This site has limited support for your browser. We recommend switching to Edge, Chrome, Safari, or Firefox.

Free Shipping During Halloween

Shopping Cart

Your cart is empty

Continue Shopping

Meditative Tea By Aaron Fisher

Set up Shop this time

On the bank of the Kamo Customers, sitting idly Forget host and guest They drink a cup of tea Their long sleeps ends Awakened, they realize They're the same as before.

- Baisao, translated by Norman Waddell -

Meditation is the expression of our real selves, dignified and pure. Without periods of silent reflection, a life becomes a hallow pursuit of what can quickly become meaningless materialism. Nature itself alternates periods of activity with stillness. Learning to take the time out of each day and relax into a peaceful state where nothing is wanted or needed, where there's nowhere to rush off to, and no baggage from where we've been, can make all the moments of our lives more serene. Beyond that, it infuses us with the wisdom inherent in our quiet centers. This wisdom and inner goodness bring dignity and poignancy to the rest of our lives.

Once one realizes that tea can be an aid to this meditative stillness, all kinds of doors open. Many people initially find that just sitting and doing "nothing" is difficult, and finding the time almost impossible. However, most people can quickly make a habit of enjoying some delicious tea each day. The connection with the senses and the enticing flavors and aromas, as well as the comfort tea brings to our bodies, can make the transition from our hectic daily lives to a quiet time much smoother. But how do we turn this act of tea drinking into something meditative?

Since ancient times the Chinese have focused their tea practice on extracting the highest quality nectar from the Leaf—the purest cup possible. In effect, they seek a dialogue between Man and Nature through tea, and emphasis is placed on the skill and mastery of creation, not the form or "ceremony". In fact, constant adaptation and flowing with the changes that each tea brings are more of what gong fu, and this expression of the Dao are about. The Japanese, on the other hand, used the repetition of the ceremonial traditions and the creation of the tea room and garden to achieve higher states of consciousness.

There comes a time, however, in the learning curve of those committed to finding the best cup of tea where one reaches the farthest edge of technique. Eventually, one discovers the ideal cups, pots, Leaf and water as well as the skill necessary to combine them into delicious and rewarding cups of tea. Once all the technical skills are mastered, one must ask: Where do I go from here? At that point, we can look at any art as analogous to tea - whether it be music, painting or even athletics. One can master all the techniques involved in mixing colors, stretching canvas, drawing and painting to the point where one can create photographic representations of any scene on Earth, but that doesn't make one a Michelangelo. Similarly, one could master the guitar and all the technical skills necessary to play it, and then go buy the most expensive, clear-sounding guitar itself, but that wouldn't make one a Hendrix; or even in sports, learning all the skills needed to play a sport won't make you a master athlete. What then is it that cakes these people beyond just the mastery of skill? It's simple: soul.

We all know and recognize soul when we see it: when we walk through a museum and certain paintings reach out to us as better than others; in our mother's cooking and the way it tastes better than the food prepared by master chefs at expensive restaurants; in our music, for as Van the Man says "turn up your radio - turn it up, so you know its got soul." And this applies tea as well.

When you reach that point where you're comfortable with your leaves, water and teaware, but you're still seeking to find higher and greater cups of tea, you will understand that the only thing left to change is yourself. In the same way that you experimented with different pots, waters, cups and kettles, you'll begin to experiment with yourself. My tea is much clearer and more delicious because I'm vegetarian, for example. Many tea-lovers, past and present, have found this to be so. My body is lighter, cleaner and my senses sharper because of my diet. After all, we are consuming tea so obviously diet is a factor. For now, this claim might be the same as someone saying that "silver kettles are much better"; in other words, its just a claim. The point is that just as you experimented with kettles to verify such ideas, you will begin to experiment with yourself to see the ways in which your lifestyle affects your cup of tea, and the depth of the dialogue between yourself and Nature—the Leaf's essence.

Gradually, we come to realize the importance of the mind of the one pouring, steeping and brewing as well as the mind of the one drinking the tea. We notice the tremendous differences when separate people use the same teaware, water and leaves -and true understanding dawns. We now know that it isn't the "Cha" part of "Cha Dao" that is difficult, it's the Dao. And that is where true cultivation begins.

The wonderful thing about tea is that it really is affected by the mind of the one brewing, and for that reason it has been the most important teacher in my life. If my mind is upset, if my body has toxins from eating poorly, if anything is unruffled, the lea will be different. In fact, as soon as one has achieved enough technical skill to gauge temperature. leaf amount, choose quality tea and teaware, etc. one quickly learns that the only aspect of the tea ceremony left to refine is oneself. The tea begins to talk to you, and the conversation always results in wisdom.

As mentioned above, one begins to notice the affect diet has on tea, for example. And the more one meditates with tea the more sensitive one becomes and the more the tea itself rewards with deeper, more subtle flavors and sensations — in essence enticing one forward on the Path from the gross to the subtle. I practice a meditation technique chat focuses on intense retreats to cultivate inner wisdom. We often meditate long hours. This slows down the metabolism and combined with lasting, causes the body to store fat. This was fine when I was younger, but at the age of thirty - like many meditators in my tradition - I began to gain weight. I thought that being slightly overweight wasn't an issue, since the inner world was of much greater importance. I followed what I had been caught and put my focus on inner development, ignoring the issue. As years passed, though, my tea started to change. It took a while for me to notice, but I did eventually. It was showing me the importance of keeping physically fit as well - transcending what I learned from my teachers even, and teaching me about myself, through my own being.

What then do we mean by meditative tea? Meditation, in the West, is sometimes confused as contemplation. We don't mean that here. Meditation, in the Eastern sense, is when the distinction between the object and subject becomes fuzzy, the ground lost. You might say that only the object remains, but the words here force us into a paradox since there can't be an object without a subject. There aren't any good English words to describe the state, so perhaps it's best if we just use an Eastern one: Dhyana. "Dhyana" means "being-onto", so that when we are "being-onto" a flower, for example, the division between ourselves and the flower evaporates and there is only flower, though not the word. Understanding all this isn't really terribly important. Experiencing it is. Where to start?

First, we must begin with our posture. So much of modem life slouches us: the sofa, food, the TV and games. We slowly hunch over like animals and lose the dignity of our upright posture. Beneath us the Earth is firm and holds us, no matter how heavy we are; above us, the Sky remains constant as well. Between it we rule. Try drinking your tea on the floor or a low table. Cross your legs and sit up nice and straight. When your spine is straight, you'll find thought processes, and even perhaps your confidence in yourself. Dignified people don't slouch. Slouching is the sign of our mental impurities, like fear, nervousness or a lack of esteem. Try sitting at the tea table with a straight back.

One of the oldest methods of making tea a meditation is listening to the kettle. This is another reason why using hardwood charcoal can add so much to the process of tea brewing. While your kettle is heating up, close your eyes and take some deep breaths. Try focusing on the area below your nostrils and above your upper lip. When your mind wanders, don't feel frustrated or rebuke yourself; just return to the breath. Slowly, your mind will begin to quiet down. Then just as you find yourself settling into a stillness, you'll begin to hear the kettle like the "soughing of the wind through the pines". Try to learn to gauge the temperature of the water by this sound. Feel it; hear it in your soul. Don't make it an intellectual exercise. With some practice, closed eyes and a still, sensitive mind you will find that you can intuit the temperature very accurately in no time.

Nothing affects tea as much as the first time it meets the water. When the kettle finishes boiling, therefore, make sure your mind is at ease. If it isn't, rest the kettle aside and take a few deep breaths. Sometimes it helps to play soothing music in the background. I have found the flow of the water from the kettle, as it mixes with the leaves, significantly affects the flavor and power of the tea. Consequently, it's important to be calm, to breathe and let the water flow smoothly, like one's clear mind. Focus on the flow of the water and the steam; be meditation easier as well as your normal thought processes, and even perhaps your confidence in yourself. Dignified people don't slouch. Slouching is the sign of our mental impurities, like fear, nervousness or a lack of esteem. Try sitting at the tea table with a straight back.

One of the oldest methods of making tea a meditation is listening to the kettle. This is another reason why using hardwood charcoal can add so much to the process of tea brewing. While your kettle is heating up, close your eyes and take some deep breaths. Try focusing on the area below your nostrils and above your upper lip. When your mind wanders, don't feel frustrated or rebuke yourself; just return to the breath. Slowly, your mind will begin to quiet down. Then just as you find yourself settling into a stillness, you'll begin to hear the kettle like the "soughing of the wind through the pines". Try to learn to gauge the temperature of the water by this sound. Feel it; hear it in your soul. Don't make it an intellectual exercise. With some practice, closed eyes and a still, sensitive mind you will find that you can intuit the temperature very accurately in no time.

Nothing affects tea as much as the first time it meets the water. When the kettle finishes boiling, therefore, make sure your mind is at ease. If it isn't, rest the kettle aside and take a few deep breaths. Sometimes it helps to play soothing music in the background. I have found the flow of the water from the kettle, as it mixes with the leaves, significantly affects the flavor and power of the tea. Consequently, it's important to be calm, to breathe and let the water flow smoothly, like one's clear mind. Focus on the flow of the water and the steam; be "onto it" - dhyana.

Just as you learned to gauge the temperature of the kettle by the sound, eyes closed, you can learn to know when the tea is finished steeping just by quieting your mind and listening to your heart. Feel comfortable with your mistakes, as long as your posture is upright it is misbrew tea. It can be a bit weak or strong. There is "only one tea that is right for this moment, and that is the one before you - however it tastes. Let the parameters go, and achieve oneness with the tea and the process. Then, just as you were dear and focused when you poured the water from the kettle, you should be completely present for the tea as it is poured out. It will respond to your mind, pouring smoothly or jerkily as you are clear or not.

When you smell and drink the tea with gongfu tea ceremony tea cup, do so fully and completely. This requires silence, as does most every aspect of the tea ceremony. Allow your tea to reconnect you to yourself and Nature. Quietly sip it fully and wholly, remembering your posture and breath. When your posture is straight and your mind calm, you will notice so much more in your tea that you didn't before, subtler and subtler flavors, aromas and sensations in your body.

After you set your cup down, don't be so anxious to steep again. Don't bring the rushed mentality of your daily life to the tea space. Relax. You have enough time. There's nothing to do but be here and now with the tea. Close your eyes and continue to breathe. When your mind drifts, just bring it back to your breath. You may notice the Cha Qi beginning to move in your body. Focus on your palms and extremities as the subtle sensations will often first arise there. It may feel like a prickly, tingling sensation vibrating or moving in waves. Slowly, you will notice these sensations elsewhere the more tea you drink, especially when it's good quality tea.

Another great aspect of using tea as a meditation is the fact that you can always return to the present when your mind becomes unhinged. If you close your eyes and find your mind running away, and returning to your breath, the flavor of the tea or the sensations in your body all doesn't work to bring focus, you can always take 2-3 deep breathes and then steep the tea again, paying attention to the flow of the water from the kettle and repeating the whole process. It won't take too many rounds for even a disturbed mind to begin to calm down, especially as the essence of the tea wants you to be calm. Not only does it reward you with exciting new dimensions of flavor, aroma and Qi as you develop calm sensitivity, it begins to speak to you of Nature and the lost ages past.

A student of tea traveled many miles to meet Master Rikyu. He wanted to learn the inner essence of Cha Dao. When he arrived, he bowed before the master and told him of his long and arduous journey in the name of tea. Rikyu agreed to teach him and showed him to his lodgings. A few days later, after a particularly great tea session, the man asked the master, "Master, what is the inner essence of Cha Dao?" Rikyu smiled, The highest truth of Cha Dao is this: gather water, lay the charcoal, heat the water and steep the tea." The man was shocked and began to question whether traveling all this way was worth it. Perhaps people had been wrong about this master. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, the man decided to ask for clarification, "But Master, that is too simple. It would seem anyone could do those things, Rikyu scoffed, "The day you can do as I have said, I will travel all the way to your house, rest my head at your feet and become your disciple."

The meaning of this story is important, for it expresses everything we have been discussing. Rikyu was telling the student that the highest expression of Cha Dao is to gather water, heat it and steep the tea. Like the man, many of us might not understand why the master then said that he himself would become the disciple of anyone who could do that. The idea is that you Just gather water and just heat it, and then finally you just steep the tea. In other words, there are no other thoughts, no ideas and no ego — just pure, enlightened action, called "wu wei" in Chinese. This is obviously no easy task, and will take a lifetime (or lifetimes) to master. The reason masters brew the best tea using purple clay tea set is because of their state of mind; and the reason tea was always so coveted by Buddhist and Daoist mystics is this very ability to transmit along with its liquor, the state of mind of the participants, so that if one is deeply peaceful the tea will also be thus.

And the value of tea as a meditation isn't just for beginners looking to start finding quiet time each day. As we develop on the path, many meditators find that the time they spend meditating is often peaceful enough, but this doesn't always translate to daily life so well. Because you can "practice" peace at home on a nice cushion, with gentle music, etc. doesn't mean you'll be a Buddha when someone abuses you or behaves improperly. We are human. The world is full of negativity and it is often difficult to maintain one's equanimity I have found that tea can help in this regard quite a bit.

I myself meditate two hours a day and have done so for many years. The practice is ingrained. Most of the time, these two hours arc peaceful enough. It is easy for me to find calm in the serene surroundings I have created in my home. But how to bring this energy out with me into the world each day? It is easy to find peace with one's eyes closed and legs crossed, but what about when the hands are busy and the mind occupied? I have found that tea bridges this gap in an excellent way. It is in some ways an ordinary, daily activity - just drinking. But in many ways it is also a meditation, as we have been discussing here. You are moving and concentrating, coordinating the body and mind, but at the same time must seek the same kind of meditative stillness as is found on the cushion. Like Tai Chi or other moving meditations, tea helps to bring the wisdom of the cushion into more ordinary, daily moments. I have found that this convergence happens much more often with tea in my life, and find myself meditative when brushing my teeth, for example, more often than before.

Tea is an ancient and wise teacher. If we learn to quiet ourselves and listen to the Leaf, it has many things to show us一about ourselves: our diet, our mindset, our emotions, even our cravings. It also can teach us about Nature and about the harm we are doing when we pollute it. It can discuss with us our own role in Nature and connection to it, not as external exploiters, but as part of a working ecology. Then, occasionally, there are those tea moments when all the elements come together and we achieve transcendence of ourselves. The ancient sages worked with the five elements (wu shing), trying to achieve external and internal alchemy, bringing Man, Heaven and Earth into proper alignment, not only to achieve a greater longevity of life, but also to cultivate wisdom.