What's involved in Chanoyu (tea ceremony)?
When you go to a public tea ceremony you'll often be treated to a delicate sweet and fine matcha powdered green tea. Calligraphy, flowers, ceramics, lacquerware and the other art pieces are selected to evoke feelings of the season. The sound of the hissing kettle calms you while the scent of incense opens your mind. The meditative movements of the host have been transmitted through the ages. As you sip the tea, the refreshing taste of the matcha harmonises with that of the sweet lingering on your palate. For the remainder of the ceremony you reside in a contemplative mood reflecting on nature, art, warm human sentiment - the fleeting beauty of precious moments in time.
This is a nice picture, but a whole other level of depth exists past the superficial aspects of the tea ceremony. It is the spirit encompassing these activities that enables chanoyu (the 'Way' of tea) to transcend ages. If tea had nothing to offer the soul, it would have already faded away as an aristocratic fad. During tea ritual, your consciousness settles on the bare facts of your existence: you are here, alive, breathing, feeling. Returning to the ground of your being allows you to re-discover what has true meaning in your life, opens up possibilities for change and cultivates love for the Earth, nature and human beings.
The spirit encompassing chanoyu (the Way of Tea) has developed through thousands of years of history in China, Korea and Japan. Daoists and Buddhists embrace tea wholeheartedly: for Daosits it is an elixir of immortality, and in Buddhism, tea is used extensively to aid spiritual attainment through meditation. Daoism holds that universal truth can be grasped through everyday activities - like drinking tea. Zen takes this thought further. Zen says enlightenment is awakening to ultimate truth coursing through the particulars of everyday life. You can't get much more 'everyday life' than preparing and sharing tea. A Zen phrase proclaims: 茶禅一味 (chazenichimi) 'Tea and Zen, One Flavour'.
Through chanoyu, the rich cultural and spiritual history of Daoism and Buddhism combines with the sensual pleasures of appreciating the visual arts, tastes, scents, and the tranquil ambience of the tearoom. The tearoom is a transient space for welcoming others into a place of art, equality and peace. It is a place for cultivating self-knowledge. All this makes chanoyu a spiritually rewarding art and a worthy pursuit to which one might dedicate a small, or large part of their life.