Chanoyu has a history of 500 years. There are numerous kinds of beverages around the world. However, drinking tea in the tea ceremony is the only time a beverage is prepared with the explicit intention of spiritual fulfilment. 'Wabicha', or chanoyu influenced by the aesthetic of wabi, is a form of chanoyu influenced by the Zen thought of the middle ages. The father of wabicha was Murata Shuko, a Zen priest of the Muromachi Era. Shuko practiced poetry along with his Zen training, and these pursuits influenced the way he conducted chanoyu. Shuko's aesthetic sensibility towards tea uses the wabi aesthetic concept 'hiekaruru' or 'cold and withered'.
When people entertain others, as a form of hospitality, coffee and black tea are served after being prepared at a separate location away from guests. When you are entertaining, often tea is prepared by another member of the family or a waiter. But chanoyu is the reverse. One of the main characteristics of chanoyu is that the host prepares tea directly in front of guests. There is a special meaning in this. There would be no reason to prepare tea in front of guests if there was no special meaning.
The knowledge required to conduct chanoyu is wide-ranging. The essential knowledge needed to achieve a chaji (tea gathering) is knowledge of the specific actions performed by the teishu (host). At the very heart of the teishu's conduct is the temae (tea preparation ceremony). There can be no chanoyu without the temae. The ideal state for a host to achieve when performing the temae is the state of the body moving as one with the equipage (tea bowl, tea scoop, bamboo ladle, etc.). To move as one with the utensils, you must not let your body slouch forward or manoeuvre the equipage with only your hands.
Manoeuvring all equipage from the core of your body is fundamental to the temae. One should handle pieces at the height of the navel, 3cm in from the edge of your lap. The arms should be away from the sides as if there were an egg under each arm. This is the relaxed, stable posture for which to handle tea equipage. Tea equipage is held firmly with the thumb and middle finger. The index and other fingers only give support to the item held while the strength of the grip runs through the thumb and middle finger. The middle finger is directly connected to the central nervous system and should be the leading digit controlling utensils to achieve unity between art objects and the body.
When picking up things and putting things down, you pick them up and place them down with your whole body, not just your hands. At practice, you often hear 'handle tea equipage from the lower waist' (koshi in Japanese). This is because each movement starts, finishes and is controlled from the lower centre of your body, i.e. the lower back and waist. Your eyes also follow the item being maneuvered and nothing else. Because the utensil, body and eyes are moving together, your body forms a unity with the art object.
The temae of the Ueda Tradition is often described as beautiful with a sense of dignity and elegance. There are two reasons for this. First, the actions of the temae are composed of straight lines with no unnecessary movement. This produces a refreshing appearance (e.g. folding of the fukusa (fukusa sabaki) and handling of the ladle (hishaku)). Secondly, many actions are performed together with the in-to-out flow of the breath (e.g. cleaning the tea whisk (chasendōji), rotating the tea bowl and whisking the tea). You will understand the importance of performing the temae in harmony with the breath as you continue to practice. The fundamental of actions flowing from inside-to-out makes it easy for equipage to become one with the breath and the body. The two points of (1) refreshing, no-waste actions comprised of straight lines, and (2) the power emerging from actions performed in harmony with the inside-to-out flow of the breath, contribute to the dignified and beautiful appearance of the Ueda Tradition temae.
The characteristic of chanoyu (more specifically, wabicha) is bringing yourself to a spiritually tranquil state and reflecting on your true nature while partaking in tea. The art of chanoyu is built on the interactions between host and guest. The host invites guests, prepares a bowl of tea, and the guests drink the tea. There is no other way than repeated practice to achieve a spiritually tranquil state fit for preparing a delicious bowl of tea.
Sōko's biography, 'Sōko Ōden', says: "The enjoyment of Sōko's chanoyu is the pursuit of purity and tranquillity." And the 'Dialogues with Sōko' includes: "Sōko's sense of beauty is utsukushiki", a beauty of elegance and metaphysical depth. For us who learn the Ueda Tradition of Tea, I hope we develop an open mind, big heart, and achieve a great sense of fulfilment each day through our practice. May we practice Sōko's chanoyu towards these ends.
- by the 16th Grandmaster of the Ueda Sōko Tradition of Chanoyu, Ueda Sōkei