Collective Contribution to a Tea-occasion

So what is it that those participating a service of Tea actually do? Well, let’s start by taking a look at the two types of Tea-chamber that have remained very much in use.

One of these is a spacious reception-room that is part of a much larger building. The other is the main room of a Tea-hermitage, by which is meant a free-standing, one-story, subtly-rustic-style hut, comprising at least two rooms, characteristically situated in a quiet nook hidden away amid a bustling urban conglomeration. (While people didn’t often live in such a building, at a pinch one could.)

The main room of such a hut was usually given two entrances: one of these could be entered upright, and was reserved for the very old, and the truly eminent. The other, however, was no more than 66.7 cm square.

Now, why should such a door have first been incorporated into Tea-hermitages, and why should it have remained a feature still reproduced in any such hermitage newly constructed?

The historical reason is that such an entrance made it impossible to enter a Tea-hermitage with that supreme emblem of warrior caste-hood, the five-foot long sword, stuck into one’s sash. This meant that all warriors had to leave their precious long-swords, and with them their jealously-preserved secular status, outside the hermitage. Like the latter, its garden, too, was regarded as part of a zone of purity – customarily termed ‘the dew-path’ – surrounding the hermitage, and thereby sealing it off from the profane every-day world; and, within that zone, all participants were by its purity freed from the grip of the caste-system of the time, thereby temporarily becoming Buddhist novices.

The enduring reason, however, is that so narrow an entrance characterized the above-deck cabin of a sea-going boat of the medieval period. Such an entrance was made so small to prevent the cabin becoming flooded by high seas. In the case of a Tea-hermitage, however, an entrance of this size not only humblingly necessitates all entrants bowing as they slide their way through; it also reminds them that, just as refraining from violent conflict is on such a boat essential to the survival of all on board, so each guest is just as responsible as is any other participant for ensuring that this once-and-once-only voyage attains its intended conclusion.

This is what is here meant by ‘collectivity’.

When an extended family gathers, the result desired is usually mutual harmony; and achieving that is the responsibility of each and every person present. And, if one of these chooses to express discontent, the atmosphere is at once spoiled, for all. All must work towards maintaining a shared equilibrium – as on a medieval Japanese boat.

What such business actually requires of any guest is an attitude of intent gratitude and unstinted respect: each guest has been invited here; the combination of utensils has already been selected for her delight; and she takes her seat among fellow-guests. All of these things merit from her both thankfulness and solicitude for others. And, combined, these two attitudes can generate mutual harmony.

Concentration, however, is itself a guest’s third essential contribution. When the form of tea that the guests are about to be offered is finally being blended with piping-hot water, everyone must concentrate, with the host, on willing that delicately-responsive combination to become delicious.

The result is then consumed communally from a shared bowl/shared bowls. And, should the tea prove delicious, and should its communal consumption proceed smoothly, that will furnish a most happy climax to the service.

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