Mar 3, 2008

On Plum Blossoms

Before his retirement as the 15th generation O-Iemoto (Grand Master) of the Urasenke school of tea, Hounsai Daisosho wrote the following words about tea practice:

The plum tree bent under the winter freeze,
With showers, all at once opens its buds
The moon, through mists, projects its shadow;
In the dark, breezes carry its scent
A few days back, the trunk was buried in snow;
Now, branches bear flowers anew,
Through hardship and the bitter cold—
This dignity, at the forefront of spring.

I love this poem by Hakuin because of the teaching and guidance for our own lives which can be gleaned between the lines. In life, we all have wintry seasons of severe cold. What matters is how we endure this cold. The poem teaches us to face the difficult seasons of life, and to benefit from the experience.

When you think about it, our struggle is much the same as the plum’s. Before embarking on the severe path of the Way of Tea, we have to rid ourselves of the consciousness of difficulty and apply ourselves wholeheartedly, without regard for personal gain or sacrifice. Only then can the flowers of our lives blossom. Only then can one attain an unimpeachable dignity which cannot be tarnished by the words of others. The Way of Tea demands a courage comparable to that of the plum tree. For this reason, many people who have lived the life of Tea have loved and appreciated the plum.

Chanoyu should be as refreshing and soothing as a spring breeze, yet to achieve this, strict self-discipline must first be experienced. When making tea, one must never show that one has come through a severe winter of self-discipline; but that self-discipline is essential in order to be able to make a bowl of tea as refreshing and soothing as the spring breeze.

We live in an easy-access society in which many look upon the discipline demanded by the Way of Tea as odious. Even many long-time practitioners of Tea think too lightly of the training that is necessary. People tend to emulate the goal of attainment, missing the true meaning of the Way. . . .

Trying to attain the end without enduring the means is the same as trying to harvest the fruit without planting the seed. To attain a great goal, one must always endure great self-discipline. Thus, because the plum is the first to show that it has successfully endured the harsh winter, its early blossom is so precious, so deeply appreciated, and so noble.

The retired 15th generation Urasenke Grand Tea Master, Dr. Genshitsu Sen (fomerly Hounsai Daisosho), will be visiting Seattle on May 11, 2008. For more details on his visit to the U.S. please go to Issoantea

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