May 2, 2009

Acquiring tea utensils part 2

Many of my students are at a point of acquiring tea utensils. With ebay and the internet it is relatively easy to get tea stuff from Japan. A tea bowl for $10, a chabako set for $25 including shipping from Japan, a natsume for $5. They can all be had on ebay or online if you look hard are patient and bid at the right time. One might justify buying things because they are cheap and just for study.

But getting the best bargain isn’t the point of owning tea utensils. Sure, you can get a lot of stuff right now, but Rikyu says “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). Every tea utensil you acquire is a reflection of your heart. It is a big public statement and responsibility when you hold your chakai or chaji. Before purchasing, consider what statement about yourself your guests will take away when they view your piece. Rikyu also said, “Having one kettle you can make tea; it is foolish to possess many utensils.”

Buying utensils from ebay leaves much to be desired, such as the relationship you might have with the person who made it or owned it previously. Often the stories we can tell about a utensil are lost, and it seems to be so awkward during haiken when the guests ask about it to say, “I know nothing about this, I bought it on ebay.”

It was perhaps 3 years into my study of tea before I purchased my first teabowl. It was not easy to find one and I looked for a long time. I consulted with my sensei before I purchased it at an antique store. I knew nothing about its maker or history, but it was a very nice bowl. It was a little more than I could afford, and I gave a chakai for my sensei as a thank you for helping me. We used the bowl at the chakai and sensei really liked it. She said that it had presence and taste.

After the chakai, I carefully wrapped the bowl in a furoshiki because it did not have a box. When I got home, I dropped the chawan in the driveway and it shattered into dust. I only got to use the bowl one time. Ichigo, ichie (one lifetime, one meeting). So don’t get too attached to tea utensils, they are just things.

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