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Tea Ritual

Zen Tea

by Jill Scott, of Kalapa Cha

When asked by a student to say something about the most important teachings of Tea Ceremony, Sen no Rikyu, the founder of the Japanese Way of Tea, responded,

First you must make a delicious bowl of tea; lay the charcoal so the water boils; arrange the flowers as they are in the field; in the summer suggest coolness, in the winter, warmth; do everything ahead of time; prepare for rain; and give those with whom you find yourself every consideration.

The student was disappointed with this response and said he already knew all that. Rikyu told him if he could do all that well, then Rikyu himself would be his student.

This seemingly simple instruction expresses the essence of the Ritual of Tea: to be fully present - with both an open-heart and mindful attention to every detail - for the benefit of others.

A "meditation in action", the Way of Tea developed in Japan alongside the practice of Zen Buddhism. The tea master Sen Rikyu (1522-1591) studied tea from an early age and received Zen training at Daitoku-ji temple in Kyoto, Japan. It was Rikyu who joined appreciation of the ordinary aspects of daily life with the ritualized monastic practice of the Tea form. It is this practice that has been passed down to the present as the Way of Tea.

In the Japanese Tea Ceremony as it is sometimes called, host and guest leave familiar reference points behind and create a gentle space, without past or future. Preparing and serving a bowl of tea is a discipline of mindfulness and awareness, an awakening of the senses and a journey to an open heart.

Ichi-go ichi-e, literally meaning "one time - one meeting", is a Zen phrase closely associated with the ritual of Tea. It reminds us that each moment is unique and transient. There is only one moment – this moment. It will never occur again in this way.

Whether you are preparing tea for yourself or for a guest, celebrate the moment as an opportunity to enjoy caring for yourself and others. Experience the Way of Tea by seeing the magic in what is ordinary. As human beings, this magic is always available to us when we slow down, pay attention to our ordinary experience -- allowing ourselves to simply be.

To prepare a bowl of tea:

  • If needed, tidy up the area in which you will prepare and serve tea (if you don't have a tea room, any quiet, uncluttered space will do).
  • If available, arrange some simple flowers from the season in a vase to decorate the space.
  • Choose a tea bowl you would like to use.
  • Sift the matcha (powdered green tea) using a tea strainer.
  • Bring some pure water to a boil and remove from heat. Pour a small quantity of this water (about 1/2 cup) into the tea bowl to warm it. Empty the bowl and dry it.
  • Using the tea scoop or spoon, put 2 scoops of tea into the bowl.
  • Enjoy a small sweet before you prepare the tea –a dried apricot or a square of dark chocolate, for example. The sweet will complement the unsweetened tea.
  • Pour about ¼ to 1/3 of a cup of slightly cooler than boiling water into the bowl.
  • Whisk quickly with a back and forth motion of the wrist until you have a frothy brew.
  • Holding the Tea Bowl with both hands, drink the matcha immediately.
  • If you are serving a guest, offer the sweet and tea to your guest first. (You may use the same bowl for yourself after you have cleaned it with hot water.)
  • Enjoy the moment. Enjoy the tea.

When you are done, clean and safely store your tea utensils.

Editor's Note:
Please visit the Tea Ceremony & Oryoki section for utensils used in Chado or Japanese Tea Ceremony, books of instruction and philosophy of Tea, as well as non-ceremonial tea cups and tea pots.

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