I recently had a return visit from someone who came to visit Issoan last year. We served her tea and sweets and treated her as we would any other guest. This time when she came back, she said that she was struck by how open and welcoming the students were. In her experience, tea people can be a little reserved if you are not part of the group. She said that she felt the kokoro, and the sincere welcome from the students as they made and served tea. She could taste the love that went into the bowl of tea. Not only that, she was struck by how well everyone worked together to set up and clean up in the mizuya.
So I want to thank our visitor for the wonderful feedback in the observation of our tea group, but also the students who treated this guest as we treat any other guest, be they fellow students or visitors, with love and respect.
When I was in Midorikai, my sempai asked me to make him a bowl of tea in the mizuya. I did it quickly and with not much thought. I didn’t warm the bowl, so the rim and the kodai were cold. I really didn’t take the time to whisk it properly either. I served it to him and it was not a pleasant experience to drink it. Later he told me that the next time I make a bowl of tea, to take the same care in making it as if I was doing it in the tea room. Every bowl of tea is the real tea. No short cuts. Put your heart into making tea because guests can taste it in the tea.
And as a guest, we can honor the making of the tea when we lift the bowl for kansha. In gratitude we receive not only this bowl of tea, but honor the growing of the tea, the processing the tea, the grinding of the tea, the potter who made the bowl, the care and love that went into making the tea just for us. In fact, kansha for everything that made this bowl of tea, this moment in time, possible.
Now I am beginning to understand what Sensei says: The form is a vessel for the content. You need a strong vessel to hold what goes inside or it leaks away.
While we may go through the forms of tea, what it holds is the heart. A strong vessel holds the pure heart, the kokoro, and keeps it alive, fresh and present.