Thursday, August 6, 2009

What's the point of all this etiquette, then?

I cracked up in a fit of laughter when I watched this clip:

Tea whisk on the tray at the start is bizarre. Hey, it's sencha time, not matcha!

The graphs poke fun at all the overcooked analysis of making the perfect cup of tea.

Just before she drinks the tea there's a temperature bar that lowers to 80 degrees Celsius. "Now!" the narrator hastens, indicating the exact moment the tea should be enjoyed.

More poking fun at Japanese culture: "The Japanese put great effort into devising ways to achieve the perfect temperature. . . . .they rotate the tea pot."

"This is a tea whisk. It's use . . . . . . . . (looking curiously at the whisk) . . . .is a mystery."

After drinking you say "ahhhh!".

A serve at formality: "You say 'yoi otemae des ga' when presenting tea to guests." 'Yoi otemae desu ga' is a strange phrase they've whipped up to make fun of people using formal phrases without knowing how to (doesn't happen as much to us English speakers).

The clip relates to sado most in the end summary. The summary is funny because it seems to defeat the original purpose of drinking tea i.e. to relax:

"In summary, knowledge of angle, timing, deep sensitivity, scrupulous mental arithmetic, unshaken concentration, and tense atmosphere are all essential for drinking tea."

When you're finished, relax with a coffee!"

Stop being so tedious!

What a great take of the excruciatingly precise etiquette that can go into a cup of tea!
To be sure, the clip is more about sencha than sado, but the message is easily transferred.

Being able to see the forest from the trees is number one for communicating sado to cultures not familiar with it. Helping people integrate the spirit of sado to beautify their everyday lives - this is the biggie. Being a stickler about etiquette when people can't see the purpose behind it is only a turn-off.

After a fun look at tea in The Japanese Tradition clip above, I've got a great opportunity to communicate the thought behind the seemingly tedious etiquette that goes on at a tea gathering. There are two big reasons:

1. Harmonising mind and body

Zen teaches understanding is grasped by transcending logic or form. But it also reminds us the world we live in is one where spirit is expressed in forms. You assume a posture (form) for meditation, eating, driving, working at your desk, walking . . . think of the forms you assume everyday. Whatever the form, zen is right on the money when it says
the mode of your mind is corrected by putting your body into the correct form.

I am more productive and think clearly when I sit with a straight posture. My mind gets lazy when I slouch. I bet you have the same experience.

By conforming your behaviour to appropriate forms, erratic thoughts fall from consciousness. You are focused in the present moment.

When your mind moves in harmony with the forms of your body you are in pure presence (
mushin). Being purely present with mind and body moving as one is the ultimate goal of performing the tea ceremony.

2. Transcending your self

Reverence is a reflection on your own unworthiness. ("We're not worthy! We're not worthy!" Wayne and Garth prostrate to rock gods.) Reverence comes from realising your limitations, physical and intellectual, moral and spiritual. The realisation evokes a desire in us to transcend ourselves.

The actions in a tea ceremony room have been practiced in the same form for over 400 years. In my tradition, the Ueda Soko Tradition, we turn the tea bowl just once to the left to offset the face of the bowl. The Urasenke Tradition turns the bowl twice; a full 180 degrees so the face is opposite from where you drink.

It doesn't matter whether the bowl is turned once, twice, or three times. What's important is standardising the practice (within respective traditions).

By standardising the practice the student sees their teacher perform the action exactly the same way each time. All the other teachers of the school perform the action the same way, too. And the teachers' teachers also performed the action the same way and so-on for centuries.

So when the student is turning the bowl, the teacher is turning the bowl and the teacher's teacher is turning the bowl. The sense of tradition in the action makes the behaviours no longer the student's own. It opens the student's integrated mind and body to an integration transcending the self.

When we transcend our self we feel reverence. Feeling reverence cultivates other virtues like respect, humility and charity. These virtues bring harmony into our interactions with other living things.

So there!

They're deep, but thems the reasons. Can you see us tea types have a solid chunk of zen thought behind our weird ways?

By conforming to standardised forms I feel the most beautiful harmony: the harmony of being in the present moment with integrated mind and body. This beautifies my everyday life by taking it out of the tea room and transferring to other forms I assume in my daily living.

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