Sep 3, 2008

The presence of the teacher

When Christy sensei comes for koshukai, there is so much information that my head spins. She not only teaches us the formal tea procedures, has also lectured on aesthetics, talked about the history of the grand tea masters, given us background and context of Japanese history, literature, drama and poetry.

And I was reminded once again that we don't take notes in class. Tea is an oral tradition, passed by the spoken word and practice of making tea. It also helps to train our minds to remember if we don't take notes or become dependent on them. As an inveterate note taker with a bad memory, this is very difficult for me. I just had to take a few notes and found myself running out of the room at breaks to write a few things down even though by the time I got my notebook and pencil out, I had forgotten much of what I wanted to write down.

I have heard that in learning chado, the way of tea, the presence of a sensei is more important than the actual teaching that they do. Christy sensei told us of an older sensei who told her that when he was learning tea, all his sensei did was watch him. No words were spoken, the student had to read the body language and figure out for himself what was wrong and how to correct it. She said that we are very lucky that our sensei want to transmit the knowledge and just give us corrections and teach us actively. It used to be one had to steal the knowledge of tea from the teacher.

My experience of learning chado, is that much of teaching is indirect and subtle. That is through anecdotes and stories, we learn what is valued. By reading scrolls and discussing possible meanings of the Zen phrases, we learn the philosophy and by observing and looking at tea utensils, we train our eyes and mind in the aesthetics of chado. Temae, or the procedures for making tea teaches the heart of tea itself.

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