Japanese Tea Ceremony and Zen Buddhism Are Inseparable

by Elena Popec 20. August 2011 19:12

“Chanoyu should be made with the heart,
Not with the hand.
Make it without making it,
In the stillness of your mind.”

- Hamamoto Soshun -

Japanese tea ceremony is a central point of the concept of attitude, which the Japanese call “cha-no-yu”. Being the basis of the whole aesthetic doctrine itself “chanoyu” roots in Zen Buddhism. Perhaps, the initial period of a tea ceremony in Japan was religious in nature.


No one knows exactly when tea attained Japan. For centuries, Buddhist monks included tea in their spiritual practice to stay awake during meditation. Tea makes the mind fresh and alert, not intoxicated. Perhaps, the monks were the first who brought it to Japan. Natural tea ceremonies are practiced in Zen Buddhist monasteries, stands apart from the art, which is now in fashion.


Zen and tea ceremonies combine the constant striving for simplification. Zen eliminates everything that is unnecessary on the way to acknowledgement of ultimate reality; tea ceremonies manifest simplicity in real life and in the tearoom. Tea ceremonies celebrate aestheticism of primitive purity, finds perfection in the imperfect, embraces the discordance in order to achieve concordance… The idea is unifying with nature. Tea ceremonies embody its ideal in a small room, which however, decorated and furnished tastefully. Zen also seeks to strip off all the husks of artificiality, which humanity used to disguise itself to seem perfect. 

Tea ceremonies symbolize the simplification in the tea room built, for example, under an old pine tree as a part of nature, rather than creation of human hands. The key principle of the ceremony is the perfect obedience of the original idea of eliminating the unnecessary.

Tea ceremonies are closely related to Zen, not only in its practical development, but mainly in the preservation of the spirit in which it is impregnated. It’s more than an elaborated ritual. There are four basic principles of the philosophy of tea: harmony, respect, purity and tranquility (wa, kei, sei, jaku).They had become the embodiment of tea ceremony as a whole procedure:  its meaning, spirit and enthusiasm, as well as its separate components, down to the smallest detail. Each of the four principles can be in the abstract and philosophical sense, as well as in the concrete and practical.

Harmony – tea ceremony is the way of leading oneself into harmony with nature;


Respect – is a polite, cordial relationship with others;


Purity – is purity of the mind, heart and intentions. This state of purity can be reached through five senses: hearing , when hearing the sound of water; sense of sight, when see the beauty of flowers; sense of touch, when touching the utensils; sense of smell when smelling the fragrance of the flowers and sense of taste when sipping tea.


Tranquility – is the apogee of all three preceding principles. Tranquility is a harmony of the moment, acceptance of the surrounding, respect for people and things with purity of intentions, peace of mind and appreciation of nature.


From the perspective of Zen Buddhism, the Japanese tea ceremony can be viewed as a way to achieve satori - enlightenment associated with awareness of the triviality and unimportance of worldly vanity.

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Japanese culture

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