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.


  1. Thank you! This is the most precise and beautiful explanation of the complementary principles of form and spirit that I've ever seen.

  2. We are honored with teachings from people like Daisosho. It seems to me that there are not a lot of places to look for these kinds of explanations in English. I do hope to share some of my own discoveries about the way of tea, and some of the wisdom passed on to me by my sensei and sempai.