Japanese Tea Ceremony
The Japanese Tea Ceremony
On September 26, 2020, the Hammond Museum and Japanese Stroll Garden, located in North Salem, New York, hosted its 54th Annual Moon Viewing Program. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program was held virtually, but we hope it will be held again in person in 2021.
The description of the Japanese Tea Ceremony below evolves out of the Hammond Museum’s Moon Viewing Program and so is set at the Hammond Museum and Japanese Stroll Garden.
The description begins with some background on Natalie Hammond, founder of the Museum. Then it proceeds to a background on Zen Buddhism, followed by the details of the Tea Ceremony, considered to be a Zen Buddhist practice.
Natalie Hammond was a gifted artist whose early experiences included traveling around the world. She founded the Hammond Museum and Japanese Stroll Garden to create a natural portal exploring Eastern Arts and Cultures far, far away.
By recreating an ancient Japanese Zen Garden in North Salem, she found her way to share a very rare, cultural treasure for everyone to experience.
The origins of the Moon Viewing Tradition were related to various ancient ancestral commemorations practiced throughout Asia, including India and China. In Japan, it became known as the traditional Buddhist observance called Obon (お盆).
This Japanese Buddhist holiday was observed once a year in the light of the full autumn moon around August and September to honor the memory of all ancestors with prayers, offerings, music, and celebration.
We begin our Moon Viewing Festival with a Virtual Japanese Tea Ceremony to initiate our Zen Moment, HERE AND NOW, to bring our spirits together as a community. Tea master Yasuko Hara, of Yasuko Chanoyu of New York, will conduct the tea ceremony according to the Omotesenke Tradition of Japanese Tea.
Please adjust your posture, slowly breathe deeply, and pay close attention to everything and everyone around you. Prepare yourself to observe this simple tea ceremony in its basic form to share the essence of Harmony, Respect, Purity, and Tranquility as the Hammond Museum has done for years.
Short Background of Zen Buddhism
Around 1200 AD, Zen Buddhism came to Japan from China and became a major social influence and formed the powerful center of the Japanese Renaissance. This was also a dynamic period of transformational developments in Japanese Arts, Culture, Architecture, and Social Design.
This was also the time when powdered green tea, called matcha (抹茶) was introduced to Japan and used extensively by the Zen Monks for their monastic rituals and training.
Over several generations, the Zen practice of sharing matcha evolved into a special ritual shared by the nobility and honored guests of the Samurai warrior class that ruled Japan.
Around 1580 AD, the Tea Master, Sen Rikyū, perfected the high art and style of the Japanese Tea Ceremony for the first Shogunate of Japan and was replicated by many generations that followed.
The Japanese tea ceremony became a spiritual Zen practice, equivalent to the practice of a Zen Monk, for any lay disciple of the Japanese arts, culture, and spiritual way of life to experience enlightenment.
The Observation of a Tea Ceremony
The uncluttered and simple setting of a tearoom allows any guest to relax and settle into a meditative state of mind, much like the mind of a Zen monk. As one guest enters the tearoom, all artifacts of rank (such as armor, swords, and ornate jewelry in Medieval Japan) are left behind at the entrance gate. One prepares to leave one’s “identity” behind to enter a world without rank, without merit.
The tokonoma, or recessed space in the Japanese style reception room, is the central stage in the tearoom, where a scroll is displayed for each tea ceremony. Each guest bows before the scroll to honor the artist and the work of art for its contribution. For the Hammond’s 54th Annual Moon Viewing Tea Ceremony, the host selected a scroll created by Rinzai Zen Master Eido Shimano Roshi, Founding Abbot of Dai Bosatsu Zenso and New York Zendo Shobo-Ji. It set the theme, “Autumn Moon, a Clear Mind.”
Next to the scroll is a wicker vase with Peruvian Lilies. These represent our ever-present connection with Nature for this unrepeatable occasion. In the context of our Moon Viewing Festival Tea Ceremony, we may see this as our moment together to share an experience between a host and guest enjoying a cup of tea. Yet on another level of awareness, the Host will prepare tea in the exact same style, spirit, and tempo created by Tea Master Sen Rikyu over 400 years ago. In this respect, we become one with all the ancestors who came before us.
The Way of Tea
Let’s clear our minds, like the Autumn Moon, and observe a tea ceremony in its basic form and grace represented by the four traditional principles of Tea Ceremony practice:
WA KEI SEI JYAKU
WA - Harmony = The tea ceremony is a way of leading oneself into harmony with nature and others. All tearooms are designed with a very small entrance, so it is necessary to enter the small room on hands and knees with humility, regardless of your rank. During the time of Rikyu, one had to leave one’s sword and all worldly concerns of your mind at the door. In this way, all guests are put on equal status with the host. There is a feeling of trust, being together as human beings, without barriers.
KEI - Respect = We focus our attention on good manners. Being gentle and courteous is done with mindful effort to consider the needs of others before our own. For example, before you drink the tea, you ask the person who drank before you, “Would you like another bowl of tea?” To the person who will drink after you, you say “Please excuse me for drinking before you.” And to the host you say, “thank you for making the tea”. We turn the tea bowls to avoid drinking tea from the bowl’s face to show respect to the artistry of the potter who created such a beautiful bowl. We put our hearts and spirits into respecting all persons who came before us, who made all of the utensils, who came to join us in the tea ceremony, and for the host who created this environment.
SEI - Purity = The spirit of chanoyu, or tea ceremony is to cleanse the six senses from contamination. This is to attain a purity of the mind, heart and intentions. By seeing the kakemono, or hanging scroll, and the flower in the vase in the alcove, one’s sense of vision is cleansed; by listening to the boiling water in the iron kettle and to the dripping water from the bamboo ladle, one’s hearing is cleansed; by smelling and tasting tea, one’s sense of smell and taste are cleansed; and by handling the tea utensils one’s sense of touch is cleansed. By leaving any concerns or disturbances outside the tearoom, one’s mind and soul are cleansed. One becomes the Autumn Moon.
JYAKU - Tranquility = The path where Harmony, Respect and Purity work together to create peace of mind that is beyond your ordinary sense of reality. The uncluttered and simple setting of a Tea ceremony allows the guests to relax and settle into a meditative state of mind, like the mind of a Zen monk. Through these principles, the Culture of Tea is born and established. The tea master is a director to create an environment of tranquility, following the prescribed steps that have been passed down by generations of previous tea masters.
The Tea Ceremony in Three Parts (outlined)
GUESTS enter the tearoom
GUESTS observe Tea Room
Tokonoma and Flower
Utensils and tea kettle (chagama)
HOST enters the room to greet GUESTS
HOST PREPARES TO MAKE TEA
HOST performs tea ceremony
GUESTS watch as HOST PREPARES TEA
GUESTS eat their sweets at a specific time
HOST offers Tea to the GUESTS
GUESTS drink the tea
Tea Bowl is returned
HOST proceeds to clean up
GUESTS signal they have received enough - GUESTS bow
HOST begins to clean up
UPON final completion of clean up, the GUESTS bow and the HOST leaves
Japanese Tea Ceremony
Yasuko Hara is the HOST of the Tea ceremony at the Hammond Museum and Japanese Stroll Garden. She is the Founding Tea Master and Director of Yasuko Chanoyu, a school based in White Plains, NY which promotes the practice of the Japanese Tea Ceremony following the traditional Omotesenke School of Tea. (email@example.com )
Zensho Martin Hara, Board of Trustee Member of the Hammond Museum, is the Co-Chair of the Ryu Sui Ken Tea Club of the Hammond Museum, President of the Rinzai Zen Sangha NYC, and a Zen disciple of Zen Master Eido Shimano Roshi, Founding Abbott of Dai Bosatsu Zendo and NY Zendo Shobo-Ji. Martin is also CEO of MHX Design, Director / Editor of this Virtual Tea Ceremony 2020. (firstname.lastname@example.org )