|The Urasenke Tradition of Tea originated with Sen no Rikyu, the 16th-century tea master who perfected the Way of Tea. Urasenke Chado has been transmitted to the present by sixteen generations of grand masters dedicated to preserving the teachings of Rikyu.
A student once asked Rikyu to summarize the most important teachings of tea, hoping for a glimpse of some secret teaching he had not yet learned. Rikyu responded, “ First you must make a delicious bowl of tea; lay the charcoal so the water boils; arrange the flowers as they are in the field; in the summer suggest coolness, in the winter, warmth; do everything ahead of time; prepare for rain; and give those with whom you find yourself every consideration.” The student was disappointed with this response, and said he already knew all that. Rikyu told him if he could do all that well, then Rikyu would be his student. This teaching is known as Rikyu’s Seven Rules. If we explore each of these rules in some detail, we can understand a little better how the study of Tea can help us in our daily lives.
Make a delicious bowl of tea.
Of course the primary purpose of making tea is to serve a delicious bowl of tea to the guest, and on one level that means ensuring the water and tea are fresh and good tasting, that we pay attention to the temperature of the water and the proportions of tea and water, and that we whisk the tea thoroughly. But Rikyu encourages a deeper level of engagement when we make a bowl of tea. Our heart must be in it. We must prepare the tea wholeheartedly, with the simple desire that the guest will find it delicious, and with no added attachment to the guest’s recognition of the effort we have put into preparing the tea. Not so easy! How often do we do something for someone, and hold back a bit in our giving, waiting to hear their thanks? How often are we disappointed if they don’t give us what we hoped for? Whether we are making a bowl of tea, responding to an inquiry, or helping someone at work, be wholehearted.
Lay the charcoal so the water boils.
To lay the charcoal fire is not easy to do without wasting charcoal or making a mess in the pristinely beautiful tearoom. It can be daunting, but this is an essential task to do, and do well, in order to prepare a bowl of tea. How often do we hold back from a task because we find it difficult, or we want to do something else right now, or we’ve felt stung by criticism, or our ego is otherwise stuck on this task in one of any number of ways. In the Zen meditation hall we are told: just bow, just chant, just have some tea. It’s the same in the tearoom: just place that utensil there, just fold the wiping cloth, just lay the charcoal. And it’s how we need to be in our daily lives: just sweep, just make breakfast, just mow the lawn, just help your child with the homework, just clean up after yourself. This is a lifetime practice, of simply doing what needs to be done, letting go of our opinions and attitudes, and performing our tasks with a lightness of spirit.
Arrange the flowers as they are in the field.
Flower arranging for tea is somewhat different from the formal arrangement of flowers known as ikebana. Rikyu encouraged his students to place one or two flowers in a simple container – he often carved rough containers out of bamboo – and to arrange them in one movement, without adjusting them once they are in the container. But how does one ensure that they look good? Again, this is not so easy. First of all, arranging the flowers as they are in the field requires that we pay attention to them as they are growing, and not just cut them without regard for their natural habitat and growth patterns. Which ones are tall or short? Do they droop down or stand up straight? What are they growing near? If we respect these attributes of flowers as we observe them, cut them, and bring them to the tearoom, then placing them in the vase becomes much simpler.
The same is certainly true in our daily lives. If only we would learn to pay attention, to observe what is going on, without judgment or opinion, how much closer we would be to a simple appreciation of things as they are. That is the key to flowers “looking good” in a vase, just as they are placed. And if it’s true for flowers, how much more true is it for people at home, or in our workplace? If we pay attention to people, observe and get to know them, without immediately adding a layer of opinion about how we want them to be, how much more able we will be to appreciate them and their own unique qualities, just as they are.
In the summer, suggest coolness; in the winter, warmth.
In the tearoom we devote a lot of our attention to creating an atmosphere in which the guests can enjoy themselves. This does not mean that the heat or air conditioning is adjusted to make a perfect climate, but that we celebrate the unique aspects of each season. For example, we may hang a scroll in the tearoom that speaks of cool mountain breezes during the summer, or serve warm sweets with the tea in winter. A portable brazier is used in summer and placed as far from the guests as possible, to prevent them from feeling its heat. In October it is moved closer to the guests, and then in November it is put away in favor of the sunken hearth in the middle of the tearoom, where guests can feel the warmth of the charcoal fire and see its burning embers. Instead of shielding ourselves from climate or circumstances, or complaining about them, we accept them and find some enjoyment in them. We can do this for ourselves anytime, any place, simply being where we are and accepting what comes our way. If we can appreciate a slight breeze in the heat of summer, or the feel of a warm bowl of tea in the midst of winter, how much more our enjoyment of life will be.
Do everything ahead of time.
For a tea gathering, as for any event, it simply makes sense to allow enough time to prepare so that we are not going into the event feeling rushed and unready. On an even more fundamental level, though, if we are running late, we are wasting our guests’ time. If we consider this deeply, we are wasting our own time. Our lifespan is so short here on this planet, in this form, that to delay is to waste a most precious and non-renewable resource – our opportunity to realize who we really are. Everyday, we may spend most of our time in a daydream, enjoying a fantasy or planning what we’ll do at some future date, instead of being fully present with each breath, each moment as it is. This rule of Rikyu’s is so simple, but so difficult to practice. Don’t waste time!
Prepare for rain.
In the context of a tea gathering, this means that the host should have umbrellas and clogs for the guests, since they will need to pass through a garden at some time during the gathering. In the event that it is too rainy, or snowy, the host may need to have some alternative plans to occupy the guests during the time they would normally be in the garden. On a deeper level, though, we understand this rule to mean having the ability to act in whatever circumstances arise. While we can plan for some possible occurrences, we can’t plan for everything, and so we need to be able to act from a place of freedom and openheartedness, responding in a straightforward way as a situation unfolds. What if something spills? Wipe it up and move on. Don’t agonize over it. How wonderful to be able to do this in any circumstance!
Give those with whom you find yourself every consideration.
It has been said that the way of tea is not really the way of tea, but the way of host and guest, of relationship. This rule of Rikyu’s sums up all that have gone before. “Those with whom you find yourself” are not just the guests, but the utensils, the charcoal fire, the flowers, the tearoom, the season and setting – all aspects of this phenomenal world. And what does it mean to show them every consideration? An expression from the Judeo-Christian tradition is “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If we care for our guests, as we ourselves would want to be treated, it becomes very clear what we need to do for them, in a very specific way. If we extend the same care to the utensils, the flowers, the space we inhabit, the chores we do, the day and time we find ourselves in, we find ourselves connecting with the truth that underlies this rule. We are not separate from our guests, or from the tea bowls, flowers, tasks, or planet and its atmosphere. To practice this rule wholeheartedly, without reservation or hesitation, is to enter this truth. And as we enter this truth, we find we can take up the tasks of our life in any setting – the tearoom, our homes and workplaces - with more energy and commitment than ever before.
First you must make a delicious bowl of tea; lay the charcoal so the water boils; arrange the flowers as they are in the field; in the summer suggest coolness, in the winter, warmth; do everything ahead of time; prepare for rain; and give those with whom you find yourself every consideration. Simple instructions, but as Rikyu said, if you can do these things well, you can be the teacher. Taking up a discipline such as tea or aikido, calligraphy or pottery, can really help, although certainly it is not essential. We can learn everything we need to learn from our wholehearted engagement with making a bowl of tea, sweeping the floor, listening to a friend, whatever we need to be doing. How wonderful this practice is, that we can learn what we need to know in our daily activities, our daily lives.
History of Urasenke Foundation Seattle Branch
Three generations of Urasenke Konnichian have been dedicated to transmitting the ideals of the 400-year-old Chado tradition abroad. The 14th, 15th and 16th generation grand masters have established branches and affiliate groups, built tea facilities worldwide, authored numerous books and articles, and sponsored academic programs and art exhibits.
Seattle Branch had its beginnings in the spring of 1981 when Urasenke Konnichian established a course in Chado at the University of Washington and funded the reconstruction of the teahouse in the Seattle Japanese Garden to serve as the classroom. The original teahouse, built by the Shimizu Construction Company and presented by the citizens of Tokyo, was destroyed by fire in 1973.
Sen Soshitsu XV, traveled to Seattle in 1981 to inaugurate the four-credit Art History "Chado and Japanese Aesthetics" course and bestow upon the teahouse the name Shoseian, "Arbor of the Murmuring Pines." The course has been offered continuously every quarter since 1981. In 2007 UWBothell launched a Chado course with students traveling to Shoseian for tearoom practice.
Recognizing the integral role of Chado in the development of distinctive art forms, Seattle Art Museum installed, in 1992, in the Asian wing of the third floor of the new downtown museum, a tearoom designed and donated by Sen Soshitsu, XV, to showcase the arts and culture of Japan and the friendship between our two nations.
Aptly named Ryokusuian, "Arbor of Green Reflecting Waters," by Dr. Sen, the teahouse was officially dedicated, in 1993, in a ceremony officiated by Soyo Sakurai, daughter of the 14th generation grand tea master.
Seattle Branch works in cooperation with the University of Washington, the Seattle Art Museum and the Seattle Japanese Garden to bring Chado programs to the community.
Seattle Branch Staff
Bonnie Soshin Mitchell
Bonnie M. Mitchell serves as the Urasenke Foundation Seattle Branch resident tea instructor and director. Ms. Mitchell received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History from the University of Washington, before embarking in 1974, on a seven-year course of study in Chado, the Way of Tea, in Kyoto, Japan. From 1974 to 1981, Ms. Mitchell studied Chado under the guidance of Mrs. Shizue (Soha) Yanagita. From 1975 to 1981 she studied concurrently at the Urasenke Gakuen Chado Semmon Gakko, a technical college in Kyoto specializing in Chado studies. In 1981, Dr. Sen appointed Ms. Mitchell to teach the UW Chado course each quarter at Shoseian teahouse.
In 1985, Ms. Mitchell established Seattle Branch as a non-profit educational organization to engage the broader community in the appreciation and study of Chado. Ms. Mitchell works with community institutions to provide public programs at both teahouses to more than 3,000 visitors each year. In 2008, Dr. Sen honored Ms. Mitchell with the certificate of Seikyoju, the highest rank of merit in the Way of Tea.
Timothy Sowa Olson
Mr. Olson received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Portland State University. A student of Seattle Branch since 1982, Olson joined the staff in 1999 after completing a master's training course at the Urasenke Konnichian, the first non-Japanese trained overseas to do so. In 2001, he was awarded the certificate of Junkyoju, a senior rank of merit in the art of Tea. Mr. Olson teaches the 4-credit UW Chado course each quarter as well as Branch classes.
|THE URASENKE TRADITION OF CHADO|
the living art of Chado,
the Way of Tea,
to affirm our shared humanity through harmony, respect, purity and tranquility.
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