China's Tea Culture (Part 3)
The "Bitter" Taste of Tea
Tea is bitter, but it is tasty. People can deliberate about the bitterness in life from tea tasting. How much bitterness is there in life? In Buddhism, it is said that there is bitterness in birth, in old age, in sickness and in death. There is bitterness in grievance, in love and parting, in pursuing things, etc. In short, all matter that constitutes the existence of mankind and the spiritual elements involved in the process of such existence can bring people "bitterness and sorrow." That's why the Buddha said, "The sea of suffering is boundless; yet with a turn one can return to the shore." This is the same principle as returning to one's original, true self in the Dao school. Therefore, only by gaining insight into life and the mundane world can one find relief from the "bitterness." Tea is bitter. Li Shizhen wrote in Compendium of Materia Medica
, "Tea is bitter and cold, most yin and most effective in reducing internal heat, which is the cause of hundreds of illnesses. Relieving the internal heat brings a feeling of clear freshness." People can enlighten to the principles in life from tasting the sweetness after tasting the bitterness in tea; they understand about living a simple life and regarding hardship as joy.
The Be auty of Emptiness or Calmness in the Dao of Tea
The Dao of tea is particular about being "harmonious, calm, contented, and truthful" and regarding "calmness" as the road one must follow to reach a state of selflessness and without any notions. Does this "tranquility" mean silent "quietness" to the point of solemnity? It is certainly not so. The tranquility in the Chinese Dao of tea refers to the calmness in the spiritual realm. The external quietude or serenity is supplementary. As long as one maintains tranquility within, nothing stops one from enjoying the chats, the laughter, the music, or opera. When people taste tea, they need to let go of their internal anxiety, attachments and keep a calm mind and heart before entering the state in which they can calmly appreciate the color, the fragrance, the taste and the shape of tea, reflecting upon life and molding their temperament, and achieve a state of emptiness, while enjoying the beauty of contentedness and tranquility.
The "Ordinary Nature" of the Dao of Tea
Japanese tea ceremony master Sen no Rikyu (1522 – 1591 AD) once said, "...(you) should know that the nature of tea is no more than boiling water to make tea." He hit the nail on the head, and pondered that the nature of the Dao of tea is indeed to enlighten to the mystery of the universe and life through trivial things in daily life. The cultivation of Buddhahood and the Dao also requires people to enlighten to great principles through daily "cultivation and practice" amidst trivial things. Therefore, there was an ancient saying, "Don't refrain from doing a good deed simply because it is small; don't engage in anything bad, even though it is only a small thing." One must not ignore small yet good deeds, because every good deed will accumulate virtue; at the same time one must not take reckless action because it is only a trivial thing; for if one does bad things, one will reduce his share of happiness allocated by destiny. In serious cases, one might even have his life and fortune shortened and implicate his family. One may not see the effect straight away, but if the bad karma accumulates, there will be a time when such cause-effect retributions are settled.
"Letting Go" in the Dao of Tea
People suffer because they cannot "let go" of things. Therefore, the Buddha School tells people to "let go" of attachments. One can only enlighten to the Dao by letting go of all attachments, otherwise all his efforts will be in vain. What are the things that people need to let go of? One needs to let go of worries in life, let go of fame, personal interests and sentiments, let go of all kinds of attachments and desires, and let go of "all that one cannot let go of." When you let go of all these, you will certainly feel extremely relaxed, and when you look around, you will see the sky is blue and so is the sea, the hills are green and waters clear, the weather sunny, the breeze gentle, the moon bright and stars shiny. Tea tasting is also particular about being able to put aside what one is doing at present to snatch a moment of leisure from the mental pressure and to relax one's closed mind. As a poem goes, "Let go if you want to, then what can worry you? Be a carefree person, enjoy the grandness of stars and the moon." Hopefully we can all let go of things and become carefree tea people.
So, first and foremost in the Dao of tea is the cultivation of mind and temperament, to gain an insight into life from tasting the bitterness in tea. One must maintain a mind void of attachments and see the truth in ordinary life. In the end one should let go of all bitterness and pleasure and enlighten to the principles in life, the profundity of the universe and return to one's original, true self. Every profession and every culture bestowed by the Divine can help people with cultivation and improve one's realm, because in the eyes of gods, humans did not come to this world just to be humans, instead there is a profound inner meaning and significance involved. Gods are offering hints and protecting humanity all the time, hoping that human beings can take the path towards divinity, and return to their origin and true selves.