The waiting room is simple; arranged neatly with not-enough chairs for everyone in the group. The Japanese woman at the desk brings out several more with many a bow as a polite apology. Everyone is stricken with exceeding politeness in this room, everyone gets up to offer their seat and everyone smiles and declines until it gets too awkward and someone decides to sit down before the precarious tranquility of the room is flexed or strained too much. We wait. I check my watch and then decide that that’s rude. The place reeks with an overpowering polite stillness that filters through our minds like some luxurious perfume. The black woman next to me engages me in conversation. She’s here just to learn more, to take advantage of this rare and valuable experience. I’m here to research, to learn for the paper I plan to write, many miles of weeks ahead of me. We’re all sitting with our hands neatly folded, with our feet politely tucked. It’s a little after six when the barred bamboo door to my left slides open and the tea master shuffles out. We’re all still but somehow we still some more. He introduces himself and the room we’re about to enter…
To discuss the art of Japanese Tea Ceremony as a foreigner is a difficult task for many reasons. To claim any sort of formal finality, any concrete understanding in this discussion would be extremely presumptuous. Teaism, as the way of the Tea Ceremony is fondly titled, has been extremely influential within Japanese culture. As Okakura Kakuzo, author of The Book of Tea explains, “The long isolation of Japan from the rest of the world, so conducive to introspection, has been highly favourable to the development of Teaism. Our home and habits, costume and cuisine, porcelain, lacquer, painting–our very literature–all have been subject to its influence” (Okakura, 19). The attempt to translate this cultural process is extremely difficult and will be inherently flawed. Okakura explains very well, I think, the inherent reason for this difficulty. He writes, “Translation is always a treason, and as a Ming author observes, can at its best be only the reverse side of a brocade,–all the threads are there, but not the subtlety of colour or design” (Okakura, 42). Translation is treason; it is a flawed recreation, a smudged reflection. Yet it is the only means we have of communication. For communication is in fact a translation of one’s own experiences, emotions, thoughts, one’s entire life into tangible letters, constricting titles and defined words. Language and communication are what we use to make (or force) sense of the Universe, of one another, and of ourselves. Though communication is always a flawed translation, we are always striving intently on bridging the gaps between one another and are able to form some sort of understanding. My participation in Japanese Tea Ceremony was an entirely translated experience. The texts I read were translated from Japanese and Chinese into English, the wisdom and philosophy has been translated over the course of time and significance, and the experience of the tea ceremony has been translated into a convenient modern display. However, despite how diluted my experience and how flawed my understanding of the Tea Ceremony may be, the experience has been profound and has influenced my entire understanding of being in life.
I begin my account by exploring the modern problem, which in so many ways inherently disengages our attention from engaging fully with any moment in time. This disengagement from life directly opposes the purpose and philosophy of the Tea Ceremony. I go on to discuss the Zen influenced ritual of the Tea Ceremony and I end with the profound moment of drinking tea, all the while exploring my own interpretations of each step of the Tea Ceremony in the context of that inherent modern problem. Throughout the entire paper, I mingle my naïve experience with the wisdom of both Okakura Kakuzo in The Book of Tea and Lao-tzu in the Tao Te Ching , to illustrate how I have felt the true spirit of Teaism despite how treasonously translated the experience was.
The Modern Problem
This is not official. The official tea ceremony would be four hours long. This will be only an hour and it will be filled with distracting explanation and distracting pondering. Distracting memorization and distracting questions and distracting visitors with their distracting clothes and rings and necklaces and hands and smells and ideas and questions and complaints and laughs and groans and coughs and sneezes…
Our modern society is addicted to speed. Instant gratification permeates our entire culture; the need to multi task in order to get things done faster is everywhere. We find ourselves obsessed with efficiency. This is a problem. As Okakura states, “[o]ne cannot listen to different pieces of music at the same time, a real comprehension of the beautiful being possible only through concentration upon some central motive (Okakura ,66). In the act of multi-tasking, we complete our tasks shallowly, thinking sparingly, acting robotically. We forget to appreciate or indulge in the task at hand. We lose the pleasure of being absorbed in one thing at a time. We lose so much in our distracted way of life. The Tea Ceremony I participated in was but a small rehearsal of the true Tea Ceremony. Okakura gracefully discusses the modern problem throughout his text. He states,
“[o]ne can even buy a so-called Religion, which is really but common morality sanctified with flowers and music. Rob the Church of her accessories and what remains behind? Yet the trusts thrive marvelously, for the prices are absurdly cheap, –a prayer for a ticket to heaven, a diploma for an honourable citizenship”(Okakura, 45).
Okakura is describing the problem of recitation and memorization. One can efficiently memorize a mantra or philosophy or idea without understanding the profound truth out of which it was born. It is like the life and death of a profound proverb. The birth of a proverb is a beautiful moment. It is met with awe, because of how apt and universally true it is. It teaches and inspires, and is passed around from person to person across space and time. Its universal truth is its downfall; the more it is tossed around, the more it becomes recited rather than pondered. It becomes clichéd through its infinite repetition; it becomes a memorized and recited cliché. When we create something out of hard work, or realize something out of a stroke of epiphinac inspiration, the inevitable danger lies in its popularity, its sheer success. The greater the discovery, the larger the fall. There was a moment when the spark of fire provoked religious respect. Now we use it to light our cigarettes while waiting for the bus. Religion and education are the same way—for so many they are forced routines, rather than profound realizations. Rather than ponder what we hear, we spew it back, etch it in our minds and pretend we know. So often they are commodified, bought and sold, so that one can move on to the next task, the next step in life. They are our selfish investments for our future in Society and our future after death. Okakura explores this selfishness, stating:
“Shrine after shrine has crumbled before our eyes; but one altar is forever preserved, that whereon we burn incense to the supreme idol,–ourselves. Our god is great, and money is his Prophet! We devastate nature in order to make sacrifice to him. We boast that we have conquered Matter and forget that it is Matter that has enslaved us. What atrocities do we not perpetrate in the name of culture and refinement!(Okakura, 83).
Our incense is the cigarette we burn between our lips for our instant gratification that truly eventually kills us. Our modern touch screen telephones have become something like virtual Swiss army knives, full of useless tools that numb us to reality and enslave us to the non-existent realm of the Internet. One tool of a particularly damning quality is the tool of recording. They give us the means to record and upload moments in a moment, allow us to show the world what we are doing at any point in time. We frequently seek to record and upload the moment, we rarely allow ourselves to actually exist in it. The Internet, to which we are nearly constantly plugged and tethered, is an essential manifestation the modern problem. It condenses, summarizes and distracts. We skim to save time, without learning anything. The Internet is thought to be a realm of free and infinite information, and yet in reality it is nothing but a sleek distraction. Even now, as I write this essay I feel the sickly longing to Google certain vacant thoughts that drift through my mind, pure useless nonsense that requires no thought. The Internet becomes more of a way to explore useless information; the Internet serves as a pure reflection of our own distracting thoughts. We are content if we have this other alternate world into which we may submerge ourselves. We are slaves to our screens, hypnotized by the dictated words we hear and read, and the images we watch. We are obsessed with voicing our opinions that are simply informed by theses screens. In this way our society is able to control us while allowing us to think ourselves informed. Okakura states,
“Our standards of morality are begotten of the past needs of society, but is society to remain always the same? The observance of communal traditions involves a constant sacrifice of the individual to the state. Education, in order to keep up the mighty delusion, encourages a species of ignorance. People are not taught to be really virtuous, but to behave properly”(Okakura, 45).
Society is but a machine, building for itself cogs and gears, springs and wheels in each individual—it takes the born individual and, through education shapes us into a useful, obedient employee and modern citizen. Is it no wonder then that the studies of art and music are suppressed and deemed frivolous so that math and science may take precedence, cranking out technology that make the Society richer? The individual’s goal is to become a functioning member of Society, instead of a self-actualized individual. Internal exploration is suppressed. The means to make Society grander are encouraged.
There is also the peril of definition and classification. We create a virtual self in the Internet realm, on facebook and twitter accounts, even in our emails. We make for ourselves a virtual façade, easily categorizable and easily defined. We happily succumb to genres, stamping ourselves with fashion and accessories that we want to represent ourselves in these genres. From our hair and clothes to the books or articles we read and the movies we watch and the religion we follow, we are grasping at external materials to formulate ourselves and be recognized by others. We want to be individuals but we brand ourselves with the genres within Society. Okakura asks, “Why do men and women like to advertise themselves so much? Is it not but an instinct derived from the days of slavery?” (Okakura, 46). We seek to define and name, to title and classify to distinguish our lives and opinions from others, to argue and explain. This is the pursuit of the individual through external means provided by corporate commodity. We are not defining ourselves from within, but from without. We do not know our internal selves, but we know what we are drawn to externally. We attempt to buy our own individual image, and Society smiles because all these images are from Society and we are in the end merely reflecting the image of Society, merely fueling it with our money and our external desires. We are its slave. Kazuko gives an anecdote to explain this desire to define, which is perhaps the most apt way to discourage a static explanation while at the same time attempting to convey a thought. He writes,
“A collector is anxious to acquire specimens to illustrate a period or a school, and forgets that a single masterpiece can teach us more than any number of the mediocre products of a given period or school. We classify too much and enjoy too little. The sacrifice of the aesthetic to the so-called scientific method of exhibition has been the bane of many museums”(Okakura, 79).
To define the self is to separate the self from the other, close the self up from the other. “He who defines himself can’t know who he really is” (Okakura, 24). To define is to separate in an attempt to make order or make sense, to forcefully infringe sense upon the world. “Definition is always limitation–the ‘fixed’ and ‘unchangeless’ are but terms expressive of a stoppage of growth” (Okakura, 45). Imagine a man spinning through the chaos of the Universe. He is a modern man, and thus enjoys the labels of things that tell him what a thing is. But in the chaos of the Universe the labels haven’t been born yet and he runs around, screaming and shaking the world. “MAKE SENSE” he cries to the ocean. “MAKE SENSE” he cries to the sky. He is an exaggeration of the first man Adam, the definer. The movement and change of the Universe confuse him, if everything is changing all at once, how can he claim to know anything? He wants to understand and thinks that by stopping anything in its tracks with its title he will be able to understand the entire world. He tries to order the world. But it only serves to separate one from the world when one forces it to make sense and impose definition upon it. How can you understand something you try so hard to separate from yourself and from everything else? To just let be and let the world move its own way is to live in it and with it, to be dance partner to the chaos of the world and to let the movement and change envelop you is to truly feel the world. Chaos is the indefinable order of the universe.
But enough. How easy to get caught up in the complications of things. How easy to rile yourself up. How easy too to sit simply and drink the cup of tea. So, “Meanwhile, let us have a sip of tea. The afternoon glow is brightening the bamboos, the fountains are bubbling with delight, the soughing of the pines is heard in our kettle. Let us dream of evanescence, and linger in the beautiful foolishness of things” (Okakura, 27). We well let the problem of modern society slip from our minds, not to belittle the tragedy of modernity and its addiction to instant gratification, but to belittle modernity and instant gratification in the simple involved engagement of drinking a cup of tea.
The Ritual and the Zen
There are rules, or expectations, or I suppose, in this very unofficial demonstration, they’re more like mutely enforced desires of the tea master and his silent tea-making maidens. We are not supposed to bring our watches in—we are not to be distracted by the time embedded in our watch that cries to us “WHAT’S NEXT? WHAT’S NEXT?”. We are not supposed to bring jewelry or any accessory that might sparkle and distract our thoughts from the drinking of the tea with their slyly humble declarations of, “O look how we catch the light! O how beautiful I am… O remember how expensive I am! O how everything dulls in comparison to us!” We are supposed to remain quiet, but not because we must be silent for the sake of silence itself but because only in silent quiet can we truly mediate on the the-this-is-what-I-am-doing-at-this-moment at the here and now. When we are walking, he says, we must only be aware that we are walking. When sitting, only that we are sitting. When eating, again only that we are eating, tasting, absorbing and living. When drinking…
The rules or expectations are simple. They don’t need to be complicated. The distractions of the world are to be forgotten. Of Teaism, there is a very carefully dictated ritual. It is a very particular process, and everything from the creation and placement of the paper doors to the carefully tuned lighting in the tea-room to the shuffling of the tea master as he moves about the room are heavily regulated and practiced forms of meditation. Okakura writes, “the tea-ceremony was a development of the Zen ritual” (Okakura, 42). The entire ceremony strives towards this purpose of meditation. Followers of Zen believe “that through consecrated meditation may be attained supreme self-realisation” (Okakura, 49). The involved act of meditating on existing fully in each step of the tea ceremony enables one to forget and ignore the requirements of Society, the worries of the past and the plans for the future, the stress of the life Society has constructed for its cogs to gear themselves towards the requirements of Society. Okakura explains,
“[i]n all circumstances serenity of mind should be maintained, and conversation should be conducted as never to mar the harmony of the surroundings. The cut and color of the dress, the poise of the body, and the manner of walking could all be made expressions of artistic personality. Tea with us became more than an idealisation of the form of drinking; it is a religion of the art of life”(Okakura, 96).
The realm of our minds must be subdued, must be quieted. Only without distractions can we truly immerse ourselves in acting in a moment. We must be made humble not for the sake of humility but in order to subdue any distractions. All is forgotten in each moment. And instead then of the stress and strain of the past and future, one is purely able to meditate on the perfection in each moment, the beauty and profound divinity of every single second. When you refuse to dedicate yourself to the future or the past, beauty radiates artistically from each present moment. In the most mundane acts of life beauty can be seen and can be lived. Kazuko writes that, “[t]he beverage grew to be an excuse for the worship of purity and refinement, a sacred function at which the host and guest joined to produce for that occasion the utmost beatitude of the mundane” (Okakura, 38). The tea ceremony strives in every way to create a realm and activity in which one loses touch with the distractions of “the serious” in life. From the expectation of one to fully immerse oneself in each act involved in the tea ceremony to the humble and un-accessorized attire that is expected to be worn, one is always being seduced by the mundane in the tea-room. The only expectation of one is to take pleasure in each mundane moment.
He says when you enter through this bamboo door (the one that is barred) you are entering a new world. Imagine it so. Imagine it so and enter and promise yourself that you will not exit back through into the world of New York City unless you have achieved the mediation required with each tea ceremony. He says it is a large step to walk through these doors. You are entering a new world, you must imagine it so.
And we do. We enter the new world and there is a tremor that takes away the memory of the hustle and bustle of the train ride, the train cars packed with people and smells and sounds and thoughts and energies and souls (it makes me sick to think on it). The grey smoky smelly screechy mean rancid world of the city falls away like water off your skin. We enter into a world that was composed entirely in Kyoto. Everything was created precisely and just so by specialized carpenters for just the creation of this tea center.
The aesthetic of the tea-room contributes greatly to the tea ceremony. The tea-room is so simple it may seem barren and cheap, but it is created in the most specific and particular fashion. Okakura writes,
“A good tea-room is more costly than an ordinary mansion for the selection of its materials, as well as its workmanship, requires immense care and precision. Indeed, the carpenters employed by the tea-masters form a distinct and highly honoured class among artisans, their work being no less delicate than that of the makers of lacquer cabinets”(Okakura, 58).
So much care and detail is given to the creation of each board and every plank; the creation of the tearoom is very much akin to the meditative acts involved in the tea ceremony. The entire realm of the tea ceremony exudes this aura of profound meditation. “The simplicity and purism of the tea-room resulted from emulation of the Zen monastery” which was a “college room where the students congregate for discussion and the practice of meditation…” (Okakura, 59). Everything in the tea-room is made with perfection in imperfection in mind, poised and placed just so only in order to suggest self-reflection. The tearoom becomes another world.
It is amazing. I am walking. I am walking but I am thinking too of how it is like a breath of fresh air in here. How the light is like eternally a mid afternoon kind of cool cloudy light. An overcast light that makes you calm and vacant. I am walking I am walking but look here, he says. This is our garden. The stones all are arranged just so, brought here from Kyoto and arranged just so by tea center stone arrangers. We do not go in the garden in this simple version of the tea ceremony, but even just gazing at it aware of its origin and creation and intention fills me with a kind of soft longing. I want to go in it, to listen to its lesson, to feel its teachings. We move on.
The garden or roji is a key component to the tea ceremony. It exists to subdue the individual, to act as a final portal before entering the tea-room. Okakura writes,
“[t]he roji was intended to break connection with the outside world, and produce a fresh sensation conducive to the full enjoyment of aestheticism in the tea-room itself. One who has trodden this garden path cannot fail to remember how his spirit, as he walked in the twilight of evergreens over the regular irregularities of the stepping stones, beneath which lay dried pine needles, and passed beside the moss-covered granite lanterns, became uplifted above ordinary thoughts. One may be in the midst of a city, and yet feel as if he were in the forest far away from the dust and din of civilisation. Great was the ingenuity displayed by the tea-masters in producing these effects of serenity and purity”(Okakura, 60).
The roji is created, it seems, to act as the final bridge from the outside realm of serious Society and its stresses to the tea-room and its reverence of the mundane. The lighting is subdued, like afternoon clouds. The plants grow quietly and serenely. The stones are carefully placed, and everything is clean. It is like an icy shower of rain that washes thoughts off the mind and cleanses the spirit of the individual. What is there to think about here but what is here? There is nothing to distract, to remind of specifics. There is nothing very specific. The edges of everything are rounded to perfect subtlety. It is all done only to serve one’s meditative state in the tea ceremony. Without actively opposing the ways of Society, it opposes it in an even greater way in its calm passivity. The tea-room wages a peaceful protest against Society without acknowledging its protest, without acknowledging Society, without acknowledging anything but itself. It is indifferent, and passive.
And here we are, we are in the tea room. You sit here, and you sit here, just like this. Just so. Feet tucked under your bottom. Does anyone need a stool? Yes you? And you?
I don’t need a stool. I am determined to mimic as precisely as I can the actual expectation of the tea master. I sit, knees exactly just sixteen bamboo strips away from the edge. Hands folded just so.
Sometimes it takes years to master the art of sitting. To master the art of walking. To master the art of living.
The tea master takes his time to master the art and spirit of the tea ceremony. He cannot rush this process, it would undermine everything that the tea ceremony stands for. When everything must be preformed in such a delicate and serene manner, it is not uncommon for one to spend years learning how to master the shifty shuffle, or the offering of the tea. Okakura writes that, “[t]hese were matters not to be lightly ignored, for until one has made himself beautiful he has no right to approach beauty. Thus the tea-master strove to be something more than the artist,–art itself. It was the Zen of aestheticism. Perfection is everywhere if we only choose to recognise it” (Okakura, 96). The role of tea master becomes something akin to the role of a character in a play, a drama. Like an actor in a play, he is not simply the artist but a part of the art itself. It is a completely involved process, and the tea master must not simply memorize his acts and lines but intrinsically and instinctually live them in each moment. It is a delicate enforcement of intensely practice perfection in the most foolish and mundane. Herein lies the Zen. Okakura explains the Zen belief that “Truth can be reached only through the comprehension of opposites” (Okakura, 45). Here, in this ceremony, we compare the meditative perfection of the ritual with the imperfect and mundane and almost carnal imbibing of liquid.
A silent woman shuffles out, garbed neatly in gorgeous kimono dress. She places at our knees a napkin that cradles the most perfect little cake. A ginko leaf is embedded in each cake. We eat, careful he says not to let the crumbs crumple onto the bamboo floor. We are to tuck the napkin with the debris into our pocket, out of sight.
The woman comes back, holding a myriad of devices. Shuffling fast but moving slowly. She kneels, and takes hold of the cup. She wets it with hot water that has reached the desired temperature because it sounds like wind whistling through the pines. The cup steams, the steam curls and dances and floats about. She takes a neatly folded cloth and neatly wipes. Once…twice…thrice. She then dips the cloth into the cup and wipes the bottom. She sets the cup down. She retreats.
He explains how the shrine behind us has a meaning, which I’ve forgotten. How we are like deities to him and his tea maidens. How long he has worked here, which I’ve forgotten. How it takes ten years or so to master this ancient and most delicate art. It is a mediation. One thing at a time. We must not cloud this clean space with other thoughts. We must be here now.
The tea is served, again in that careful meditative way that reflects the pursuits of Zen ritual. The entire ritual is nearly complete. There is,
“[n]ot a colour to disturb the tone of the room, not a sound to mar the rhythm of things, not a gesture to obtrude on the harmony, not a word to break the unity of the surroundings, all movements to be performed simply and naturally–such were the aims of the tea-ceremony. And strangely enough it was often successful. A subtle philosophy lay behind it all. Teaism was Taoism in disguise”(Okakura, 39).
We have walked and sat, poised as perfectly as possible. The lighting issued in to calm our spirits and erase our stressed and distractible minds. Though distractions litter the air and flitter about our thoughts, we can actively ignore them, shunt them aside. Each action and decoration in this ceremony is completely inclined toward final act of drinking the tea. The ritual may be lengthy and practiced, but it is all made nearly perfect entirely for the single act of drinking. The Zen influence and the tea ceremony ritual taper away once one drinks the liquid.
So then let us let this lengthy process dwindle away. It is easy to get caught up in it, to be too concerned with the perfection of the steps involved in the tea ritual, but it seemed to me less about striving for perfection and more about striving for a meditated and calmed mind so that once the tea trickles down the throat, one is able to completely submerge themselves body and soul in the liquid. The ritual is like a cleansing process, step by step guiding one’s mind and spirit to the perfect tea drinking state. Let us take our cups and drink. Let us drink deeply, and let the simplicity of the thing envelop our entire being.
The Tea and the Tao
We are served our tea. One by one. There is a scandal when one guest is accidentally overlooked. We are to bow to our server, and she to us and us to her and she to us….We are to bow to our neighbor and our neighbor to us and us to our neighbor and our neighbor to us. We are to bow to our tea and our tea is to be imbibed, but held just so in the left hand. Fingers taut and delicate. We are to take sips. One, two, three and SLUUURP we are to SLUUURP loudly. Some are embarrassed to do so. The tea comes to me and I bow here and there and everywhere and spin the cup around as I am told and taste it. I am nervous about the perfection with which I am meant to engage in this tea, and aware of others neglecting aspects of the tea ceremony. I want to do participate as perfectly as possible.
The green tea is frothy, like algae at the top of a still pond. So still it looks solid. The bubbles are so tiny they seem non-existent. I bring the cup to my lips.
“It isn’t aware of its greatness; thus it is truly great” reminds the Tao te Ching(Lao-tzu, 34).
It is cool and smooth and I can feel the steam from the tea trickle up my nose and my mouth. I taste it. The bitterness bites so slightly, just as slight as the bubbles. It is delicious, and murky. It tastes moist, rare and insubstantial, like fog. I am drinking. I am drinking. I am drinking. I am drinking. I am slurping. I am twisting the cup back. I am placing the cup down. I am sitting. I am sitting. I am breathing. I am breathing. I am digesting. I am digesting…All this in a series of moments unclouded by any other thoughts. They exist, these other thoughts threatening to distract like storm clouds in the distance but my conscious mind does not grasp on to them. I can feel them in my head, these distracting thoughts but I do not reach out to them. I try to empty my conscious from being anywhere other than in this slowly dwindling swampy green tea that is filling my mouth, that is being tasted and swallowed and trickling down into my stomach.
Despite the strict Zen regime of the tea ceremony’s ritual, the moment of drinking tea is filled with the simplicity of the Tao. The Tao Te Ching states that you must, “[o]pen yourself to the Tao, then trust your natural responses; and everything will fall into place” (Lao-tzu, 23). There is no need to worry about drinking perfectly, for the point of acting with perfection is complete. “True mastery can be gained by letting things go their own way. It can’t be gained by interfering” says the Tao (Lao-tzu, 48). There is no need to force, or try. The Zen ritual has cleansed the mind and spirit. It has prepared the self for the drinking of tea. Distractions are no longer distracting, they do not twinkle or lure. It begins to come instinctual to tuck away foreign and foolish thoughts of the world beyond the tea-room. Our minds have been made empty. The Tao explores this emptiness, “We join spokes together in a wheel, but it is the center hole that makes the wagon move. We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want. We hammer wood for a house, but it is the inner space that makes it livable. We work with being, but non-being is what we use” (Lao-tzu, 11). Only in the emptiness can one truly feel oneself being filled by a moment. The entire Zen ritual then is a preparation for this emptiness. It forces one to rid the clingy sticky remnants of Society from one’s mind. Now we are able to fill ourselves completely with the divine pleasure of mundane existence, relish in pure contented passivity.
The Tao te Ching is simple, which actually appears complicated in opposition to a complicated Society. “True words seem paradoxical” the Tao te Ching reminds us, and “True wisdom seems foolish” (Lao-tzu, 78, 45). The simple act of sitting seems silly and foolish, and it seems difficult too, to simply empty the mind. It seems paradoxical to approach this simple non-acting and not-trying with such a strict regimented way in the ritual of the tea. But it is only because Society has made itself so complicated, separating its parts and rejecting the inherent unity of the entire Universe in order to define and explain with comparison. “The more you know, the less you understand” says the Tao (Lao-tzu, 47). It is because we are used to seeing the world upside down. We are used to making complicated what is inherently simple and pure. We are used to forcing ourselves to know the world, to be aware of its parts and components as separate and not whole. “The tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal Name. The unnamable is the eternally real. Naming is the origin of all particular things” says the Tao (Lao-tzu, 1). By separating the universe we interfere and make non-existent distinctions like the invisible borders that separate a country or state or property. By separating the Universe into parts, we render it imperfect—it is no longer perceived as a perfect whole, but something made up of imperfect parts. Yet is it not perfectly what it is as a whole? The Universe is perfect because it is the Universe. It is the only Universe, that includes everything and in that it is perfect. It is perfectly itself, the way everything is perfectly itself. Perfectly imperfect, therefore perfect.
And now I’m leaving and I am gone and that magic world is swallowed up in memory as I am placed again in this smelly noisy terrible grey smoky world of the city where everything honks and screams and belches and groans and is cold and dark and gloomy and depressing. But I’m still digesting.
Despite this experience being so heavily translated, I believe I truly have touched the spirit of Teaism through my pure intent. Lafcadio Hearn, who was a Greco-Irishman raised in Ireland is well known for his internationally engaged writings, especially in the realm of Japanese folklore. He indirectly explores the problem of translation in his text Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things. There is a verb and concept in Japan called “nazoraeru”. This concept means something along the lines of to mentally substitute one thing for another in order to bring about something miraculous. It cannot be adequately literally translated into English, but there is an example that Lafcadio Hearn scribes that demonstrates the act and its desired effect. Hearn writes, “For example:–you cannot afford to build a Buddhist temple; but you can easily lay a pebble before the image of the Buddha, with the same pious feeling that would prompt you to build a temple if you were rich enough to build one. The merit of so offering the pebble becomes equal, or almost equal to the merit of erecting a temple” (Hearn, 18). You cannot completely convey the entirety of your experience to another through mortal means, not through gestures, writing or communication. It is impossible for another to ever understand you without being you. However, by writing or speaking and seeking specific words and specific ways of communication with all your intention set on conveying the experience to another being or beings, the merit becomes the same or almost the same as if you were ever actually able to convey completely your experience. It is not through the words or the way the words are put together that ultimately matters but out of the determined spirit and pure intent with which you undergo the task. I know that I do not know the full history of Tea Ceremony, and I know I will never understand it the way a true Tea Master does. But I think that its profound importance does grow out of an inherent and shared experience of humankind, and each member of the human race has the ability to perceive the lessons embedded in the Tea Ceremony, regardless of age, race, sex. It is all out of the same-shared human experience, which I believe is to an extent timeless and universal. I underwent this experience self-aware, and I emerge from it with a realization that this self-awareness is not what is important. It does not matter who I am nor where I come from. My foreignness is a foolish thing to preoccupy my experience with. All that matters is that I participated with a pure intent to follow the way of the Tea Ceremony, in order to learn and live. It is out of this spirit that I participated in the Tea Ceremony, and perhaps therefore I have performed nazoraeru. Perhaps, though I am treasonous translator, the merit of my intent to truly experience Teaism is in some strange way equivalent to the Tea Master’s experience. But, perhaps not. In the end, it does not matter.
Hearn, Lafcadio. Kwaidan; Stories and Studies of Strange Things. New York: Dover Publications, 1968. Print.
Laozi, and Stephen Mitchell. Tao Te Ching: A New English Version. New York: Harper & Row, 1988. Print.
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 I say carnal to emphasize the moment we sip the tea. Part of the ritual involves audibly slurping the liquid. It is almost like succumbing to the bestial and the instinctual, noisily imbibing because we are imperfect beings and need to take in the external in order to live. It is a reminder of our imperfection in spite of the near perfectly orchestrated ritual.