The True way of tea

I talk to a lot of people about chado.  It’s what I love and I love to talk about it.  Often times the questions are predictible:   How long does it take to study?  Is there talking during the ceremony? Why do you turn the bowl?

Sometimes I will get a person who knows a little about it, or has read about it on the internet.  Quite often I will get the question of “I want to study chado, which school should I pick, Urasenke or Omotesenke?”  My answer to this question is always, it doesn’t matter which school you study.  Find a teacher and study the school that they teach.
Recently, I had a question from a young man who wanted to study chado, but his question to me was, “I want to study chado, but I want to learn Rikyu’s tea.  I don’t want to study Urasenke or Omotesenke beacause there just is too much politics.  I want to learn the true way of tea.”

So I have thought about it for a while.  What is the true way of tea?  Is learning Rikyu’s tea the true way of tea or is this just a romantic notion?

I have talked about learning to make tea the way Rikyu made it is like hearing Yoyo Ma play Bach and telling a teacher that you want to play Bach on the cello just like Yoyo Ma does.   But even Yoyo Ma had to begin somewhere, and learning the basics (scales, fingering, bowing techniques for the cello — folding fukusa, purifying utensils, walking in and out of the tea room in the case of chado) is where you start, not making tea like Rikyu.   Besides, Rikyu is out of context in America and out of context of his own time.

Out of respect for my teachers and generosity of Daishosho for the year in Kyoto, I teach the Urasenke curriculum.  I teach it, as much as I can, as I have learned it.   Tea is a living tradition.  It is passed teacher to student, but it also has changed with the times   It was Gengensai who first developed Ryurei, table style in the late 1800s.  New procedures are developed, changes made to old ones.  It is part of our history and through this history we are connected back through the generations to Rikyu and his ideals.

But the true way of tea?   When I was at Midorikai, Mori-sensei told us at our orientation, “Tea is not a thing to learn from teachers.  The things you seek are already in you.  Tea is not the procedure, and this is not a University.”  She wrote on the board a character — Shinan — finger pointing South.  It is a name for someone who teaches Japanese culture, one who points to the South.  “There is nothing to teach you.  All a teacher can do is point to the moon.  Seek for yourself, if you have a strong will you will learn the way of tea, the way of life, the way of the spirit.”

And that, I believe is the true way of tea.

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