Zen Phrases used at Tea Gatherings 茶席の禅語

1. A cup of tea explained by Zen

2. ‘Mukanjyo’ No hot, no cold

3. Heijyōshin・Presence of mind

4. Some higher, some lower; all knots on a stalk of bamboo are equal

5. One goes, one comes, one comes, one goes

6. Walking beside the stream, one’s steps cease; the sound of flowing water

7. Shitsukan ni shite Chami Sugashi

8. Buji kore kijin - Embracing all; this is Buddha

9. Like a pure bead, the autumn dew

10. Vast emptiness, nothing holy

11. If you don't polish the jewel, it won't shine

1. 御茶一服

2. 無寒暑

3. 平常心

4. 竹有上下節

5. 一去一来 

6. 徐行踏断流水声

7. 室閑茶味清

8. 無事是貴人

9. 秋露白玉如


11. 玉不磨無光

1. A Cup of Tea Explained by Zen・御茶一服

A scholar called upon Master Nanin* to enquire about Zen.

Nanin poured the tea, but he continued to pour even when the cup had overflowed.

“Master, the tea is overflowing. You can stop pouring now.”

“Just like this cup, your head is overflowing with your views and opinions. When you have emptied your cup, then come and enquire what zen is.”


. . . You cannot hear the words of others if you hold preconceptions about things. When talking with others, most are impatient to voice their own opinions. What results is that people only hear their own voice. Therefore the only thing left resounding in their minds is their own opinion.


*Nanin Zenji was a zen monk who lived in the Meiji Era. ‘Zenji’ is a title given by the Court to honourable monks.

2. No hot, no cold・無寒暑 Mukanjyo

One day a monk asked Tōzan Ryokai:

“How does one evade the elements in times of severe cold and severe heat?”

“Why, all you need do is go to a place where there is no cold or heat.”

“Where can I find such a place?”

“In times of cold, let the cold be the death of your ego; and in times of heat, let the heat be the death of your ego. That is the place of no cold or heat.”

The place where cold or hot exists in no specific entity, a place where there is no absolute measure of cold or hot, is the place of mukanjyo.

Tōfukuji Zen Training Master Keitō Fukushima points us to the meaning behind ‘let the hot and cold be the death of your ego’. “When it’s cold, don’t get fixated in the thought “It’s cold!”; embrace the cold*. And when it’s hot don’t get fixated in the thought “It’s hot!”; embrace the heat*. When you experience hot and cold weather, realise it’s only subjective experience, it’s neither a part of you or the outer world. There is no absolute measure of hot or cold. This is the place of 'mukanjyo' no hot or cold.”


*The implication is you use your subjective experience of hot or cold as a stimulus to realise it's only your ego that's having the experience. Therefore, extinguish your ego. By throwing away your ego, you throw away any measure of hot and cold and you simply 'are' in the midst of the elements. The discomfort you experience from the fixation on your subjective experience of hot or cold dies.

3. Presence of mind・平常心 Heijyōshin


Sensei, how should I go about my efforts towards enlightenment?

If you’re hungry, eat; if you’re tired, then sleep.

But doesn’t everybody do that?

What are you saying!?! For most people, this is not the case at all.

When people eat they are preoccupied with desire and when people sleep they still have this and that ticking over in their mind.

For most people, it isn’t until they awake each day that they finally break free from the fetters of the day before. Therefore, it is important to take away those things that are apt to make one’s mind stale and go about living according to one’s basic nature. Maintaining one’s ‘Heijyōhin’ or presence of mind according to their original nature is precisely this way of living.

4. Some higher, some lower; all knots on a stalk of bamboo are equal


Take ni jyōge setsu ari


On a stalk of bamboo, knots are located higher or lower than others.  Human relationships too, are organised with individuals higher and lower in status.  But like the knots of bamboo, no matter where they are located in a hierarchy, all humans are equal. This might run at odds with everyday thinking, but before the status we assign to different members of society and the discrimination we make between people, all humans are equal on a more fundamental level. We should not let ourselves forget this, our equality should help us promote harmonious relationships.

So saying women are better than men is misguided, but people of different sexes are surely not the same. And a wise teacher and their young student are surely different in status, but in the end they contain the same basic humanity.

One final point this zen verse highlights for us is that like the knots on a stalk of bamboo, though we live our own individual lives, we are all supported by others.

5. One goes, one comes, one comes, one goes ・一去一来 ikkyo ichirai

Yesterday I received news a great teacher of mine had passed away. This sensei made me who I am today. Being far away from Japan in Melbourne, feelings of helplessness uselessness well up. But when thinking of what would really be the best thing I could do for sensei, making tea fun; bettering myself through chanoyu; and devoting myself to perfecting chanoyu seems the best offering. So for this morning’s practice I performed kencha (dedication tea) and served my sensei matcha from the heart. The people of Ueda Ryu are pretty passionate about tea. But even among this crowd, sensei was of the most passionate. Each day going forward, with each bowl of matcha I serve to people, may I transmit the passion for chanoyu my sensei held and taught me.

‘Ikkyo’ means ‘one parts / one leaves / one gone’ and ‘ichirai’ means ‘one comes / one arrives / one welcomed’

So as something leaves us, so to another comes along. ‘Ikkyo ichirai’ is a vague phrase, but one that’s filled with suggestive meaning, and open to many levels of interpretation.


Spring comes, spring passes.

We enter summer, then transition to autumn.

Autumn passes and then comes the winter.

All this is ‘ikkyo ichirai’.

An elderly person passes away, but a baby is born;

As the stars of the night fade, up rises the sun.

This is also ‘ikkyo ichirai’.


Ikkyo ichirai can be a very philosophical way to observing the comings and goings of the world around you. The cycles of Mother Nature, the vicissitudes of human life, the pain, sorrow, the delight, and joy all take on a more tranquil appearance when viewed through the accepting, objective lens of  ‘ikkyo ichirai’.


In the first week of May 2012 my chanoyu sensei passed away, and my dear friend whom I share all my deepest thoughts had her first baby ‘Hana’ (meaning 'blossom').

6. Walking beside the stream, one’s steps cease; the sound of flowing water

徐行踏断流水声 Omomuro ni yuite tōdansu ryūsui no koe 


If you take a relaxed walk beside a running stream, after a while you seem to flow as one with the stream. The hills on the opposite side of the bank also seem to move as one with you. Is the flow of the river and the flow of the self one? Is the self at one with the surrounds? As the self flows with the stream, the stream dissolves. And as one walks in harmony with the changing scenery of the mountains, the mountains dissolve. The self melts into the surrounds and the concepts of the mountains, stream and the self all fade away.

7. In a peaceful dwelling, sipping the fresh taste of tea・室閑茶味清 Shitsukan ni shite Chami Sugashi

室閑茶味清  Shitsukan ni shite Chami Sugashi


In the precious, long autumn nights, there is a special, appealing ambience to sitting deep in thought while partaking tea. Such times of bringing quiet and still to one’s mind are especially apt for returning to one’s original self.

8. Embracing all; this is Buddha・無事是貴人 Buji kore kinin

“Buji” usually means “safe” in Japanese. In this zen phrase, however, buji has the meaning of being able to address both safe and dangerous events. “Kijin” usually denotes a person of elite social status. However, in Buddhism it is sometimes used as a synonym for “Buddha”. Just what sort of person is Buddha is a central concern in Buddhism. This is what the phrase addresses. Be it a time of happiness or unhappiness, through good and bad, a “buji” person equally accepts and embraces all that meets them on their path through life. They are awaken to the fact that all is pure flow of nature and do not attach themselves or dwell on any experience.

9. A pure bead, the autumn dew・秋露白玉如 Shyūro shiroki koto tama no gotoshi

The refreshing autumn dew is truly beautiful. Sitting atop leaves of trees, droplets can trickle to the left or right with the shake of a leaf. This is something that is used to metaphorically represent the ideal mind state for people. Living free of worldly thoughts, one can re-discover their original mind state of pristine clarity and freedom. And just as atop a green leaf a dewdrop takes on a green shade and atop an autumn leaf red, this metaphor emphasises the value of a pure, selfless mind, totally open and receptive to the natural flow of one’s surrounds.  

10. Vast emptiness, nothing holy・廓然無聖 Kakunen mushō


11. If you don't polish the jewel, it won't shine・玉不磨無光Tama fuma mu hikari

"If you don't polish the jewel, it won't shine" (Ekai Osho, Jikishoan Zen, Melbourne).

Creative Commons Licence 

Adam Sōmu Wojciński, 2018 

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