Mar 11, 2010

Rikyu and the mud puddle

A chanoyu master named Hechikan living in Yamashina once criticized his contemporary Sen Rikyu as a black hearted flatterer striving to please men of high rank.  Hechikan tried to pretend not to be interested in pleasing such men and had even served cheap barley tea to Hideyoshi at the Grand Open-Air Chanoyu party in Kitano Shrine.  Nevertheless, Hechikan was proud of the fact that Hideyoshi had praised his insolence as a "tasteful idea."

One summer day Hechikan invited Rikyu to tea in his hermitage at Yamashina.  Rikyu suspected some trick had been planned for he had heard rumors of Hechikan's criticism, but if he refused the invitation it would only add more fuel to the fire.  He decided to go and fall into the trick on purpose to see what fun he could have, so he proceeded to Hechikan's house pretending not to be skeptical of his host's motives.

As he approached the gate Rikyu spied a big, freshly dug mud puddle hidden on the path.  He deliberately walked into the puddle and let out a shriek.  Hechikan ran out feigning surprise and showed the mud-splattered Rikyu into the bath with profuse apologies.  Rikyu stretched out and relaxed in the bathtub thinking Hechikan probably planned to give him tea afterward.  It was very quiet in Yamashina that midsummer afternoon.  He closed his eyes and listened to the cicadas incessantly chirring in the persimmon tree by the bathroom window.  The bath water was perfect -- neither too hot nor too cold -- and gradually Rikyu began to fee sleepy.  He wanted to take a nap without being interrupted and tea didn't matter to him any more.  Hechikan's foolish trick was forgotten.  In fact, he felt like thanking Hechikan for the trick for he got to enjoy an unexpected respite of comfort and relaxation through it.

Later one of his disciples asked Rikyu why he had intentionally fallen into the pit and speculated that it had been a kind of obedience to Hechkan's will.  Rikyu answered that it wasn't obedience, but he had not wanted Hechikan's planning and scheming to be fruitless.

From the book Unpyo Zasshi, by Kien Yanagisawa (1706-1758) and artist and literatus of his time.

It is sometimes good to drop our adult pretensions and rivalries and enter into a spirit of childhood where feelings are expressed more openly so that we can finally laugh heartily with each other.  Our present affluent society impresses us with the belief that material accumulation s the goal of human life.  We forget to enjoy times of pleasure because of all the pressures on our lives.  We get caught up in our games of competition with other adults.  We neglect other people and their feelings and our only concern is to return insult with insult and unkindness with unkindness.  We can learn much from this sotry of Rikyu and the mud puddle.

~Sen Soshitsu XV


  1. This post came at an appropriate time for me... thank you. :)

  2. Interesting. I've heard this story before several times, but with a rather different interpretation: Hechikan was Rikyu's friend. One day, he invited Rikyu to tea but purposely misinformed him of the start time; when Rikyu arrived the gate was closed. He entered and spied the mud puddle, which had been covered with branches and leaves. Realizing that Hechikan intended him step into it and pretending not to notice it so as not to disappoint his host, Rikyu stepped into the puddle whereupon Hechikan appeared, apologized profusely, and offered Rikyu a bath. After the bath, dressed in a new kimono which had been laid out for him, Rikyu enormously enjoyed the tea.

    Plutschow says of this (possibly legendary) incident "This story fits well the need for host and guest to become one in body and mind and for a tea-man to react to unusual situations . . . with taste and consideration. A nationally important ritualist like Rikyu had to be able to respond appropriately to his hosts or guests."

  3. Thank you all for your comments. There are so many Rikyu stories that teach us the way. I'll be posting more of them.