Monday, July 15, 2019
Chanoyu: What Have You Been Studying for So Long?
I have been studying Chanoyu, commonly referred to in English as the Japanese Tea Ceremony, for 7.5 years as of this writing. While my sensei considers me an intermediate student, in many ways I feel like a beginner.
I'm almost universally met with a "Wow!" when I share that I've been studying for this long. And what most folks are too polite to ask is, "What's taking so long?" :-) It's a fair question!
First, there isn't one "tea ceremony." There are many variations, based on numerous factors such as season, guests, occasion, utensils, location and much more. Also, the further into my studies I go, the more complicated and lengthy the procedures become.
Second, it's physically demanding! It's hard (at least for me) to sit on my knees for long periods. Add to that the need to walk in a specific manner, make each movement with deliberation, and rise gracefully from the kneeling position (with precious tea utensils in my hands). It takes practice, conditioning, and skill to make this all look effortless. There is much to be learned!
Third, we learn about many Japanese art forms and much history as we go. This includes the art and craft of pottery, ceramics, iron, bamboo, calligraphy, lacquer, wood, incense, flowers and more. We learn and tell stories about the tea utensils and the people who have made them.
And finally, I've referred so far to Chanoyu, which means hot water for tea. The term Chado, or the way of tea, is another expression, one of great depth, used for tea ceremony. There are four grounding principles in the tea ceremony: Harmony, Respect, Purity and Tranquility. To me, Chado expresses the spirit one has when approaching tea ceremony with discipline, mindfulness and care, and when attempting to apply the four principles to life.
Like ballet or painting or writing, there are elements of both discipline and art that can be studied, practiced and honed over a lifetime. One of my favorite experiences of tea ceremony was when I was invited to a tea gathering in Nara, Japan a few years ago (as a guest of my sensei). We watched as women well into their 70s and 80s practiced tea, with their sensei being nearly 90. They moved fluidly through the steps of the ceremony and appeared to radiate with their love of tea. May I be so fortunate!