Tuesday December 11, 2012 | 4 comments
I met a Korean monk, who is also a tea master, and asked him whether he could explain the concept of “tea person (Cha’ren).” I had been wondering about the concept for a long while. The Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans use the term “tea person (茶人),” but in different ways. Tea people in contemporary China include tea experts, tea farmers, tea businessmen, and tea lovers. In Korea, the term refers to those “who look for their real heart through tea life,” while in Japan, it seems to refer to a tea guru, such as Murata Shuko or Sen no Rikyu. Obviously, a “tea person” in contemporary China is actually a person who relates to tea in some way and does not really reflect my understanding of the term. I relate better to the definitions of “tea person” in Korea and Japan, but still the term is a bit vague.
The Korean monk (and tea master) I met offered the following explanation, which is the most complete I have heard to date:
“The concept of a tea person is the same as the concept of a flower or a saint. Why? Flowers treat everyone equally and without discrimination, while, at the same time, delivering peace and pleasure. The same is true of saints. When a tea person makes tea or drinks tea, he has the ability to observe the mutual interdependence of earth, water, air, and fire in the tea and tea set. This is what differentiates a tea person from ‘a person who is just having tea.’ A tea person possesses three characteristics: modesty, nondiscrimination, and emptiness. One thing is for sure – he who regards himself as a tea person is definitely not a tea person.”
This Korean monk usually does not like to express his opinions. In fact, he often answers others (including me) with “I don’t know.” I think that is one kind of practice of modesty, which does not mean he really does not know. But I was very lucky because he answered my question directly, clearly, and completely. He said it was because there is a kind of kama between us. Frankly, though, I did not completely understand his explanation. However, I memorized it instead of asking for clarification. I knew that I would understand it in time. However, my study of the concept of emptiness and of the Prajnaparamita literature has improved my understanding of the concept of a tea person. In this and my next two posts, I will try to illustrate my understanding of the concept of a tea person based on the concept of emptiness and the Prajnaparamita literature.
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Before we can fully understand the concept of a tea person, we need to understand what the word “Chadao” means. Understanding Chadao will also help us understand the concept of emptiness upon which the concept of a tea person is based.
Chadao is usually translated into English as “tea ceremony.” However, this is not accurate because the English word “ceremony” contains no reference to the word “Dao.” Some people translate Chadao as the “way of tea.” This seems to be more accurate because “Dao” can mean “way” or “path,” but Chadao does not refer to the detailed process of making or drinking tea; rather, it refers to path of “awakening” by way of the path of making, drinking, and enjoying a cup of tea.
The word “Chadao” first appeared in a poem written by the monk Jiaoran, a famous tea expert and poet during Tang dynasty. It is said that upon drinking his first cup of tea, Jiaoran awakened from worldly illusions; the second cup cleansed his spirit, just as the earth is cleansed by a spring rain. The third cup led to enlightenment, obviating the need to consider freedom from pain and difficulties. This was the first mention of Chadao, which means the way of enlightenment through tea.
The Chinese regard Luyu from the Tang Dynasty as the saint of tea and the originator of Chadao. However, Chadao was not mentioned in Luyu’s book, The Classic of Tea. Except for references to people who are modest and self-restrained in their moral behaviors and virtues, the entire book is really about tea making, planting, and selecting. If the word “Dao” is translated as “the detailed way,” then Luyu is the originator of the “way of tea making.” I guess that is one of the reasons why “tea art” replaced “Chadao” in contemporary China because it is really embarrassing when you claim something is “Chadao” when it is only a detailed account of making tea. In Chinese culture, when something is referred to as “Dao,” it confers a sacred meaning to it.
What is this “sacred” meaning? In Korea, a tea person is a person who looks for their real heart through tea life. In other words, Chado is the way for a tea person to find their real heart. In Japan, Japanese Sado is based on the ideology of Zen Buddhism, and all the great tea gurus are actually zen masters. Thus, it is necessary for us to looking for the real meaning of “Chadao” by understanding the foundation upon which it is built. Based on the concept of emptiness and the Prajnaparamit literature, I would like to propose that Chadao is not tea ceremony and not the “detailed way of tea,” but rather a path to enlightenment by the way of tea through the practice of emptiness (shunyata). This path can be divided into three stages:
- Chadao as a detailed way of tea, with the focus on the person who is making the tea
- Chadao as an awakening by way of making, drinking, and enjoying a cup of tea, with the focus on a person learning to know emptiness
- Chadao as a way of tea, with the focus on the tea person
In the first stage, Chadao is the practice of making tea, including the practice of concentration. In the second stage, which is the most important, Chadao is a path to enlightenment through the practice of emptiness (shunyata), which is the ultimate wisdom leading to full enlightenment. In the third stage, the focus is on the real-life characteristics of a tea person: modesty, lack of prejudice, and emptiness. The “sacred” meaning of Chadao can be found in the second stage.
If you would like more information on the sources Lisa used for this post, please contact her directly.