Chanoyu can be as simple as whisking tea and drinking. But by whisking and drinking in a set manner you create a peaceful act of harmony.
At the age of 12, Ueda Sōko served Niwa Nagahide as a page (servant to samurai and elite members of society). Influenced by the teachings of missionaries in Japan at the time, the conduct, speech, grooming – all aspects, in fact – of pages was beautifully refined.
The social climate was the period of warring states. It was a time of turbulence where the elite could suddenly be overcome by those lower in status.
In order to consolidate social status, a great emphasis was placed on etiquette showing the status of people in interpersonal relations. The strictness of this social etiquette was without precedent.
Those that didn’t master proper etiquette didn’t get anywhere as a samurai.
The Sengoku period was one of constant warfare and you never knew whether you’d live to see the next day. The only thing certain was the ‘I’ that is here, now; the fact that at this moment I am whisking tea, or drinking tea.
All the samurai lived with the sense that ‘life will end’ in the foreground of their consciousness.
But the tea of the samurai did not rest on the sense of the ephemeral, emptiness of existence. Rather, the tea of the samurai had a richness that came from something deeper.
This richness came from the supreme stillness of the original self lying beyond the ephemeral, emptiness of existence.
The purpose of returning to the original self is also the purpose of strict etiquette.
We now live in times free of the threat of daily conflict (in some countries, at least). But tension accompanies all our interpersonal interactions in society. Think of times talking to your boss, making a presentation, or approaching the person you like for a date.
The tension in our daily interactions is the point we share a psychological connection with the way the samurai lived.
People that come to study the Ueda Sōko style of tea leave behind their stresses and find the stillness of their original self. Returning to your original self is the fundamental purpose of chanoyu and etiquette.