亜洲茶事 – Tea, Art and Yoga –
“Asian Tea Ceremony – An Emerging All Encompassing Beauty”

Vol. 3「A Genealogy of Tea masters – 数寄の系譜」

Tea came to Japan from China in the Nara period(奈良時代). At that time, it was enjoyed only by the nobility. In the early Heian period(平安時代), members of the nobility and monks were sent to Tang China(唐時代) by the Japanese Rulers. Many gifts were officially exchanged between the Governments. These always included tea and tea utensils among the other valuable gifts such as Buddhist sutras, statues, ritual objects and other important items.

The emperor Saga(嵯峨天皇) in Kyoto understood the importance of tea ceremony practice and so he encouraged the Court to deepen their understanding of it. However, the most important shift and actual beginning of tea culture in Japan took place in the Kamakura period (鎌倉時代) as part of the Zen teachings and practices which predominated the culture.

There is an important monk called Yo-sai (栄西禅師 b. 1141), who visited China and brought back tea plants to grow and harvest in Japan. It is written that Yo-sai first wished to visit India to become familiar with the original teachings of Buddhism without any translations. But when he encountered the rapid raise of Zen culture in China he was then strongly pulled by this new movement. Eventually, he entered deeply into Zen culture. As the tea ceremony was a very important part of Zen practice (中:禅/梵: Dhyāna) he studied it intensively.

Zen Buddhism was quite familiar to Japanese Buddhists as it emphasized the communion with the nature and the universe. A similar spiritual cosmology existed in Japan known as Shinto (神道). However, Zen directly focuses on the achievement of enlightenment of a person, instead of worshipping Nature and religious idols. Zen was accessible to many whatever their social status.

Zen, in fact, helped to create many enlightened masters who practiced calligraphy, poetry, paintings, architectural design, garden making and tea ceremony, the objects  of which still remain as masterpieces of Buddhist art.

Tea was accepted as a medicine at the beginning of its arrival in Japan. Yo-sai composed (Kissa-Yo-Jo-Ki喫茶養生記), where he emphasized the medical properties of tea and its benefit for health and meditation practice. Tea has many beneficial properties. It is known to calm down excessive mental activity, such as when during meditation the mind always interrupts the deep silence within. But tea is like a wind removing the fogs in the mind, bringing clarity to one’s thoughts. Moreover, it settles Chi -subtle energy (氣) -inside the body. Untamed Chi causes psychological disorder and eventually it leads to physical sickness. The medical properties of tea followed by meditation truly helps to improve both outer and inner health. This has been proved throughout the centuries and people still enjoy the great health benefits of tea.

Tea culture also played an important role in establishing Japanese aesthetics. Kyoto was chosen to be the main stage for its glorious establishment. For example, Dai-Toku-Ji temple (大徳寺) is a treasure box of beauty brought by many tea masters throughout the centuries. We can still find beauty in its gardens and its buildings. Another great example is Katsura-Villa (桂離宮) in a suburb of Kyoto. Katsura-Villa was first established as the summer residence of one of the Imperial families in 17th Century. It consists of the main building and three tea houses with a large garden. The tea houses, although rather small, were created in highly detailed artistry. It is well known that the deep relationship between Sho-gun Hideyoshi(将軍・秀吉) and Sen-no-Rikyu(千利休) always took place around bowls of tea.

The transformation of consciousness, the transition in the sense of value takes place during the tea ceremony. It is a highly sophisticated practice comprising both spiritual awareness and elegance.

In Japan, the tea ceremony evolved from a temple religious practice to the transformation of citizens in their daily life. Even in the pre-modern to modern society, many founders of major Japanese companies practiced tea ceremony and collected important artifacts and works of art. These are just examples to see how the tea ceremony played an important role in Japanese culture. Kyoto was always the main stage for these happenings.

Tradition means the passing on of the spiritual torch from the old generation to the new generation. This torch is the power to give new life to form and ideas. True tradition is not the imitation of the past. Rather it enables to break through the inertia of forms and rules. All the tea masters in history had such courage for these breakthroughs. This people are called Suki-sha (数寄者) – the people who are able to follow their inner-self guidance(内在的啓示) and bring various alignments to the realization of the tea ceremony.

Since 2010, we have already held three international ONE ASIA cultural events. After the event last year in Taipei, we are now preparing the next large cultural event to take place in Kyoto in autumn 2016. It will be a great delight for us to hold the event in such a culturally and historically rich place. Kyoto was the capital of Japan for over 1,000 years. It is a city that has sustained a magnetism to remain as the political and cultural centre of a country for so long. Today in Japan, there are many new movements occurring to revive its traditional culture. Thus, it is now the right moment to present today’s living Asian culture as we find it in Kyoto in order to partake in global cultural history.

We will hold some art exhibitions, music concerts, conferences, artistic workshops and some tea ceremonies of other Asian countries during the event. We are now welcoming artists, participants, sponsors and collaborators for this milestone event dedicated to Human Unity through art and culture.

It is important to know that the world is focusing on Asian countries, seeing them as the coming political and economic leaders of the future. As I see it, it is the duty of all Asians to rediscover and carry on the profound cultures from our past and consciously present it to the world.

In our culture, its inherent Oneness has always remained as an undercurrent. It will be a great force to harmonize the highly diverse and individualized culture of the recent past.
Let us co-create inspiring societies with respect towards both nature and our cultural heritages. Now is the time for collaboration.

For participation or query please write to: [email protected]

In Auroville, South India (於曙光村・南印度)
Jyoti Naoki Eri – 江里尚樹 – Director the ONE ASIA project

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