Sunday, November 21, 2010

Empty Tea Cups

This afternoon i watched the Japanese movie Tea Fight. While the movie was pretty bad, i enjoyed it because it was Japanese (no surprise there) and because it had to do with one of my favorite subjects: Ocha, green tea. And to prove that even the worst movies have at least one worthwhile point that you can take away, this one offered this near the end:

The soul of tea is Emptiness. The tea room is a place situated far away from the common world. The scoop and water are just like the flowing of a stream. The voice of stirring is just like the echo of an empty valley. The tea mat is just like boundless space.

For those that don't drink ocha, or those who only see it as warm drink, maybe those words seem like a bit of hyperbole, but i don't believe they are.

The soul of tea is Emptiness.
To say,

shiki fu i kū
kū fu i shiki
shiki soku ze kū
kū soku ze shiki

[form is not different from emptiness
emptiness is not different from form
form is exactly emptiness
emptiness is exactly form]

as does the Heart Sutra, doesn't mean that form is empty, that it doesn't exist, that the world as we see it is only in our heads. It's not that the world doesn't exist, it just exists differently than we have been led to believe it does. The soul of Tea, that which enlivens every cup, which is at the very heart of what it is, is this concept of emptiness. Understand that, and a cup of tea will never taste the same again.

The tea room is a place situated far away from the common world.
This has nothing to do with place, location, or anything physical, it is all about what's going on in your head while sitting in the tea room. Throughout the day we live in a world of thoughts, daydreams, fantasy, hope, fear, and desire. We live in a world that is anywhere but here and now.

With even a little training on your meditation cushion anyone can learn to spend more and more of their time in the here and now. But you still live in the common world, even though in a much more honest and awake state. The tea room demands more of you, it demands that you make the effort to go one step further, to take that final step into that "place" where even the borders of here and now dissolve — and that's where you'll find emptiness.

In this "place" you are free to Be, no more and no less. You are free to be absorbed into the sight of the steam rising above the tea, the sound of the simmering water, the smell of the tea and tatami, the taste of the tea on your tongue, the feel of the tea cup in the palm of your hand. You are free to share all of this with your co-conspirators in this adventure. To share, not because there are different people in the room experiencing it, but because you see that there is only experience, manifesting as the room, the tea, the people sharing, and every other aspect of the adventure.

No, the tea room is no common world.

The scoop and water are are just like the flowing of a stream.
Musō Soseki pointed to the same thing when he said,

The sounds of the stream splash out the Buddha's sermon.
     Don't say that the deepest meaning comes only from one's mouth.
Day and night eighty thousand poems arise one after the other,
       and in fact not a single word has ever been spoken.

Too often taken for granted as nothing more than tools used to get the tea from its container into its finished liquid form for someone to drink, the scoop and water also have messages for those willing to hear, for those with the patience to train their minds to be able to hear.

If the stream doesn't flow, it dies; it is only with movement, flowing, that it continues to live and its message continues to be spoken. The flowing is the lungs and larynx of the steam; without it nothing is said. Likewise the scoop and the water — without them the tea is simply dead leaves in a pretty container, unable to release their message. The scoop and the water releases the message, which the server then places in a cup.

The voice of stirring is just like the echo of an empty valley.
What do you hear when you listen to echos in an empty valley? Do you hear nothing? Or, do you hear the emptiness that is continually echoed back to you, the emptiness that made the first shout? As you sit on the tatami, listen to the stirring of the tea. What do you hear? Can you hear emptiness shouting at you: "Here. Here. I'm here. Open your eyes."

The tea mat is just like boundless space.
Boundless space has no limits, it is nothing, yet it contains everything. Just so the tea mat for a master who's sole focus is the preparation of an Empty tea cup, for No One to enjoy. Outside the boundaries of the tea mat nothing exists. The tea room is outlined by here and now, but by unrolling the tea mat you take that one extra step.

Make some tea and then find a quiet room and a comfortable cushion to sit on. If that's not possible, simply find somewhere out of the way to sit. It's not the external environment that needs to be quiet, it's that interior world. Once you get settled, then slowly, ever so slowly, let yourself expand through all five senses into that boundless space of a cup of tea. I think you'll then agree with me that none of this was hyperbole.

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