Sunday, March 29, 2009

Tea in a Japanese Tea Ceremony

(This very helpful post on tea is by Garland--thank you Garland!)

The tea used during the Japanese tea ceremony was chosen as it reflects upon a much more considerable picture in the balance of the cosmos, along with the other utensils used during this vital ceremony. When considering tea, it is essential to examine the idea of the tea ceremony as a general practice in Japanese religion. It is argued that the tea ceremony originated from a religious practice of the Buddhist Zen sect, in which a certain service would gather and take tea in front of the image of the Buddha who had introduced Zen to China (Reitz 77).

Although tea has a meditative implication, it is argued by numerous scholars that it holds significance when examining the notion of purity. It was first asserted by the priest Murata Shuko in the 14th century that four values were central to the concept of the tea ritual: reverence, respect, purity, and tranquillity (Anderson 30). It is claimed that the tea used in the tea ritual has great consequence with regard to purification, as it has an association with physical and spiritual purity appropriate for those who approach sacred places (Anderson 30). It is further argued by scholar Kakuzo Okakura that the concept of tea represents purity and harmony, and the manner in which the person is able to worship the social order and hierarchy (Okakura 2005).

The tea bowl used in the duration of the Japanese tea ritual an important and celebrated utensil. When examining the magnitude of the tea ceremony, it is said that the bowl used in the Japanese tea ritual represents an important piece in the reunification of the cosmos (Anderson 488). The tea bowl, as most utensils in the ceremony, represent incorporation of the guest-host relationship as well. It is argued by scholar Dorinne Kondo that the tea bowl contains the most important element of the tea ceremony: a thick tea called the koicha, which the host drinks and shares with his or her guests (Kondo 291). This is said to be the “climax” of the tea ceremony, as this is the unification of the guest and host relationship. As the guest and the host share their first cup of tea, they are experiencing tranquillity together. It is emphasized by scholar Jennifer Anderson that in this moment, both guest and host have the opportunity experience a sense of “…wholeness, health and holiness” (Anderson 488). The symbols that connect the host and guest to their ancestors, to society and the cosmos are said to be concentrated in this cup of tea (Anderson 488).

After this important ritual has taken place, an examination begins in which the history of each tea implement is discussed, allowing the relationship for the guest and host to prosper (Kondo 291). Through this reunification of the guest and host, and the examination of purity in the Japanese tea ritual, the tea bowl is an important utensil because it is part of a large depiction of a reunification of the heavens.

~guest blogger, Garland Elysia Yardley