Nov 30, 2008

Do Gaku Jitsu revisited

In a previous post I explained the three guidelines for the study of chado - Do, the way; Gaku, the knowledge; and Jitsu, the practice.

Jitsu – the practice of chado. We get plenty of practice of temae, the procedure for making tea in class, but remember that the practice of tea is not just the practice of procedures. It also means to put into practice what we learn in our study into our everyday life. When we learn to work together in harmony in the mizuya we can take that practice and use it to foster the same team work in the business world, or in your family or in social situations. We train in the tea room to think of others and how we affect others rather than how others affect us. How can you put into practice what you learn in tea class?

Gaku – the knowledge of tea. This is a vast and deep subject. It includes everything pertaining Japanese culture, from drama, literature, and seasonal festivals, to etiquette, conversational idioms, and dressing yourself in kimono. It also is the study of the cultural arts: ceramics, flowers, calligraphy, fabric, architecture, gardening, woodworking, lacquer ware, basket making, metal work. Not to mention Japanese history and of course the study of Zen. Any one of these subjects could be lifetime study. What subjects are you studying?

Do – the way of tea is a hardest to define. It comes from study of knowledge and training. But also it comes from your heart. To have tea heart is unadorned. It is knowing what is appropriate in every situation. It is to apologize immediately for any mistake rather than defend it. It is to remain calm and unruffled when there is chaos around you. It is believing in the best while preparing for the worst. It is learning from the lessons of life and applying those lessons to make the world a better place. It is a pragmatic approach to life yet aspirational to be the best of ourselves. What is your path?

Nov 28, 2008

Okeiko, considering the past

When we greet the sensei at the beginning and end of class, we use the word okeiko, as in "Sensei, okeiko yoroshiku onegai itashimasu" and "Sensei okeiko arigato gozaimashita." When asking for a specific lesson before starting otemae or tea procedure we say, "Sensei, hirademae no okeiko yoroshiku onegai itashimasu." But what does okeiko mean?

Okeiko is often used to describe tea class, training or practice. Quite literally, the top part of the kanji kei means "to consider" and the bottom part of the kanji ko is the numeral ten on top of a mouth, the spoken wisdom of ten generations or old teachings. Taken together, keiko means to "to consider the old teachings." With the honorific "o" at the beginning we have the meaning of okeiko. The original inference of this was to read the classics and understand their true meanings. This in turn came to mean to reflect upon, study and acquire training in matters that have come down from the past.

So the next time you attend okeiko and greet the sensei or ask for a lesson, you are studying the tradition, the teachings of the past.

Nov 21, 2008

25 Things Chado, the way of tea has taught me

I apologize for not posting more this month. Time got away from me and I will be posting again more often.

Here are 25 things I have learned in my journey along the path:
1. Pay attention
2. Acknowledge others
3. Care for your guests
4. Be a considerate guest
5. Respect other people’s time
6. Respect other people’s space
7. Rediscover silence
8. Listen
9. Be inclusive
10. Speak kindly
11. Don’t gossip
12. Restrain yourself
13. Think the best
14. Accept and give praise
15. Respect even the subtle “no”
16. Respect others’ opinions
17. Mind your body
18. Be agreeable
19. Don’t shift responsibility and blame.
20. Apologize earnestly
21. Ask questions at appropriate times
22. Think twice before asking for favors
23. Don’t complain
24. Accept and give constructive criticism
25. Live in harmony with nature

Nov 5, 2008

Opening of the Ro

Congratulations to President-elect Obama on his run for the Whitehouse.

In November, the winter time hearth is opened. The ro is a sunken hearth that is larger than the summer time brazier. A hole cut in the floor houses the hearth and the heat from the charcoal fire warms the tatami from underneath and makes the room cozy.

The event that marks this opening of the ro is called robiraki. It is one of the major tea events of the year. Rikyu said that when the yuzu (citron) turns yellow is the time to open the ro. Usually that is around the first of November. To prepare for this event, the tea room is cleaned top to bottom. Shoji are repapered, and the tatami mats are rearranged so that they can accommodate the cut out for the sunken hearth.

At this time also, the chatsubo (tea storage container) is opened where the new tea leaves have been stored to age since they were harvested in the spring. The chatsubo is contained in a net bag or elaborate knots are tied to the lugs. There is a ceremony to cut open the sealed chatsubo and take out the leaves called Kuchikiri.

The usual sweet that is served is zenzai, or sweet bean soup with a pillow of mochi. Sometimes grilled mochi is mixed in with a chestnut. The highlight of the event is the laying of the charcoal fire and partaking of koicha – thick tea shared from the same bowl by the guests.

This year I was fortunate enough to attend Robiraki in both Portland and Seattle. The season is turning round one more time and it is comforting to participate as we move into the colder, darker time of the year.