The Taoist Values and Characteristics of Tea Connoisseurs

The Taoist Values and Characteristics of Tea Connoisseurs

When talking of Chinese tea culture, attention is often paid to its relationship with Buddhism. There is a saying both in China and Japan that "tea and Chan is an integration." Although Chan is only a Buddhist sect, it has made a great contribution to the formation of the spirit of tea ceremony, and has played an important role in spreading tea culture throughout the East. The first disseminator of Japanese Buddhism was also the first tea master and the founds of the Japanese tea ceremony. The unique characteristics of Chinese Buddhist tea ceremony aroused great attention among Japanese monks.

Tea culture was closely related to earthly reality and society, while Buddhism stressed paradise. Chinese tea culture mainly stressed the love of life and optimism, while Buddhism emphasized bitterness and loneliness. The Chan sect solved the contradiction, and as a result, the two approaches were integrated.

China is a large smelting furnace, in which foreign thoughts have to be smelted before they take root in China. This is not because Chinese culture is "conservative" and "exclusive,". In fact, China was quite open and magnanimous towards foreign culture in the early and medium stages of feudal society, especially during the Tang Dynasty when tea culture was created. Buddhism was spread from South Asia to China. At first, it was combined with the school of the emperor Huang and Lao Zi (a Taoist sect of the Warring States period and the early Han Dynasty, The emperor Huang and Lao Zi were honored as the founders of the Taoist school, hence the name). Taoists started to advocate tea drinking. However, it was during the Tang Dynasty that Buddhist thought and tea culture became fully integrated.

Most of the Buddhist sects that spread to China belonged to Great Vehicle, which developed from some Buddhist sects between the first and second century. Great Vehicle held that all living creatures could become Buddha, and equal stress should be laid on benefit to oneself and to othes while practicing Buddhism. Buddhists regarded their doctrines as the best, hence the name "Great Vehicle,"; the sects advocating self-moksa (release from the cycle of rebirth) were deprecated as the "Little Vehicle". For example,the Sanlun, Sukhavati, Vinaya and Faxiang were all Great Vehicle sects which spread from India, However, these religious doctrines were not to the liking of the Chinese people. For example, according to the Sanlun sect, people should not be afraid of death, and should "cry for living." However,we Chinese people had such a deep love for life that we could not accept the idea that one could only become happy after one dies. According to the Sukhavati sect, the world was a dirty land, while we regarded land as our mother, on which there were beautiful grass and trees, and magnificent seas, How could we believe such beautiful land was dirty? Li Shimin, the first emperor of the Tang Dynasty, claimed to be a descendant of Lao Zi—Li Er. The emperor flew into a rage when a monk told him that his family name had nothing to do with that of Lao Zi. The emperor said that since the monk had told him the knife of Buddha could not hurt people, he would like to try it on him after he prayed to Buddha for seven days. The monk had no choice but to say that the emperor was Buddha, and he prayed to him for seven days. Thus he escaped death. It was clear that during the Tang Dynasty Buddhist reform had to be carried out so the Buddhist theories could be integrated with Chinese culture. Thus Tiantai, Huayan and some other sects, which were similar to Chinese culture and ideologies, came into being. However, only the Chan sect really turned into a Chinese Buddhist sect. It advocated practicing Buddhism by sitting in meditation in order to become peaceful in mind. It was similar to the Taoist practice of sitting in meditation and the Confucian views on one's inner accomplishment; it was beneficial to one's health, and enabled purification of one's mind to improve one's realm of spirit. Hui Neng (638-713), the sixth patriarch of the Chan sect in the prosperous period of the Tang Dynasty, advocated insight, expressed in the observation that "the butcher who lays down his knife at once becomes a Buddha." According to him, people could become Buddhists without becoming monks or nuns. Therefore, the court no longer needed to settle disputes over land between monasteries, and matters became convenient for the people.

With the appearance of the Chan sect, Buddhism started to have Chinese characteristics, and became consistent with tea culture. The Chan sect made contributions to promoting tea culture in the following three aspects:

1.Popularizing the practice of drinking tea.

According to the Records of What Feng Saw and Heard written by Feng Yan in the Tang Dynasty, "Southerners liked drinking tea, while northerners did not often drink tea at first. In the middle years of the Kaiyuan reign, the master of taming demons in the Divine Rock Temple on the Taishan Mountain developed the Chan sect energetically. The monks were neither allowed to sleep nor have supper while sitting in meditation at night, but they were allowed to drink tea. So each of them brewed tea and drank. People followed their example and tea-drinking thus became a custom..... Many tea were opened in the city, from which everyone could buy tea. Tea produced on the mountain was great in variety and amount and was transported by boat and carriages from the Yangtze and Huai River valleys."

2. Developing tea plantation and planting tea on mountains.

It was expensive for monasteries to buy tea for monks, so the monks in some areas started to develop tea plantations or planted tea on mountains. Most of the monasteries were built in remote mountains, with excellent water and soil, ,and clean air,all of which were beneficial to tea plantation. Ji Gong, Lu Yu's master, planted tea by himself, and devoted himself to the study of tea. Many varieties of famous tea were produced by monasteries in the Tang Dynasty. The monks on Mount Putuo planted many tea trees, and "Putuo Buddhist tea" became famous. The tradition of tea plantation was retained until the Ming Dynasty. According to Li Rihua, who lived in the Ming Dynasty, an old monk of Mount Putuo presented him a small bag of White Crag tea as a gift. Its fresh smell gladdened his heart and refreshed his mind. Many monasteries were built in Jian'an in the Southern Tang Dynasty, and most of them planted excellent tea because both monks and pilgrims drank tea and monasteries possessed land. In addition, the monks had enough time to study the skills of planting, making, brewing and tasting tea by Chinese tea set. As a result, they promoted the development of tea culture,and Jian'an City became a famous tea production base during the Song Dynasty.

3. Treating tea art with meditative mind, and creating the Buddhist realm of tea ceremony.

According to its philosophical views, the Chan sect stressed the tempering and remoulding of one's disposition to find one's true self. When a personas spirit reached the cleanest and most healthy state, he would understand truths. Tea could help him keep calm and clear-minded while sitting in meditation. Therefore, tea's distinguishing features were similar to those of Buddhism. The monks of the Chan sect drank tea not only to refresh themselves; they also connected the realm of tea with that of the Chan sect, and appreciated that the true essence of the world was to seek peace of mind Jiao Ran, a famous monk of the Tang Dynasty, was a tea connoisseur and poet. He was a friend of Lu Yu, and they often studied tea ceremony and Buddhist doctrine, and wrote poems together. They also described their feelings about drinking tea, blending the fragrance of tea, natural and flowing verses, and profound Buddhist thoughts. According to Jiao Ran, after drinking a cup of tea, one would no longer feel in a daze, but feel as frank and open as heaven and earth. After drinking another cup of tea, one would feel as if the spirit was cleansed by gentle rain.

According to the Chan sect, one could only become a Buddha after getting rid of infatuation-the largest obstacle-and tea could help achieve the purpose. After drinking the third cup of tea, a person would understand the nature of things. According to the Chan sect, it was impossible for people to get rid of their worries intentionally. they had to tranquilize their hearts to grasp the spirit of tea ceremony, which was to study the relationships between tea and mountains and rivers, nature, heaven and earth, and man, and between the human and the material, and body and mind.

Other sects, as well as the Chan sect, had their own theories of tea ceremony.

For example, tea culture flourished in Tibet's monasteries. Tibetans regarded tea as the wonder of enshrining and worshiping Buddha. Monasteries granted tea to common people as the blessing of God and Buddha. Hundred-year old brick tea has been kept in the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa till the present day. The Chinese people often said that "the older the wine, the better, while the newer the tea, the better." The 100-year-old tea is no longer useful as a drink. but the monks regard it as the monastery's protective shield. According to the description of a missionary of the Qing Dynasty, 4,000 lamas attended a large tea party held by the Karwenpalmo Lamasery, ordinary believers lay on the ground to worship Buddha, young monks held hot boilers and gave tea to the people, and people started to sing songs of praise. Because it was served as part of the Buddhist rites, tea became imbued with mystery. Buddha was to save all beings, so large boilers had to be used for such tea parties so that enough tea could be given to the people. The tea parties held by the Chan monasteries of Central Plains accentuated the adjustment of one's mind with tea to give Ml scope to one's ability to find one's true self,, while the tea parties held by Tibetan monasteries regarded tea as a wonder granted by the gods in paradise. This view was more characteristic of objective idealism, and entirely different from the spirit of the tea ceremony of the Chan sect.

We have approached the spirit of the Chinese tea ceremony from the angles of the Confucian, Taoist and Buddhist schools. However, they are not isolated, but integrated with, and draw lessons from, each other. They have won support among the people in daily life. People can grasp many profound truths without going through the complicated forms of tea art in the late Qing Dynasty and the early Republic of China (1912-1949) when China was in turmoil, and the people were destitute, scholars often put a brush pot, some books, and a gongfu tea set on their tables to express their elegant ideals. The common people often placed a tea set on a square table in the central room of their house, and the whole family would drink tea together at night. After thousands of years of extraction and purification, the spirit of the tea ceremony has penetrated deeply into the blood of the Chinese nation.