“One must keep in mind that all there is to the Way of Tea are simply boiling water, serving, and drinking. [my translation]”
This is one of the teachings by the founder of a traditional art form in having tea in my culture. No kidding, you thought? Everyone, even those who does not practice this art form, knows, you say? Why was this obvious point written out as a teaching, you wonder?
Well, he has left many teachings for his students in his time and beyond (I briefly mentioned his teachings once here). Much of his teachings are rigorous rules and instructions on how to have the best teatime, including the settings to create, the state of mind to hold, and the mannerism to follow. They are quite specific and strict, and there are so many of them, it is extremely difficult to master them all!
So, along the way to mastering this art form, some students become fixated on learning every single rule and instruction, and they come to think they are somehow better because they are able to adhere to them to the letter. They think they are more educated and civilized elites, and look down on those who do not follow the rules and instructions for whatever reasons as though they are ignorant barbarians. They display a look of disgust on their faces, sneer and smirk, and even come right out making fun via verbal and body languages.
But the teaching at the top, I believe, is trying to remind these students where all the rules and instructions stem from. What is at the heart of them all are three very simple acts that anyone can perform, without ever taking a lesson! And therefore, there should be no one any more or less special than another during teatime…we are all equal before a bowl of tea.
How deceptively simple a teaching, yet how truly complex a spirit to embody!
But maybe that is why it has stuck in my mind ever since I first learned it.
Maybe I am reminded by it that the art form is not about learning to be better at boiling water and serving and drinking tea, but really about remaining humble and at peace equally with myself and others.
And maybe it is not just about teatime, but also about lifetime…?
I came in contact with a bunch of these elite-wannabe’s yesterday at the Mid-Autumn Festival, in one of the tea rooms that were opened for the occasion. They were fellow guests who displayed a look of disgust on their faces at an ex-pat I happened to meet there, because she did not know some rules and instructions (but understood when I explained to her). They were the waiters who sneered at us because we could not eat the sweets without asking for utensils, and the host who smirked showing off his expensive tea sets and luxurious pieces of art that created the setting (but if you asked me, lacked a common theme). And they were the students of the host who made fun of me, telling me how sorry they were to see me in pain sitting in the formal way on my heels the entire time (which I actually was not, at all!).
But if they had treated us as equals, they would have found out that the ex-pat had taken part in this art form a number of times before and she was far more familiar with it than they could ever imagine. They would have found out that in the room next door, a much more thoughtful host served sweets that required no utensils and proudly revealed that a part of the setting was nothing expensive but still precious, an artwork created by one of her students. And they would have found out that I had taken lessons for a few years and I most likely knew more rules and instructions than them… at the very least, I knew the one teaching they seemed to have missed learning.
Now, I know I said it is not about being somehow better than others, but who do you think is better able to have a good time, teatime or lifetime – the ex-pat and me, or the elite-wannabe’s?