Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Visit to Japan: Tea Ceremony

The history of the tea ceremony, an essential part of Zen Buddhist thought and practice, is very old. It’s more than a cup of hot water and tea leaves. It has all the earmarks of holy leisure and gracious hospitality. Time and time again, it has been proven to be relaxing, refreshing and, yes, healthy! Actually, I enjoy it as a religious experience by its very nature.

Imagine our delight on October 8 as six of us Benedictine Sisters were invited guests at a ceremony performed by a professional, mother of my former student, Yoshie Takada. Beautiful ceramic bowls (cups), flower arrangements and a sweet morsel welcomed us. Seated on chairs (actually, guests usually sit on their ankles on a tatami--straw matting--floor), we watched the calm and reverence marking Mrs. Takada’s graceful movements, her delicate handling of instruments, even to the dipping of the boiling water into each cup, and the almost imperceptible stirring that followed. Her “assistant” reverently placed a “bowl” of steaming green tea before each of us. We bowed mutually before picking up our bowl and began to sip appreciatively. Custom then allows guests to examine the lovely bowl, turning it every which way, and to comment on it. We did exactly that, delighted in so beautiful a vessel.

Up to this time, all was done in a circle of quiet calm! But after the last sip of tea, regular chatter resumes and we’re back to our normal selves.

It’s been said that the tea ceremony cult is like admiring the beautiful among the more squalid facts of everyday life. It creates a certain harmony and purity, a mystery of mutual charity, and a certain touch of romanticism as we plod along in everyday life. I find it to be all of these!

Sister Olivia Forster, OSB

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