May 30, 2008

Oolong tea tasting in Portland

Have you always wanted to know more about oolong tea? For those of you in
Portland, I'll be hosting an oolong tea tasting workshop through PCC next month.

Oolong is the most complex of all teas. In between black and green tea,
there are infinite varieties of oolong. Learn how to brew oolong tea and
appreciate the different tastes and aromas of 5 different premium teas
from Taiwan and China.

Everyone will receive an oolong sampler of the teas that we will be tasting
and a gaiwan, a traditional brewing vessel, to take home.

I hope you can join me. Sign up early as space is limited. Bring a friend,
pass this along.

Thursday June 26th from 6:30-9:30 pm
Downtown at the Whitmarsh Builiding, 803 SW Morrison St. 97205
Sign up through PCC Community Education
Course number 33047

May 26, 2008

Kaiki -- the tea record

At the welcome chakai for Dr. Genshitsu a couple of weeks ago at the Fairmont Hotel in Seattle, we were fortunate to be provided with a program of events by the hosts, the Chado Urasenke Tankokai Seattle Association. Included in the program was a kaiki for both seki (tea gathering sessions). These tea records have survived from Rikyu’s time and by looking at them, we get an idea of what kind of tea gatherings and utensils that were used in those long ago tea gatherings.

In one room there was a Misonodana (table style) tea and in another there was a Chabako (portable traveling box) with many utensils done by very well known collectible artists. The kaiki is a record of the tea utensils and the sweets or other food served at a tea gathering. It serves as a personal memento of the gathering, and as a record of the host’s thoughtfulness in putting together a particular arrangement of utensils.

For example in the Misonodana seki the kettle was a hexagonal Mt. Fuji hailstone kettle made by Josei Sato. The mizusashi (cold water jar) was a Shoko ware cherry blossom with a box inscribed by Hounsai Daisosho. The chashaku (tea scoop) was made by Hounsai Daisosho and its poetic name is “Jiai” (deep compassion).

The chabako seki had an octagonal iron kettle with scenery on all sides; its handle was a bamboo pattern with inlaid silver. The chabako was Setsugekka (snow, moon, flower) box made by Ikkan (one of the famous ten craftsman lines of the Sen families). It came in a box inscribed by Tantansai (14th generation Urasenke grand tea master) and was one of only three boxes ever made. The natsume (tea container) was flat natsume with cherry blossoms and a petal lacquered in the back of the lid, made by Sotetsu, another one of the ten craft families.

These are just examples of some of the utensils that were used. I personally did not get to see all of the utensils close up because I was working in the back. (But I did get to wash the black raku bowl by Seinyu, what a thrill). So I was able to at least see what kinds of utensils were used in the seki.

I have kept all of the kaiki I have received, and I look at them when ever I am putting together utensils for a tea gathering. It gives me ideas and also I get to re-live the tea gathering that I attended previously.

May 21, 2008

The shape and form of tea practice

One of the topics of Dr. Sen’s talk was about kata and katachi. These terms are very closely related, and yet there is a difference. I touched on this difference in the post

...Patterns or rules are involved not only in chanoyu but in all endeavors.
Especially in sports and other games, if rules are not followed, there can be
no pleasure in the competition. Similarly within the training of temae (the
various procedures by which tea is made) one first thoroughly masters the
basic steps and gestures that comprise the pattern of each temae. When
one's own personality begins to come to life through the pattern, at that
point the pattern becomes inherently intermingled with the nature of that
person's expression of the Way of Tea.

I think of this process as the sublimation of pattern into form. Suffusing
the pattern (kata) with one's own spirit (chi) creates form (katachi).
From long ago, Japanese people have considered spirit (chi) an extraordinarily
important thing. For example, combining the characters for mountain and
spirit yields the word orochi or giant serpentine deity; the characters for
rice field and spirit give tachi or agricultural deity; the characters for
water and spirit, michi or aquatic deity. In truth, spirit surpasses all human
understanding or imagination.

Questions such as whether a person's movements in temae are beautiful or
whether a person is able to proceed through a difficult temae without
mistakes, while important, indicate a temae in which pattern has been
achieved. I urge you to go beyond that, to pour your own fresh individuality
into the temae and guide it towards achieving spirited form. ~ excerpted
from a translation, Pattern and Form, in the April issue of Tanko Magazine,
Heisei 8 (Kyoto: Tankosha, 1996).

Kata refers to shape of practice, that mode of 'still thinking'; an awareness of
technique and self; Kata the form is visible in your practice.

Katachi the form is invisible, coming from within. Perhaps it is like flow, being one with
your practice. There is a deep focus; you have become empty, with mind of mu. In katachi
understanding there is no separation, being one with tea.

As we do tea again and again, we move from shapes ( kata ) to form, (katachi); to the
form within ourselves - empty mind and clear heart, the mind of mu.

~ Thank you to Lynn Moser for her notes on Dr. Sen’s lecture.

May 18, 2008

Lessons from the gyotei sensei

Part of the entourage that traveled to Seattle were the gyotei sensei, teachers directly under the Grand Tea Master, and those who serve in the Sen household. They travel with the Grand Tea Master whenever he goes abroad. They come as the advance team, set up team and help to organize and smooth the way.

In my experience working under the gyotei sensei, they don’t say much, and I thought it was because they don’t speak much English, but that is not the case. Many of them speak quite good English. They teach their lessons by example.

Over the course of the three days of events in Seattle, they were always there first to set up and there last to pack up and clear the area. They were quiet, efficient and good humored throughout. When presented with logistical problems they just took care of it. I never heard any protests, complaints or arguments about how to do anything.

In making tea for 200-300 people each day, they just showed up, filled in where there was the most need and did the work. I saw gyotei sensei assisting teishu and hanto, whisking tea, washing bowls, heating water and packing up dirty towels. Each job was done thoroughly, calmly, efficiently and almost always silently. There was no job too menial for them.

On Tuesday, where we were setting up in the Seattle Asian Art Museum for the tea presentation, there was a large old cherry tree outside the window. Amidst the flurry of activity, each gyotei paused at some time to appreciate the cherry blossoms scattering in the wind outside the window. It wasn’t done to impress anyone, it wasn’t done with an audience, just a quiet moment of appreciation for the beauty of nature. This comes from a depth of practice that is not simply about going through the motions but genuinely living the way of tea.

May 17, 2008

Inspiration from the Grand Tea Master’s visit

I just returned from Seattle where Dr. Genshitsu Sen, the retired Grand Tea Master of Urasenke School of tea visited last week. During the thee day visit, there were many chakai (tea gatherings), lectures, and receptions and meals shared with this remarkable man. He has made it his vision and life mission to spread peace through a bowl of tea.

Though many people have not heard of him, Dr. Sen has traveled the world and hosted many of the world leaders to tea. He is charismatic and inspirational. Just being part of the events in Seattle have instilled a new fire within me to be a better chajin and share the way of tea with people.

Even though I was dressed for 3 days in my very best formal kimono, I was part of the work crew behind the scenes to make it all run smoothly. We served more than 300 bowls of tea each day. From setting up equipment in the morning, to whisking tea, to washing tea bowls and cleaning up in the evening only to begin again the next morning, I felt part of something much larger. And I learned so much about how to work a large event such as this.

I was also able to assist with teaching a session of the University of Washington chado class with Tim Olsen sensei and Genko san. They have moved all classes to Shoseian, the tea house in the Japanese Garden. How lucky they are to study in a real tea house surrounded by a beautiful Japanese garden.

And Monday we begin our new introduction to Japanese Tea Ceremony class at Issoan.

Aren’t we the lucky ones, whose hearts were stolen away by tea?

May 10, 2008

Everything’s important, nothing really matters

Long ago my friend Max gave me a shikishi – a poem card you can hang in the alcove of the tea room with this saying and it really tells us what the seeming contradictions are in studying the way of tea.

We learn and train hard to master the smallest details. Learning again how to walk, sit, get up, and arrange flowers, follow etiquette and clean properly. We learn and train to master the order of tea procedures. We train to prepare for the real tea every time we make tea. We train to be aware and sensitive to our guests and their needs. We learn to incorporate the seasons, study history and literature, gardening, architecture, craftsmanship and aesthetics. All these things and more inform our understanding of the way of tea.

And yet, none of it really matters. We just need to be present and sincerely make a good bowl of tea.

I’ll be out of town for a few days. The retired Grand Tea Master of Uranseke, Dr. Genshitsu Sen from Japan will be in Seattle for a number of both private and public events. I’ll be in the mizyua whisking tea.

May 9, 2008

Chisoku – Contentment

I wanted to write something about this as the last post was about desire and achieving goals. So often I compare myself to other people and find myself coming up short. So and so has more money and if I had what he has, I’d be happy. Or I wish I had her job, or I wish I had more time to --------.

There was a story about two neighbors. One had a beautiful yard, green lawn, trimmed bushes, and flowering fruit trees. The other’s yard was overgrown with dandelions, leaves unraked from last year and wild branches everywhere. The unkempt neighbor said to his friend, “I want a yard just like my neighbor’s.” His friend responded, “Jim, if you had a yard like your neighbor’s, in six months time, your yard will look exactly the same as the yard you have now.”

I have found two ways to deal with this coming up short feeling. Get to work to change yourself or want what you already have. The last post was about working to get what you want, but I’d like write some more about wanting what you already have. You can also read here about how much is enough.

In our society it is not easy to be satisfied with what we have. 6-7,000 advertising messages a day exhort us to want more, be more, buy more. The consumer economy only works as long as everyone keeps on buying more and more. We are richest country on earth, so much so that overeating is a major problem. We have the largest houses in the world, and yet 1 in every 10 rents additional storage space for their stuff.

When we moved from Seattle to Portland we bought a smaller home and people asked us why when we could afford a larger one. Because we have no need of a larger home. My sister just bought an 800 sq. ft. home for herself, her husband and daughter. They will be moving from a 2400 sq.ft home to one a third the size.

With the economy tanking, smaller more fuel efficient cars are rising in popularity as well as an environmental consciousness to leave a smaller carbon footprint to stop global warming. Publications such as Real Simple and the Tightwad Gazette feed into these trends.

Rikyu said, “There is shelter enough if it keeps the rain off, and food enough when it staves off hunger. We draw water, gather firewood, boil the water and make tea.” (from the Nampuroku) and “Tea should not be an exhibition of what the tea man owns. Instead the sincerity of his heart should be expressed.” (from Rikyu’s 100 poems)

The Japanese kanji for contentment is made up of two characters: chi soku, literally to know sufficiency. Nobody can tell us how much is enough. If we rely on external sources to tell us, there will never be enough. There will always be something more that we do not have. Only we know what it is in our lives to know sufficiency. It comes from inside us. It comes from appreciating what we already have, from knowing what is really important to us, and deciding what we can live without.

May 6, 2008

New tea stuff now has beginning matcha sets. Tea bowl, whisk and tea scoop with a can of powdered tea and you can now make a good bowl of matcha

There are also new tea bowls, Japanese green tea kyusu (side handled tea pots) and iron tetsubin.

Also for those of you who need a taller meditation seat for seiza sitting or zazen, I have developed a new taller model. Same high quality, portability, simple design with its own carry case. You can choose from 5 colors or unfinished.

Stay tuned for more developments at the site.

Don't forget, the new beginner's class at Issoan will be starting May 19th.

May 2, 2008

The living fire

Since this is the year for fire, I thought I’d write a little about how much I am motivated this year.

I quit my very lucrative corporate marketing job nearly two years ago. I wanted to teach tea ceremony for a long time, but always there was something stopping me – I didn’t have enough time, couldn’t make enough money or I didn’t know how to go about doing it.

But if you have enough motivation, you do anything. A lot of people say that they have strong desire, or passion to start their own business, or go live in Europe or change careers or -- fill in the blank. What counts is what you are doing to bring about the desired goal.

First of all you need to be clear what it is you are pursuing. Write it down, look at it every day, then plan out milestones to get you there. A wise person told me that you need to work every day to bring your goal closer, and you have to keep up your motivation to keep doing it every day. Do one thing everyday that moves you closer to your goal, and one thing everyday that nurtures your passion.

I am on fire for chado. Everyday I have a list of things to do and I can hardly wait to get to it. I am moving closer to my goals everyday and the closer I get the more motivated I am. I know there are no shortcuts to get there, there are no days off and no excuses for not getting at least one thing done on my list.

Yes, there are bills to pay. Yes, I need to take care of my family. Yes, the housework needs to get done. Because I have the living fire inside me, I have enough energy to get one more thing done on my list.