What is ‘Tea ceremony?’

Actually, what we are here discussing is no ceremony, but rather a shared, meditative rite of hospitality, composed of many brief actions that must be woven into a single larger process, the object of which is to communicate the host’s care for his guests, and the guests’ appreciation of that host’s efforts.

Such a single larger process (for instance, running on a track, driving along a highway, or even cooking, writing, or cleaning) inevitably comprises its inception, its continuation, and its conclusion: this is to say, initially getting ready for action, actual execution of the intended act, and then slowing to a final halt.

This applies likewise to the structure of a single service of tea. Such a service begins with setting out the utensils for use, and ritually cleansing them as an expression of the host’s deep concern for his guests’ wellbeing, reaches its climax in carefully and strenuously blending tea-powder with very hot water, and concludes in offering the most important utensils for each guest’s individual examination, and restoring to their original state the other objects employed, against the event of unexpected guests deciding to drop by.

The difference, however, between a service of tea and those examples of everyday actions or processes mentioned earlier is that, while matters like housework or even writing are often conducted in combination with many other tasks, and in hectic and even stressful environments, the rite of Tea allows everyone admitted to the Tea-chamber – host and guests alike – to achieve a restorative single-mindedness within an extra-worldly setting, and to enjoy the refreshing and even therapeutic effect of focusing on just one activity – complex and yet conducted single-mindedly – thereby for the time being laying all worldly cares aside.

Use itself of a tranquil environment expressly devised for, and suited to, enjoyment of the rite of Tea is the most fundamental way in which a host can express his earnest desire to demonstrate care for his guests, and to afford them release, pleasure and comfort.

Now, were someone to present you with a gift, but then, having passed it to you, quickly snatch their hands away, and pay no further attention to either you or that gift, such behavior would surely strike you as discourteous. Nor does a good host simply suddenly serve his guests tea, and then abruptly leave the chamber, task finished, but not yet completed; what he additionally does in order both to initiate the service and to conclude it gracefully is just as much an expression of his courteous consideration for his guests.

The success of any Tea-occasion is not, however, the responsibility of its host alone. Such an occasion cannot come about without full participation by at least one guest. Consequently, all participants are tacitly expected to make it their business to help bring the occasion to a successful and mutually-satisfying conclusion.

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