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Tea-Zen Affinity

Tea is native Chinese plant while Buddhism is an imported religion. Originally they belonged to different groups but gradually became closely related, even inseparable from each other. People say tea-Zen affinity not without reason. Ln Yu said in his The Book of Tea, "tea is cold, most suitable for people in pursuit of morality and virtue. Tea tastes better in aftertaste, first bitter but sweet on careful savoring, This is secretly in accordance with the Buddhist aspiration for happiness after misery.

It is recorded in many spots in Lu Yu's The Book of Tea that as early as the time of Wed and Jin and Southern and Northern dynasties, monks attached great weight to tea and many famous temples in famous mountains planted tea of their own- The renowned monk Huiyuan of Eastern Jin (317-420) planted tea in Mount Lucian (in the north of Jiangxi Province in southeast China), and often drank tea and recited poms there all through the night But it was not until Tang Dynasty that Buddhism excreted a really profound influence on Chinese tea culture, This had a lot to do with the generation of Zen Buddhism.

The India-originated Buddhism was introduced to China in Han Dynasty, After that Buddhism and native Chinese ideologies like Confucianism and Taoism competed and merged, finally giving birth to a Buddhist sect with typical Chinese cultural tracts - Zen Buddhism. Zen Buddhism was the crystallization of Buddhism assimilating Taoist thoughts. It could also be regarded as an alteration of Buddhism by ethics-valuing Confucianism. Yet Zen Buddhism still took Sakyamuni as its founder. Legend has it that Sakyamuni once picked a flower without saying a word. None of his disciples understood what that meant except Mahagaya who smiled at his teacher. This anecdote illustrated Zen Buddhism's feature of" no words written, but understanding spiritual communication."

Zen Buddhism maintains that everyone has Buddhist nature, so is capable of becoming Buddha. Nevertheless, according to different levels of practice, Buddhism has two sects - the Sudden and the Gradual. People advocating gradual awakening believe human heart is originally pure but is polluted by prejudices and ambition.- What gymnosophists should do is to constantly remove their impurities, as they constantly dust a mirror. On the contrary, people advocating sudden awakening omit this drudgery of frequent cleanings and insist that as long as one has a pure heart, one can become Buddha on the instant. In short, gradual awakening views the process of becoming Buddha as a change from impurity to purity, while sudden awakening basically denies the reality of pollution.

The of Gradual practices sitting Zen (sitting in meditations). comes from Sanskrit, meaning heart cultivation and thought purification. While practicing, disciples sit with two legs put crosswise-left foot on right leg and right foot on left leg. Head is vertical and back straight, neither moving nor swaying, neither slanting nor leaning. Eyes look ahead or focus on one spot, to reach a of calm meditation. As tea is able to have people stay fresh and awake, and will not cause overexcitement as strong wine, it is a requisite in this practice. According to legend, founder Dharma -who introduced Zen Buddhism to China - sliced off his eyelids to prevent sleep. From the flesh he threw on the ground generated tea trees. From this story we can get an idea of the affinity between tea and sitting Zen. Buddhism summarizes the good that tea does to sitting Zen in three points, knows as "Three Virtues." First tea keeps people awake while sitting Zen at night Second, it helps people digest while full Last; it gives people a serene heart without desires. The earliest written record of sitting Zen started in East Jin, when a monk called Dari Daokai, in order to keep sleep away, took medicine every day and sometimes drank a special kind of tea called Tea Soda - a cooked combination of tea, ginger, laurel, orange, date, and other spices. Gradual's notion of changing from impurity to purity largely influenced the development of Chinese tea culture. It was in Tang Dynasty when Zen flourished that people wholly deserted the practice of adding condiments in tea, Lu Yu, who grew tip in a temple, regarded the sticky and tasteless. Tea Soda as "rubbish food." He wrote in a book, "put shallot ginger, date, orange skin, dogwood, mint, etc in a pot and cook them together… This is swill from drain." People started to pay attention to the natural pure and strong taste of tea, just like Zen advised people to seek and discover their own true and pure hearts.

Unlike the Gradual the sect of Sudden almost completely abandoned the austerity of sitting Zen but replaced it with understanding Zen, whose most common practice was "understanding words," namely to dispel wrong ideas and achieve understanding through witty or even eccentric Qs and As. According to the sect of Sudden, Sudden realization was a practice for people innately gifted. That was to say, only fortunate and also intelligent people were likely to succeed in this practice, while those less gifted had better choose the sect of Gradual. However, because it was easier and funnier, sect of bidden attracted more and more disciples and gradually took the lead among various sects of Buddhism, Many who practiced Gradual at first were converted into the Sudden. Daoyi (709-788) was one of them. This stubborn monk kept sitting Zen after following the Sudden. In order to illumine him, his master ground a bride in front of him. Daoyi asked his master why he did that. The master answered he was to make a mirror. Daoyi wondered,"How can a brick be ground to a mirror?" Master retorted, "If grinding brick doesn’t make at mirror, how can sitting Zen make a Buddha?"

Although neglecting sitting Zen, sect of Sudden still took tea as a necessary complement in practicing, Having to ''understand words," monks often gathered or traveled around,so tea drinking became necessary to add fun. Monks of the Sudden were equally fond of tea. Monk Zhaozhou of Tang Dynasty was a big fan. Whenever someone asked him to explain Zen or for advice, he answered them all with one sentence, "go and have tea!" At that time, tea, like basic daily necessities such as rice and oil, had permeated in the life of common people.

People of all classes and in all positions were all in the habit of drinking tea. What Zhaozhou meant was that Zen was neither mysterious nor special, but was implied in daily life and common activities such as carrying water and drinking tea. As Master Huineng (638-713) - the integrator of sect of Sudden-said, "Buddhism is in the world and can be understood in the world. Seeking Buddhist wisdom elsewhere is like seeking rabbit's s horn Sect of Sudden gave as much favor and emphasis to tea as sect of Gradual, for the same reason that tea carried in it a spiritual correspondence with the sect. Sect of Sudden despised and even rejected language, which was similar to Taoism. A famous simile of the sect of Sudden goes like this: you can point where the moon is, but your finger is not equivalent to the moon. Likewise, language can only express truth but is not truth itself. Zen transcends language, just as tea ceremony should give way to tea drinking, Zen generally resorts to intuitional experience and instantaneous realization, and went beyond manmade regulations and limitations. This was quite revolutionary at that time.

Zen not only affected the lower class, but was welcomed by rulers as well. Master Huineng was highly regarded by the female emperor Wu Zetian (624-705) and participated m making major policies. AD 849, an emperor of Tang Dynasty asked a 120-year-old monk for advices on longevity. The monk replied his longevity didn't depend on medicine but on tea. He drank 40 or 50 cups of tea every day, sometimes more than 100 cups. Although suppressing Buddhism once, Tang emperors were supportive and encouraging for Buddhism on the whole- Emperor Xizong (873-888) secretly hid golden and silver tea wares in the cellar of Famen Temple in Shaanxi Province, performing the highest royal rite. The fact that tea wares were carefully put together with the supreme treasure of Buddhism - Buddhist relic - in a special room was another convincing proof of the affinity between tea and Zen.

"Famous temples always produce good tea." Monks in Tang Dynasty were exempted from penal service and tax, so a lot of people became monks. Zen master Huaihai (meaning a heart as generous as sea) put forward the idea of day without work, a day without food," combining Zen understanding and labor to sparkplug a lifestyle of agriculture and Zen. Many temples had lands of their own and developed them into tea gardens to plant tea, A great many fame tea came from temples, called "Temple Tea." The well known Mengding tea is said to be planted by Zen master Puhtu of Sweet Dew Temple (in Mount Mengshan in southwest China) with hands in Han Dynasty, It has been tribute tea from Jin Dynasty. Wuyi Rock tea from Wuyi Mountain of Fujian (in southeast China) is also best known for its "Xcmgevity Eyebrow," "Lotus Heart" and "Phoenix Tail and Dragon Beard" produced in temples. In northern Song Dynasty, monks in Water & Moon Temple of Dongting Mount in Jiangsu Province (in east China) were very good at cooking tea. They made a kind of tea named after their temple - Water & Moon Tea, which became today's Pilochun. The celebrated poet Liu Yuxi (772-842) of Tang Dynasty mentioned in his poem that monks then invented a cultivating method of creating shade in the garden. They planted tea together with bamboo which could provide shade for tea trees and the tree absorbed the clear fragrance of bamboo. A monk picked leaves from these trees to treat guess. Fried in a pan, leaves filled the room with sweet smell. Thus was the earliest record of "frying green" method of cooking tea.

Poet and painter Zheng Banqiao (1693-1765) of Qing Dynasty wrote such a couplet all personages like commenting on water, while all eminent monks love competing in tea. In temples, there were "teat monk" specialized in plating tea, "tea boss" in charge of cooking tea, and "tea-bestowing monk" responsible for bestowing tea. There were also "tea hall,' and "tea room" where monks drank tea, read scripture, and discussed Zen principles. The hall of worship usually had drums. Those in the northeast comer were called "dharma drums" while those in the northwest comer were called "tea drums. Tea drum was wooden and hollow in the shape of a fish. Dharma drum was beaten during principle explanation and tea drum was beaten when monks gathered to drink tea. lea was also served in fee interlude between Zen sittings. Around every New Year, monks assembled to taste leaves planted by themselves. This was the famous ceremony of "Popularizing Tea." Jingshan Temple in Mount Tianmu of Zhejiang Province - known as the best Zen temple to the south of Yangtze River - held a tea party every springs in which the chief master cooked tea in person and tea monks served tea to monks and guests present. Taking tea, monks and guests smelt its savor, observed its color, tasted its flavor, and graded its quality. This kind of tea party lasted over 100 years from Song Dynasty to Yuan Dynasty, Other similar tea meetings and tea parties also existed. Those in consecration to Buddha were "Memorial Tea." Those sipped according to the length of monkhood were "Abnegation Tea."Those serving only tea were 'Tea Meeting." Some temples bathed the figures of Buddha with tea, called "Buddha Washing Tea." Men of letters took part in these tea meetings, too. So they and monks gave tea leaves to each other, or they treated friends with tea, promoting tea drinking to be a widespread fashion. In Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), temple often held large-scale tea parties that could contain more than 1,000 people. Stipulations about tea drinking have been drawn out and became part of Buddhist principles.

Famous Zen masters were usually experts on tea. Lu Yu's good friend Jiaoran - a poet and a monk - was the first one to put forward the phrase "tea ceremony." Some even took him as the integrator of tea ceremony. Among his many poems about tea, one was Ode to Tea Drinking,in which he wrote:

One sip dispels sleepiness and thoughts got clear and active;
Second sip refreshes my mind like fine raindrops descending on dust;
Third sip brings enlightenment and worries evaporated without much ado.

If we compare the level of tea drinking with the process of virtue cultivation, a lot of Zen masters, skill in cooking and valuing tea reached a superb state. Monk Zhiji, who raised Lu Yu, was used to drinking tea cooked by Lu Yu and stopped drinking tea after Lu Yu left. Hearing of this, the emperor invited him over and asked him to drink the tea cooked by several tea masters. But the monk put down every cup after one sip. Only when the emperor asked Lu Yu to secretly bring his tea that Zhiji exclaimed, "This is the tea cooked by Lu Yu!" Another story was even more incredible. In Song Dynasty, experienced tea masters created ripples in a cup while cooking tea. These ripples took on various forms - mountains, sun and moon, birds and beasts, etc., so it was called "Tea Opera" or "Water Painting." A top Zen master could come up with a poetic sentence out of the ripples of every cup, and four cups gave him an elegant Jueju, a traditional Chinese poetic form of four lines with a strict rhyme scheme.

The importance of tea to Buddhism was not just in the sect of Zen, Sect of Mi in Tang Dynasty also considered tea as the best offerings for Buddha. What was more, in its circulation, Chinese tea culture went abroad to Japan. In AD 803, a Japanese monk Saichou came to China to study Buddhist knowledge. When he returned to Japan two years later after finishing studying, he took tea seeds of Mount Tiantai (in Zhejiang Province in east China) with him, bringing Japanese history without tea to an end, Saichou sowed the seeds in Hiyoshijinja of Hieizani in Kyoto. Even today Hiyoshijinja had an epitaph like this: "This is the earliest tea garden of Japan." In Southern Song Dynasty, a Japanese monk Eisai also came to China in pursuit of Buddhism. After going back, he wrote the first book on tea in Japan - Keeping Health with Tea. Eisai thought that medicine only cured one disease while tea cured all diseases. He also recorded the ways of making and drinking tea in Southern Song Dynasty, and was esteemed as "found of tea in Japan." About the time of Ming Dynasty, based on the literature left by these Tang-visiting monks, Qian Lixiu founded Japanese tea ceremony featured in ^harmony, respect, serenity, and quietness." Though not a monk, Qian Lixiu fully comprehended the essential affinity between Zen and tea. He said, "the essence of tea is no other than boiling water and cooking tea." This concept of "Zen in life" is in perfect agreement with what Zhaozhou monk and Master Huineng once said.