• Atsuko

Zen and Tea Ceremony

Updated: Dec 2, 2020

Do you know what Zen is?

Zen is one sect of Buddhism in Japan. Or to be precise, there are two Zen sects, Soto and Rinzai. There are many different sects within Buddhism and Zen Buddhism is only one of them. So it is not true to say Zen=Buddhism, although it is the most well-known sect in the West.


Anyway, in Japan, where I come from, many traditional cultural activities are linked to Zen , for example tea ceremony, flower arrangements, martial arts, calligraphy etc. And for many years I couldn’t quite see the connection. How come serving and drinking tea can be Zen?


Then about 10 years ago, I was waiting to catch a plane at an airport. There was a television and they were showing the demonstration of high definition TV. On the screen, colourful vegetables, peppers and tomatoes, were being chopped very carefully and precisely. When I was watching this, I realised that this is the essence of Zen.


Actions taken with care and attention are Zen, because while you are performing the action, you are completely absorbed in the moment. In Japanese tea ceremony, all what really happens is tea is served and consumed. But as it is done in such precise ways, with each movement following certain rule, the whole act is almost like a spiritual or religious ritual.


So in that sense, action of Zen doesn’t have to be limited to Japanese tea ceremony or ikebana (flower arrangements). Any action we take, making a cup of tea, washing up, chopping fire wood and even walking can be Zen.


And of course yoga can be and should be Zen. Are you focused in your practice? Are you aware of your breath or the sensations in the body? Are you paying attention to the position of the toes or fingers? Or is your mind busy thinking about the person next to you or what you should do after your session?


There is no blame, because we all do these things. But ultimately you know that yoga is not about the physicality but about the focus of your mind.


Patañjali defines Yoga at the very beginning of Yoga Sutra as chitta-vritti-nirodhah , the stilling of mind. Let’s keep this in mind in our practice.


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