(August, 2010, Ritam Magazine, SAIIER, Auroville)
New energies of light penetrated to our red earth during the month of February 2010. It was a first event in the history of Auroville: “ONE ASIA 2010” Auroville Asian Cultural Month was like a Kimono which we offered at the feet of the Mother. Here I offer the story of its weaving process.
The present world is struggling with the idea of a globalization which is formed on a national, political and economical basis; here in Auroville we started a first experiment towards the unity of Asia through a spiritual and cultural approach. The current world map is based on national divisions, but from a spiritual or cultural point of view we have different definitions and currents of exchange which give us a totally different way of looking a the present state of the world. For spirituality, we can not deny the great contribution of India as one of the largest spiritual centres on Earth. One great significance of this cultural event was that it took place in India, in her evolutional psychic centre, Auroville.
Where is Asia in Auroville?
This Asian cultural exchange program started with an inspiration. Ever since I started my new life in Auroville in 2005, I was constantly feeling that I wanted to bring East Asian culture to Auroville, particularly the beauty in its art and culture. I have learned a lot of new things here, especially the great dynamism of spirituality in the Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother; but I also found some things missing: something of the beauty and refinement emerging from receptivity to Nature that is characteristic of East Asian art and culture, and also some of the material perfections. Since I had a background in traditional art my childhood in Kyoto, I always felt that I needed to contribute my experience to Auroville.
Auroville is a Universal township – naturally the people, energy and work of the Far- Eastern countries are necessary; but I felt that we are not integrated enough into the everyday basis in Auroville because of the comparatively small representation of East-Asian peoples; At the same time, many non-Asian Aurovilians carry an Asian Spirit as one of their identities. So a storing need was felt to nourish and deepen their inner qualities.
There are Asian language classes, classes in Ikebana, Aikido, Tai Chi Chuan, even Calligraphy classes are held in regularly in Auroville. In addition we prepared art exhibitions and dinner evenings. Following the increase of Asian cultural activities and more Newcomers from China, Korea and Taiwan, the idea of some collective cultural event emerged. Also, from 2008 onwards, suddenly many connections with East Asian art masters began to get established around myself and created an organic link among them. I felt as if I were observing an amazing chemical reaction. And the central medium of this happening was “Tea”.
Main theme, “Tea culture”
Tea drinking is quite particular in the Eastern countries and it is may be difficult to understand for people who are not accustomed to Asian tea and have not experienced a “Tea Ceremony”. For example, a “Tea ceremony” is conducted as a form of spiritual practice in daily life. Tea preparation, tea drinking and tea appreciation are one of the Arts which are applicable and valuable for life in any circumstances. This is why tea ceremony practice is called Cha-Dao or Cha-do—The Way of Tea.
Tea culture in the East comprises many layers of Asian aesthetics, such as architectures, garden design, flower arrangements, calligraphy and painting, music, poetry, pottery and handicrafts, martial-arts, philosophy, costume design as well as tea farming. Therefore the tea ceremony is a form of collective art and manifests a universal quality. It is very interesting to compare the various forms of tea ceremony from the various countries to discover their unique characteristics. The Tea Ceremony is practiced as a great instrument for creating peace and harmony within diversity. But the procedures vary widely. This is why I chose the Tea Ceremony as the main theme of the event, although I didn’t know whether it really fits to Auroville or not. I started the preparation in a attitude of “Let’s see what will happen”; but at the same time I had a silent certitude within myself.
Four renowned Tea Masters from China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan
One of the invitee tea masters, Master Chow Yu from Wistaria Tea House in Taiwan, conducted the tea ceremony according to Taoist and Confucian tradition – two main streams of spiritual tradition in Chinese culture before the rise of Buddhism. He explained the present situation of traditional Chinese culture in Taiwan. His father fled from communist China, therefore he grew up in a strong spirit of freedom since he was a student. One could sense his strong love of Chinese culture and wish for its unity in his talk, but he expressed them in a gentle and respectful manner. It is commonly thought that Taoism, which aims for individual achievement, and Confucianism, which aims at social achievement, are in confrontation; but Master Chow Yu explained that really they are complimentary and give depth to each other. He said that the finest tea has subtlety in it. The search for this subtlety leads the drinkers into deeper contemplation and inner awakenings in a meditative state, and this profound experience takes us towards a unity of apparent contradiction or polarity. He aims to be a bridge between the past and future of Chinese culture and is very active in hosting exhibitions and stage performances of both traditional and modern art in his tea-house cum art-gallery. Here is a living example that tea culture can work to bridge diversities. A quiet and profound but aspiring freedom fighter is Master Chow Yu.
Master Liu Di was born in Yunnan province of China. She was born in a family which owns a tea-plantation and tea-house in Yunnan. She became the youngest and the first tea master in an all-China tea ceremony contest. Currently she is learning about Eastern tea culture in Kyoto, Japan for her Ph.D. One of her dreams is to revive the cultural level of the Tang dynasty in China. The Tang dynasty is celebrated as the golden age of China and tea culture played a large part in its cultural development. Artifacts from the Tang dynasty are still recognized as the highest aesthetic of Chinese art. One reason for the flourishing of Tang culture was “Cosmopolitanism”. Master Liu Di practices Zen, and she was very happy to visit Kanchipuram, birthplace of Bodhidharma the legendary founder of Zen. During her stay, she was also able to discover some of the cultural links between China and India by looking at the context of Silk Road culture. Her tea ceremony was presented in choreographic style and was graceful, noble and open-hearted. It caught the heart of the audience at the Sri Aurobindo Auditorium as well as of the guests at individual tea ceremonies.
Another master is Rev. Kumgan Snim from Korea, who is actually a Zen monk and a head priest of Miwangsa temple at the southern tip of the Korean peninsula. He offers and drinks tea with visitors to his temple from all over the world. He gives meditation retreat courses widely from neighbouring farmers to foreign Zen practitioners. Tea is an important refreshment during the meditation practice as it helps for constant concentration and energy. He says that he does not use the term “tea ceremony” but prefers “tea sharing”, as the word ceremony suggests something ritualistic and formal. He thinks the practice should be much more casual and accessible to everybody. Mental silence, humbleness and sincerity were particularly discovered in him by the audience through his way of tea. A Bhikshu — a shaven Buddhist monk — offering a tea ceremony in India was an inspiring picture for all of us.
Master Soen Bisgaard is of Danish origin; he took Sannaysa in India at the age of 20, and became a tea ceremony practitioner in Japan when he was 30. Now he has been living in Kyoto, Japan for 33 years and teaching the way of tea, mainly for Japanese and Danish students. He also promotes the Japanese tea ceremony to Western countries. He learned and teaches the way of tea from the 400 year-old tradition of the Urasenke tea school in Kyoto. His presence was unique, as he could describe the Japanese tea ceremony through Western eyes and also from a Yogic point of view. He says that tea practice is an “active meditation” and requires concentration, perfection and harmony in every present moment; respect towards the guest for heart to heart communication and purity in whole setting are necessary to create an atmosphere of oneness. These compare well with the lights of traditional Yoga. He strongly emphasized the importance of discipline towards perfection in the daily life – not only during the tea ceremony itself. With him, there were two major things that we glimpsed; Japanese’s intimate relation with Nature through the inner contact, and strong self-discipline for perfection. One could look at the Japanese tea ceremony as an instrument for Sadhana.
Some tea masters offered tea ceremonies for Aurovilians and guests in small groups. The atmospheres were all unique but intimate and communicative. There was lots of discoveries and exchanges amongst the invitee masters and Aurovilians.
All the invitees carried their own spiritual tradition, and for them this event was the occasion for a first encounter with Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. They did not have enough contact with the texts but their experience of visiting the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and staying in Auroville, especially meditation in Matrimandir and their encounter with Aurovilians, were a first glimpse of the spirit of Integral Yoga.
Tea as a the daily beverage
The ancient texts call tea —camellia synensis— “Immortal nectar” or “Rejuvenation Elixir”, particularly, it is suggested, when it is combined with the knowledge of Chi-Kong—the subtle energy practice. The latest scientific research describes some specific medical properties that confirm the remarks of the ancients. Tea contains a lot of Vitamin C. A bowl of Japanese powdered green tea contains the equivalent of 10 kg of lemon – that is an unusual amount. And Cathecin is a recent discovered antioxidant substance that works directly to the cells. It helps damaged cells to recover their normal functioning and activates their activity. Therefore it has become known that tea can prevent cancer and has the possibility to transform cancer cells. Green tea in particular contains a lot of Cathecin. Thein (or Caffein) is contained in tea but the Cathecin counterbalances the negative effect of Thein which is physical excitement and restlessness. Nowadays, Taoists and Zen Buddhists practice the tea ceremony because of its medical effects. Tea also stimulates lymphatic drainage and reinforces the immune system. Those who practice Integral Yoga could deepen research on tea, as it has interesting effect on the physical/cellular level.
Apart from the visit of these four Tea Masters’ visit, we also invited Tai Chi Masters Professor Dung Shu-Hai and Master Yu, as well as Gu-Qin —Chinese harp— Master Wang Tai-Qin from Taiwan. A visiting Taiwanese vegan cooking group presented a workshop and a dinner evening for the community. There was a Noh theatre mask and calligraphy exhibition by a Japanese artist couple and dance performances by Ramli Ibrahim from Malaysia, a Tamil folk dance group and a group of visiting Tibetan students from Dharamsala and Chennai. A collective Asian Lunar New Year celebration was held on 14th of February. A photo exhibition “The Mother in Japan” took place in the Pavilion of Tibetan Culture. From Auroville, a group art show titled “Another Way of Tea”, an Ikebana Exhibition, a photo exhibit on the Golden Pavilion and various other exhibitions were held during the month. Many Auroville and Ashram artists were advised and encouraged by the visiting traditional art masters.
A Challenge for Everybody
In Auroville, there was not enough material nor organizational efficiency for receiving the invitees. There is no comparison with the social structure and precise order in the Far Eastern countries. Some invitees had to suffer from this different flow of life that India has, a particular sense of time and procedure. Some of the expectations of the invitees were not fulfilled. Because of this, we the organizing team had to suffer together with them. But eventually most of the invitees expressed their satisfaction with the event and promised to visit Auroville again. It was a great joy to hear and also a relief for the staff. I am calling this event “a challenge for everybody”; but in fact, everything worked out very well, arranged beyond our human effort. It was indeed the moment from wonder to wonder, to see how things are perfectly placed from the invisible level to the visible level. It was nothing but Sadhana for all the participants. There are many bright memories of moments with them; for example; we never thought that these masters would like to drink Indian Chai from roadside tea shops during the trip. The group of Tai Chi masters were amazed by the nature in India. Since Tai Chi Masters are sensitive to the subtle energetic field, they appreciated Chi/Prana particularly in Matrimandir and at the Samadi in the Ashram. Grand Master Prof. Dung humorously remarked to Auroville’s Tai Chi school teacher Marco and his wife Liliana “Maybe you don’t need to practice Tai Chi so hard in Auroville because the energy here is so strong, naturally daily life will be a Tai Chi practice.”
I would like to share two secrets which made ONE ASIA 2010 a success. First, all the 12 invitees contributed their own flight tickets. For all of them, the visit to Auroville was for the first time, but they understood well the spirit of Auroville and its voluntary basis. Secondly the willing participation by Aurovilians, their goodwill and intuitive approach helped in many situations. Those factors are beyond our personal effort and they gave a spark of living light and subtlety to the entire event. Most importantly, the light still remains with a feeling of gratitude in our hearts, even a long time after the event.
Future of ONE ASIA
The report of ONE ASIA 2010 was widely spread, going to UNESCO, H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama, Embassies, The Asian Society and other official institutions and individuals. Now the Taiwanese tea master is preparing an event introducing Auroville; also a collaboration event with the Japanese Tea Master was held at his tea house in Taipei. The Korean master is willing to come back to Auroville to share the knowledge of Zen meditation with Aurovilians. Some tea masters are setting up their tea ceremonies using Auroville artists’ works, The Chinese tea master is conducting his tea ceremony as a collaboration with an Aurovile unit, Rangoli. In Auroville, Japanese and Chinese tea ceremony practices are being continued by the Aurovilian group. Some plans for future Asian events have come up. The One ASIA 2010 event was a significant contribution for the development of Auroville’s International Zone, as for the first time Auroville Asian nationalities worked together for the community.
ONE ASIA 2010 is dedicated to unity of the world, ONE WORLD. The unity of Asian peoples will contribute a lot for the world, as was clearly mentioned in some statements by Sri Aurobindo, particularly in his five dreams mentioned in his Independence Day Message of 15th August, 1947 for All India Radio. To realize this Dream, we have to take the necessary measures; historical, political and racial sensitivity might come up during the process, we need to be ready and receptive, also introspective to find the solution of those problems. Action for Unity is often presenting us with some essential difficulties, but that is only a necessary passage to go through. Spiritual aspiration will help us for the realization since its discovery leads us to inner Oneness. For this passage, I believe that Auroville is one of the most appropriate places, as we all came to live here with goodwill to realize Unity in Diversity.
I am particularly grateful to India as our host country for her great capacity for this great adventure, her wisdom and generosity. I offer my sincere thanks to the Indian participants who considered the achievement of ONE ASIA important. We need to understand a lot about our neighbour countries and their cultures, religions, political situations and histories. The Islamic and Sufi culture is also active in Asian countries, but it was not represented this time. Other East Asian countries such as Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Mongolia as well as central Asian culture were not featured, apart from Ruslan’s Kazakhstan yurt presentation. There is a lot of work to be done to make the project more complete.
So far, the Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother has been well accepted in India and the Western world. Now the door to the East is starting to open. We are receiving more people from the Eastern countries in Auroville over the last five years and we need to be ready to offer more information for those who are interested, who are athirst for the truer life and its willing participants. Many Chinese translations of the works of Sri Aurobindo have already made by F.C. Hsu who lived in Sri Aurobindo Ashram in the 1950s. A Japanese translation of “The Life Divine” and other works were completed by Professor Yamaguchi from Meiji University in Tokyo, and some informative books about Auroville have already been published in Korea. New people with aspiration and new energy are still awaited in Auroville. Auroville also needs to create further links with Eco/Self-sustainable Village projects from the Eastern countries and needs more collaboration with alternative and renewable energy researchers.
Tradition, Integration and Evolution
Some people have asked me why we invited so many of those traditional art masters who are linked to the knowledge of the past. Here is my answer: we present-day human beings in general have the tendency to judge and criticize the traditional and to blindly accept the new. Traditional society is often comparatively rigid and their structures may be unsuitable for the present day, but many jewels are also contained in them. It is necessary to know precisely about their wisdom and accept the gifts of the traditions. Only then we can integrate it as one of our identities. Immediate or undigested rejection of the past will not give any powerful vision for the future. We are in Auroville where past and future creates “no contradiction”.
As organizer I hereby express my deepest gratitude to the supporters of ONE ASIA 2010 for their willing help, generosity and perseverance. Thank you very much for all who made ONE ASIA 2010 possible and successful. And I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to SAIIER and especially to Helmut who offered me the opportunity to write this article for Ritam. This offer was overwhelming to me at first, but now it has turned out to be a great opportunity to look upon the event as a whole, with fresh eyes.
Jyoti N. Eri