Entry into the Realm of Compassion – The ‘Nijiri guchi’.

After having passed through the tea garden and under the inner-gate, we climb through a tiny door measuring merely 66.7cm square to enter the tea-pavilion. This ‘crawl-through’ entrance (JP: Nijiri guchi) is used by anyone (regardless of social standing). Some tea pavilions may also have a larger entrance, which can be used standing upright, but it is uncommon for anyone apart from the truly eminent (for example the Dalai Lama) to use this passage. Why would anyone choose to construct such an inconveniently small door for the praxis of tea? Several explanations can be given, but I believe that the most prominent reason can be found in the idea that during a tea-occasion everyone is perceived as equal to each other.

In a previous post I have briefly referred to the possible functions of a crawl-through entrance (See here for the full post). In this entry I would like to recount the three major purposes of such an entrance, and discuss the last item a little further.

  1. From a practical point of view, the limited size of such an entrance obliges a samurai warrior to take his sword out of his sash for otherwise he would not be able to crawl through this door.
  2. Secondly, it is said that when crawling through this entry the guest inevitably has to bend forward and is (willy-nilly) forced to enter the room taking a respectful posture. – I however feel that this approach may have been a later forgery by contemporary students of the rite of tea.
  3. Finally, this narrow entrance resembles the entrance that 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 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.

To enter the tea-compound, participants temporarily disrobe themselves from their social cloaks, and for just a moment become relieved from social status, rank, prejudice and complementary boundaries. This stage marks the process of self-purification. In the tea-hermitage or tea-chamber participants gather together, and this is where everyone collaborates with each other to bring the event to a fruitful ending.

In the tea-area, even rivals should be able to share a bowl of tea. While such a happening would be unthinkable in the common world, a tea-occasion provides a space where participants can reveal the person underneath their mundane coverings and metaphorically become naked. In the tea-chamber, there is room for understanding, empathy and respect for others, regardless of who they are and what they believe in. The tea-occasion constitutes a moment to share a bowl of tea in a friendly and respectful manner, allowing each other to be who they are through showing compassion, empathy and understanding.

Yet, it is therefore not necessary to agree with the beliefs or values that the other person proclaims in the day-to-day world, but it at the very least it is a world-changing thing to try to understand their position and motifs, even if that person may seem as your worst enemy.

It is this world that I envision for the future, and my wish that this beautiful form of interaction should not stay hidden behind bushes, gardens and earthen walls. For, allowing a moment of time to show empathy with someone and to fully try to understand that person’s being can change the world we live in. And in allowing other people to be who they are, instead of forcing them in a set social pattern, can only be the beginning of a chain of freedom in which everyone is able to have full possession of their person and act according to their own strengths and traits.

In the tea-area participants don’t have to be someone. They are simply who they are, and in that, they again allow others to be who they are. The tea chamber is the medium through which this becomes possible. From my point of view, in order to allow such a world to become possible, it is our responsibility to introduce this medium into everyday society. Start with yourself. Trust in who you are and allow (and empower) others to be who they are. Only so can we inspire others to do the same, and only so can we move towards a peaceful and harmonious world. Find the little ‘nijiri guchi’ in your heart and open it to let love and compassion fill our human lives.

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