Sitting Alone

There is a scroll hung in the tea room 独坐大雄峰 Dokuza Daiyūhō, Sitting alone on the great sublime peak. Or sometimes translated as Sitting alone on the great hero peak. Doku (alone,) za (sit), dai (great), yū (sublime), hō (peak).

The Zen story is that Hyakujo Zenji was asked by a monk, “What is the most fortunate thing in the whole world?” To which he replied, “Sitting alone on the great hero peak.” Great Hero Peak was the name of the mountain where his teacher lived, and as a place of practice it was known for the strictness of both Hyakujo and his teacher.

In this time of Covid-19, sitting alone for these last six months in my tea room has not been, to my thinking, the most fortunate thing in the whole world. As social entities, people have come to rely on others to share burdens, sorrows, and work. Together we can accomplish greater things than we can alone. Working for something greather than oneself and being part of a team can feel empowering and uplifting.

And yet, sitting alone these past few months sometimes feels like a prison, isolating, and lonely. I haven’t held tea lessons in the tea room, I haven’t done any Chanoyu demonstrations, and I haven’t made tea for anyone or received tea from anyone either.

But consider the alternative. This past weekend, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the U.S. has surpassed 200,000 passed away, and the world has lost more than 900,000 people. None of these people can sit anymore, not even alone, on the great hero peak. So in this sense, the most fortunate thing is to be able to sit alone on the great hero peak. It is a matter of perspective. Change your perspective and we can be grateful for the circumstance that we once thought debilitating.

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Loneliness of the tea room

About a year ago we opened Issoan, the tea room built for me by my husband.   It took him two and a half years, but it was worth the wait.  I have been teaching Chado for about 25 years and I was thrilled to have a tea room with a raised floor for a sunken ro, a real tokonoma, shoji windows, fusuma wall and nijiriguchi.  The students and I enjoyed having class there for about six months until the Corona virus hit and we had to close the tea room for events, demonstrations, chakai, workshops and classes.  Now the tea room is empty and silent.

In the mornings I go to sit in the tea room.  The light in the morning is so beautiful. Even though it is empty and silent, it is still peaceful.  I clean the tea room in the morning, hang a scroll and arrange flowers.  Sometimes I put on kimono and heat the water.   Then I make myself a bowl of tea.   Occasionally I will hold my zoom classes in the tea room, but it is not the same as having guests to tea.  Who will eat the sweets?  Who will drink the tea?  Sadly, it is me, by myself to enjoy this stark beauty.

Being alone in the tea room has made me appreciate having guests to make tea for.  As I kansha before drinking  my tea, I am thankful that is possible to drink tea surrounded by such beauty.  Often I find myself “sitting alone in contemplation” about the circumstances we find ourselves in with the Corona virus.  There is loss of sharing with other people, but also through technology, we can also share time with people we would not otherwise be able to see.

Until we can meet again safely, Issoan will be closed.  In the meantime,  I will be here in the silence of one host, no guest.

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First Virtual Chakai at Issoan

Yesterday for Memorial Day, we had our first virtual chakai at Issoan.  The theme was “Then and now.”  Since we are still on lock down for the Corona virus in Oregon, we had to do  it via Zoom.  There were many innovations since the students cannot come to Issoan for lessons, and creative interpretations of “Then and now” were abundant  Each student did a temae in their own tea space at home. It was the first time that the students got to see each other’s tea spaces, since I do 1-1 temae lessons and I am the only one who gets to see the tea spaces every week.

We had three special guests, Bruce Hamana-sensei from Kyoto, Heather Loden from Portland, and Karla Tomanka from Austin.  Karla was part of our shachu before she went to Midorikai in 2015, and now resides in Austin, Texas.  Heather is a student studying in Portland.

One of the things students miss coming to lessons are the sweets I make for them every week.  As the gift for the chakai, I made a sweet for them.  Each student got a unique sweet.

Most of the students dressed in kimono.  All of the students had a choice of which temae to do.  We had a variety of temae from Chitose bon with a cookie tin from Costco, to chabako, to hira demae, to a home made nagaita for so kazari. Each student got to talk about their toriawase and tea space, and it was so interesting to see the interpretations of the theme and the stories the students told about their dogu.

At the end the last temae was in Issoan,  where the scroll read “Shoju sennen no midori”  The pine tree is green for a thousand years.  Peony flowers from my yard in a Korean celadon vase.

The tea bowl was one we used for koicha for many years until it was broken and then repaired with gold lacquer.  The mizusashi was another familiar piece that students used many times for okeiko.  The chashaku was named “Dokuza”  I sit alone, from the saying “Dokuza dai yu ho.”  I sit alone on the great sublime peak.”

I love that Minako-sensei is looking down on us above my monitor. She would have loved this endeavor and joined in most enthusiastically.Thank you everyone for the hard work, and beautiful temae and toriawase.  I am sure that we will have more of these.


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Quiz Answers posted

The answers to the Japanese Ceramics Quiz are posted.  You can see the quiz and answers here.

Here is the Intro to Japanese ceramics to help you identify Japanese ceramics.

How many did you get?

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Chanoyu in a time of Corona virus

It has been 65 days since we have been self-isolating here in Portland.  Things were already starting to shut down when I decided to cancel all chanoyu classes, workshops, demonstrations and events and close Issoan tea room for teaching.

The tea room feels empty, but not lonely.  Everyday, I zokin the tatami, hang a scroll and arrange a flower.  When I practice, I put on a kimono and do temae, but nobody is there to drink it.  I am getting a feel for how my own tea tastes to the guests.

Improvised tea space for Ryakubon. Bon= pizza plate, glass tea pot, tea can natsume, glass bowl kensui.

On April 1, I began to offer video 1-1 temae classes to my students.  Fortunately, I can offer a choice of FaceTime, Skype, Facebook video, and zoom classes, depending the students’ ability to connect.  They have each set up a tea space in their own homes and have used their own dogu or improvised from what they have at home.  Currently, I am teaching 12 temae classes per week.

Through the urging of tea students, we have zoom discussions twice a week.  On Saturdays the choice of discussion is my choice. Topics covered so far: gomei and seasonality, scroll readings and meanings, Japanese ceramics,  beyond wabi and sabi, sweets in corona virus time, how to tie knots for chanoyu.  Student led topics are discussed on Tuesday nights:  Readings from Wind in the Pines; Pointing to the moon, Tea after Rikyu- Urasenke rekidai.  We have a list of topics that will keep us going for a long time.

The students really like these discussions and gives them a chance to ask me questions we would not have time for in regular class.

On May 3, I participated in the Urasenke Midorikai Alumni Association’s OneWorld chakai.  Midorikai graduates from all over the world participated in a temae relay around the world.  There are 22 hours of video you can watch here.  It was an affirming and inspiring time that connected more than 300 people through chanoyu,  It showed me that you can still have chanoyu in a time of Corona virus.

With that inspiration, I am getting invitations to attend chakai all over the world via video and zoom.  We are planning our own chakai here in Portland.  We are lucky to be living in a time when technology can connect us and chanoyu can unite us. Though I long for the time when I can serve guests in my tea room, Issoan, until that time, this will have to do.  And surely this furthers the mission of “Peacefulness through a bowl of tea.”

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