The Cup of Humanity; Tea (Book)

Tea Romanticism from Long Time Ago

Recently, I happened to read an interesting book: “The Book of Tea”, written in 1906 by a Japanese-American author, Kakuzo Okakura.

To be a tea addict, this book has boasted my love of tea. Now I feel more sophisticated when I drink one more cup of tea.matcha-tea-japanese-ceremony1

There are many artworks aggrandizing tea like mural graffiti works, but this one is so different. It is honoring tea in a wider perspective.

It approaches tea as a biological plant, as a socio-cultural norm, more interestingly as a religion. It was also so surprising to see how big tea affected Taoist and Buddhist practices.

Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence. It inculcates purity and harmony, the mystery of mutual charity, the romanticism of the social order.

There are many proverbs about rice and bread in different languages, especially in languages like Turkish and Korean.  Not as many as bread and rice, there are interesting sayings about tea as well.

the man with no tea in him.


talking with him is without-salt.

Besides the oral influence, tea also has inspired art and architecture in China and Japan. Especially influence of tea on Chinese ceramics is worthy to be considered. During Tang Dynasty, the ideal color of tea-cups was intellectually discussed. Okakura tells about the book of Luwuh in his book. In that book a detailed paragraph describes the form and color of tea-cups;

Luwuh considered the blue as the ideal colour for the tea−cup, as it lent additional greenness to the beverage, whereas the white made it look pinkish and distasteful. It was because he used cake−tea. Later on, when the tea masters of Sung took to the powdered tea, they preferred heavy bowls of blue−black and dark brown. The Mings, with their steeped tea, rejoiced in light ware of white porcelain

Not everybody makes the propaganda of tea, sometimes it meets with the opposition as well.

Like all good things of the world, the propaganda of Tea met with opposition. Heretics like Henry Saville (1678) denounced drinking it as a filthy custom.

And, tea’s charm against the rivals

Everybody is a fan of those; tea,wine, coffee, cocoa. I am of tea. Now, me and my group we have good quote against the others;

It (tea) has not the arrogance of wine, the self-consciousness of coffee, nor the simpering innocence of cocoa.

Tea’s story as a plant:

The tea−plant, a native of southern China, was known from very early times to Chinese botany and medicine. It is alluded to in the classics under the various names of Tou, Tseh, Chung, Kha, and Ming, and was highly prized for possessing the virtues of relieving fatigue, delighting the soul, strengthening the will, and repairing the eyesight. It was not only administered as an internal dose, but often applied externally in form of paste to alleviate rheumatic pains. The Taoists claimed it as an important ingredient of the elixir of immortality. The Buddhists used it extensively to prevent drowsiness during their long hours of meditation.

Tea methods vary from culture to culture, from time to time. Throughout the history mainly it has been tried together with a few main other ingredients.

The leaves were steamed, crushed in a mortar, made into a cake, and boiled together with rice, ginger, salt, orange peel, spices, milk, and sometimes with onions!

The method of tea-making in Luwuh’s book “Chaking”:

In the fifth chapter Luwuh describes the method of making tea. He eliminates all ingredients except salt. He dwells also on the much−discussed question of the choice of water and the degree of boiling it. According to him, the mountain spring is the best, the river water and the spring water come next in the order of excellence. There are three stages of boiling: the first boil is when the little bubbles like the eye of fishes swim on the surface; the second boil is when the bubbles are like crystal beads rolling in a fountain; the third boil is when the billows surge wildly in the kettle. The Cake−tea is roasted before the fire until it becomes soft like a baby’s arm and is shredded into powder between pieces of fine paper. Salt is put in the first boil, the tea in the second. At the third boil, a dipperful of cold water is poured into the kettle to settle the tea and revive the “youth of the water.” Then the beverage was poured into cups and drunk. O nectar! The filmy leaflet hung like scaly clouds in a serene sky or floated like waterlilies on emerald streams. It was of such a beverage that Lotung, a Tang poet, wrote: “The first cup moistens my lips and throat, the second cup breaks my loneliness, the third cup searches my barren entrail but to find therein some five thousand volumes of odd ideographs. The fourth cup raises a slight perspiration,−−all the wrong of life passes away through my pores. At the fifth cup I am purified; the sixth cup calls me to the realms of the immortals. The seventh cup−−ah, but I could take no more! I only feel the breath of cool wind that rises in my sleeves. Where is Horaisan? Let me ride on this sweet breeze and waft away thither.

The place of tea in Buddhism (specifically in Zen Buddhism) is so special. Tea has a proverbial connection with Zen Buddhism. Zen monks used tea as a faith metaphor and practiced tea rituals by it. I was surprised to know that most of the modern day cultural tea ceremonies in Korea and Japan originated from those practices.

 The monks gathered before the image of Bodhi Dharma and drank tea out of a single bowl with the profound formality of a holy sacrament. It was this Zen ritual which finally developed into the Tea−ceremony of Japan in the fifteenth century.

Zen… Taoism…. Confucianism … There are dozens of precious details to learn about Asian beliefs in the book…

 Chinese historians have always spoken of Taoism as the “art of being in the world,” for it deals with the present−−ourselves. It is in us that God meets with Nature, and yesterday parts from to−morrow. The Present is the moving Infinity, the legitimate sphere of the Relative. Relativity seeks Adjustment; Adjustment is Art. The art of life lies in a constant readjustment to our surroundings. Taoism accepts the mundane as it is and, unlike the Confucians or the Buddhists, tries to find beauty in our world of woe and worry.

Mongolian invasions and tea…. Mongolian invasions were so destructive, but they helped to spread the cultures long distances away. When Mongols invaded Chin, they destroyed most of the tea gardens. Though they introduced tea to other nations under their rule, their damage on China’s tea heaven was so huge.

Tea-room. Okakura makes a informative tearoom description in his book;

In the tea−room the fear of repetition is a constant presence. The various objects for the decoration of a room should be so selected that no colour or design shall be repeated. If you have a living flower, a painting of flowers is not allowable. If you are using a round kettle, the water pitcher should be angular. A cup with a black glaze should not be associated with a tea−caddy of black laquer. In placing a vase of an incense burner on the tokonoma, care should be taken not to put it in the exact centre, lest it divide the space into equal halves. The pillar of the tokonoma should be of a different kind of wood from the other pillars, in order to break any suggestion of monotony in the room.

And, some artistic quotations from the book:

——-Noble secret of laughing at yourself…

——-Thus began the dualism of love−−two souls rolling through space and never at rest until they join together to complete the universe. Everyone has to build anew his sky of hope and peace.

——-Perhaps we reveal ourselves too much in small things because we have so little of the great to conceal.

——It is true that with cultivation our sense of art appreciation broadens, and we become able to enjoy many hitherto unrecognized expressions of beauty. But, after all, we see only our own image in the universe,−−our particular idiosyncrasies dictate the mode of our perceptions.

—— 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.

——To gladden the flowers with soft music.

—— In all circumstances serenity of mind should be maintained..

The ceremony is over; the guests with difficulty restraining their tears, take their last farewell and leave the room. One only, the nearest and dearest, is requested to remain and witness the end. Rikiu then removes his tea−gown and carefully folds it upon the mat, thereby disclosing the immaculate white death robe which it had hitherto concealed. Tenderly he gazes on the shining blade of the fatal dagger, and in exquisite verse thus addresses it:

“Welcome to thee, O sword of eternity! Through Buddha And through Daruma alike”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: