It is more about how you are living your life, than the result at the end. This was the underlying theme of a day spent immersing ourselves into the culture of Japan. This past Tuesday, Grades 9 and 10 drove through the mountains and past rivers to come to a temple where we witnessed a traditional tea ceremony and learned about Zen Buddhism and later that afternoon we participated in pottery making.
The Tea Ceremony
Years of practice. That is the one thing I have read continuously and seen first hand. Hours of practice, years of dedication. Every single movement is so precise, every movement has a reason, even down to how you wipe the spoon. It reminded me of something I have been thinking about since I have arrived here in Japan, bushidō (samurai code, the way of the warrior). A samurai is the true example of living each day like it is your last, and not in the way media has portrayed this idea to be. There were not a group of idiotic people doing crazy and unnecessary activities to “live life to it’s fullest”; they were a group of loyal warriors who knew they could be called to battle at any moment. A samurai knew that each conversation may be his last, each night of sleep may be his last, each cup of tea could very well be the last liquid he sips before dying with honor. Therefore, they lived in the mindset to be the absolute best they could be. Be kind, caring, precise, do the right thing, be a good person, be someone who you would be proud to die as, and the tea ceremony is a great example of making every moment count.
Yesterday afternoon when I made a cup of tea I nonchalantly poured boiling water in a plain mug and dunked a tea bag in and thought, “Boom! Tea created!” and then drank up. That, however, is a very pathetic way to create tea after witnessing a tea ceremony. Tea is so much more than another drink; it is an important cultural aspect. Normally, the extensive process of the tea ceremony takes quite a while and is done cup by cup. There is no huge kettle and little tea bags. I felt as though it was more focused on the whole experience of making the tea than the actually act of drinking tea.
When we arrived barefoot in the incense-smelling temple we took our seat in front of the Buddha and eagerly and quietly waited. Soon we were welcomed and given sweet biscuits to eat and told the sweet before makes the bitter tea much tastier. Then we watched the man begin the ceremony and one-by-one had beautiful bowls of tea placed in front of us. When the bowls are set down, it is so the one who will drink the tea can admire the design. Then you carefully turn the bowl clockwise until the intricate design is facing away from you. That way as you drink others can admire your cup. (Interesting–slurping tea, noodles, soup, etc. is seen as a compliment in Japan, so the noisier you are, the better it tastes!) The foamy green tea was quite nice as well, but I am sure it was the whole experience I loved rather than the end product.
After experiencing the way of tea, we made some cups that could potentially have tea drank from them. Arts and crafts always seem to be a hilarious, happy, and somewhat messy time, and this one definitely fit that description! We learned how to make the cup, created cups, and then gave them to the potter. So, by this time we had experience the way of tea and the way of pottery!
We talked to the monk at the temple quite a bit about what Zen meant and how it was similar and different to other forms of Buddhism. I won’t give away too much (I have a project coming soon going into detail about this topic), but here is a bit of a sneak peak at what I have been studying and learned from the kind monk.
-Zen is to focus on your own soul rather than focus on a deity
-Buddhism starts with a curious, questioning, suspicion about life and the world around
-Meditation is important to reach enlightenment or to open your eyes
-In an “empty mind” we should be free, fresh, and flexible
-Sometimes it’s not something you can logically analyze, it’s something you must feel
I also wrote a choka (form of a waka, japanese poetry style) about this philosophy…
End lesson? Think more about how you live than the life you are living. It is not about the end product, it is about how you go through the process, the experience. If you do the absolute best you can in everything you can do, then the results will show that effort later on.