“To the latter day Chinese, tea is a delicious beverage, but not an ideal…It is in the Japanese tea ceremony that we see the culmination of tea-ideals.”
Obviously, Okakura Kakuzo, you are proud of your Japanese culture in The Book of Tea. In this second chapter, you go into a brief history of the leaf during the various dynasties of China. You favor the tea culture of the Sung:
“The enthusiasm of the Sung people for tea knew no bounds. Epicures vied with each other in discovering new varieties, and regular tournaments were held to decide their superiority…tea began to be not a poetical pastime, but one of the methods of self-realisation.”
Tea tournaments bringing about self-realization? Really, Kakuzo? I’m not seeing how competition fosters positive reflection on your inner being. In my experience, competition can bring out the worst in people. Though seeing your bad side can be illuminating at times…
You mention the emperors of dynasties a lot, and I can’t help but wonder about the luxuries of the upper courts in ancient China and how the pastimes of the wealthy and powerful few were only available on the backbreaking work of the peasants who surely did not spend hours in elaborate tea contests. Then you go on to describe the “barbarian” invasion of the Mongols and the Manchus and the subsequent loss of tea as something more than just a drink in China, with only Japan continuing the Sung tradition. But tea is just a drink, Kakuzo. And this is coming from someone who loves tea.
“Tea with us became more than an idealisation of the form of drinking; it is a religion of the art of life. The beverage grew to be an excuse for the worship of purity and refinement, a sacred function at which the host and guest joined to produce for that occasion the utmost beatitude of the mundane.”
Ah, I see how the specialness is in the sharing of the tea. When are we the host? When are we the guest? In our lives, when do we give? When do we receive? Many religious traditions emphasize that it is in the giving that we receive. In my role of teacher, this is always true. I learn so much from my students. Perhaps that is what you mean, Kakuzo. Every interaction, even something as simple as making tea, can be elevated to beauty of two people dancing in serving and being served, all at once.
“For life is an expression, our unconscious actions the constant betrayal of our innermost thought.”
Move with intention.