . .

Tea Bud on old growth plant in Yunnan Province - tea plant

We drink tea to revive the connections we have with the Earth and Sky. Tea speaks to us of our own origins in the water and rock, minerals and plants. Without the trees, we would have no food to eat or air to breathe. They are as necessary to our existence as any other aspect of our bodies. And we are related to them in the most intimate ways, as we breathe their air, eat their sustenance and absorb them into our bodies, minds and souls. We must learn to once again feel our dependency on Nature, as our ancestors did. Many people nowadays rarely feel, in their everyday consciousness, just how dependent we are on plants.

Tea is one of the plant kingdom’s teachers: a connecter to the source that was grown out of the Earth as a guide for us. It speaks a language from a deeper and far older world than the human one we inhabit now.

The Nature of Tea and Society

Tea is Nature in the simplest sense, as it comes from the mountains—away from the city and its noise. There is an old Chinese saying, “Tea brings Nature to society.” It is all too easy to disconnect tea from Nature, drinking it in some fine tea house in the middle of the city. But what would Tea tell you if you connect to Nature through it and the leaves themselves were produced in a way that harms the Earth? Would it cry for help?

It is no longer possible for us to ignore provenance as an aspect of our collective value system. The way something is produced and where it comes from are now just as important in evaluating it as how much pleasure it brings. A high-quality tea must therefore be produced sustainably and organically; it isn’t enough that it taste nice. We drink tea as a part of the Natural cycle from weather to rock, seed to sapling, sky to leaves. We enter into that Nature-process and find ourselves. For that reason, it’s important that tea be respected as more than leaves. It is a tree, and each tree has a soul—a unique beingness we should converse with rather than trying to domineer to suit our taste.

Tea is also Nature in the greater, transcendent sense: The doorway to existence itself. Tea is Nature, as all of Nature went into its creation—without the sun, sky, earth or stars there wouldn’t be any tea to speak of. It touches the Dao, and drinking it is often a returning. Our words, however, cannot intrude upon such a sense of completion.

More Thoughts on the Meaning of Tea

Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future. Live the actual moment. Only this moment is life.

 ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Tea should not be an exhibition of what one owns. Instead, the purity of one’s heart should be displayed.

   ~ Sen. No Rikyu