The Japanese Tea Ceremony – the sacred in every day life
I love to look for the sacred in every day life. And there may be no better example than the opportunity offered by mindfully drinking a simple cup of tea, as in the Japanese Tea Ceremony.
Whether gazing out the window, or going through the formality of a Japanese tea ceremony, there is tranquility and grace to be found there.
I only became a tea drinker very recently, which is interesting since I’m Irish and they are great tea drinkers.
But I try to stay up do date on all health news and when I learned that a cup of green tea a day was good for us, and someone gave me a box of tea for my birthday a few years ago, I was off and running.
Ironically, once I started having a cup of green tea a day, I learned the latest prescription was four cups a day! Oh, well.
I don’t really want to drink four cups a day, but have been pretty steady at having one cup a day of either green, white or red tea, all of which are said to have great healing properties.
The Japanese are reputed to have the lowest rate of heart disease in the world. Diet is a big part of that, but also, 50% of Japanese drink three cups of green tea day!
And there are over 1000 studies showing that green tea helps prevent heart disease.
The Japanese Tea Ceremony
The Japanese tea ceremony, also known as The Way of Tea, is a beautiful example of finding the sacred in every day life.
Dating back to the 16th Century, it developed as a path to spiritual awakening characterized by humility, grace, restraint, and simplicity.
This is a far cry from the modern practice of pouring hot water over a tea bag and drinking tea on the run. Something I’m embarrassed to admit I do all too often.
This is what Web Japan says about The Way of Tea:
The tea host or hostess may spend decades mastering not only the measured procedures for serving tea in front of guests, but also learning to appreciate art, crafts, poetry, and calligraphy; learning to arrange flowers, cook, and care for a garden; and at the same time instilling in himself or herself grace, selflessness, and attentiveness to the needs of others.
The ceremony is equally designed to humble participants by focusing attention both on the profound beauty of the simplest aspects of nature—such as light, the sound of water, and the glow of a charcoal fire (all emphasized in the rustic tea hut setting)—and on the creative force of the universe as manifested through human endeavor, for example in the crafting of beautiful objects.
Conversation focuses on praise for the beauty of natural manifestations. Guests will not engage in small talk or gossip. The objective of a tea gathering is that of Zen Buddhism—to live in this moment—and the entire ritual is designed to focus the senses so that one is totally involved in the occasion and not distracted by mundane thoughts. It’s a practice in mindfulness.
The students studying the Tea Ceremony learn to think of others first. Learning is experiential, not from a book. The goal is to attain presence of mind. The Way of Tea is not a course to be completed, but a way of life itself.
It’s about the beauty of simplicity.
The traditional tea ceremony is a spiritual experience embodying harmony, respect, purity and tranquility. Guests enter by walking across roji [Japanese for dewy ground], symbolically ridding themselves of the dust of the world.
Then they wash their hands and mouths from water in a stone basin as a last purifying step.
The host receives the guests through a low door or gate, forcing them to bow upon entry — a reminder to be humble.
The doorway also symbolizes leaving behind the material world and entering the spiritual world.
For an informal ceremony, guests are served sweets and tea. A formal ceremony will include a full meal and can take up to four hours.
It is an art and one may study for a long time to be qualified to do it right.
A tea ceremony generally involves the preparation of powered green tea known as Matcha, which was originally used by monks in Japan to center themselves during meditation. Over time, it became part of Japanese tea ceremonies and then an everyday drink.
Matcha is gaining in popularity in the West, with matcha cafes opening in New York, L.A., Boston and Miami.
Because one consumes the entire leaf instead of simply a bag steeped in water, matcha has more fiber and 20 times the anti-oxidants of regular green tea. The way it is processed fills it with chlorophyll and vitamins, making it good for detoxing.
In Japan, people may choose to take classes or join clubs dedicated to teaching this tradition. Students learn the common hosting duties such as
- how to properly enter and exit the tea room,
- when to bow,
- making the tea correctly,
- proper placement and cleaning of the utensils and equipment,
- as well as appropriate guest behavior like handling and drinking from the tea bowl.
It reminds me of many indigenous ceremonies, which are all designed to bring us closer to God and to appreciate the simple beauty of this magnificent creation.
Every placement of a spiritual instrument has a purpose, one of which is to call in the good spirits to hear our prayers and act on them.
The low door of the purification lodge makes us all equal and reminds us to be humble, just as the entryway to the tea room. We leave the mundane world behind and purify ourselves to be worthy of serving the Creator.
Over the years, I have come to understand that ceremony is the language of spirit – the language of humility, respect, kindness and grace.
Whatever tradition you follow is sacred, as long as it gives you the experience of being in the presence of the Divine.
Honoring guests is a time-honored tradition in many cultures of bringing beauty and kindness into every day life.
It’s not necessary to conduct a formal tea ceremony in order to experience tranquility, mindfulness and share joy with friends. One can do that with any meal, or even a cup of tea. Why not try it?
What traditions do you share with friends that bring joy and contentment?
“The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family.” A Pakistani village elder to author Greg Mortenson in Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace – One School at a Time
Molly Larkin is the co-author of the international best-seller “The Wind Is My Mother; The Life and Teachings of a Native American Shaman.” She is passionate about helping people live life to their fullest potential through her classes, podcast and blog at www.MollyLarkin.com