Way of Tea Meditation

Traditional tea ceremony photo of a beautifully dressed Asian woman
Traditional tea ceremony

The Japanese tea ceremony began to evolve its own principles (sabi and wabi) that became a large part of the Japanese culture.  After waning for some years early on, Zen Buddhism was a primary influence in the development of the Japanese tea ceremony and ultimately a connection to meditation spaces.

The first documented evidence of what’s called the ‘Way of Tea‘ in Japan dates to the 9th century, when it was taken by the Buddhist monk Eichū (永忠) on his return from China. The entry in the Nihon Kōki states that Eichū personally prepared and served sencha (unground Japanese green tea) to Emperor Saga who was on an excursion in Karasaki (in present Shiga Prefecture) in the year 815

Inner and Outer

Green tea in a cup being help by two hands.
Today green tea is enjoyed by many people around the world without a formal ceremony

The Japanese tea ceremony developed as a “transformative practice”, and began to evolve its own aesthetic, in particular that of “sabi” and “wabi” principles. “Wabi” represents the inner, or spiritual, experiences of human lives. Its original meaning indicated quiet or sober refinement, or subdued taste “characterized by humility, restraint, simplicity, naturalism, profundity, imperfection, and asymmetry” and “emphasizes simple, unadorned objects and architectural space, and celebrates the mellow beauty that time and care impart to materials. “Sabi,” on the other hand, represents the outer, or material side of life. Originally, it meant “worn,” “weathered,” or “decayed.” Particularly among the nobility, understanding emptiness was considered the most effective means to spiritual awakening, while embracing imperfection was honored as a healthy reminder to cherish our unpolished selves, here and now, just as we are—the first step to “satori” or enlightenment.

Tea House

A beautiful grove of bamboo with a black and red tea room
Tea room in a grove of bamboo

Murata Jukō is known in chanoyu history as an early developer of tea ceremony as a spiritual practice. He studied Zen under the monk Ikkyū, who revitalized Zen in the 15th century, and this is considered to have influenced his concept of chanoyu.  By the 16th century, tea drinking had spread to all levels of society in Japan. Sen no Rikyū and his work Southern Record, perhaps the best-known—and still revered—historical figure in tea ceremony, followed his master Takeno Jōō’s concept of ichi-go ichi-e, a philosophy that each meeting should be treasured, for it can never be reproduced. His teachings perfected many newly developed forms in architecture and gardensart, and the full development of the “way of tea”. The principles he set forward—harmony (和? wa), respect (敬? kei), purity (清? sei), and tranquility (寂? jaku)—are still central to tea ceremony.

From this rose the need for a formal space that allowed the tea ceremony to be performed appropriately. So a formal room or house became central to the practice of the Way of Tea. Today the Tea House style has become a spin off for meditation room styles all around the world.

Some elements consistently used in meditation rooms or meditation spaces taken from the Tea Room or House styling are tatami mats, or grass mats, and shoji screens, to compliment Zen like rooms of simplicity and quiet elegance. These things have been used in Japanese Tea Rooms or Tea Houses for centuries to reflect the same message. While this style doesn’t speak to everyone, it certainly can support and reflect the understanding of a most important discipline in meditation: the practice of quieting the mind, and being in the space of emptiness.

Japanese Influence in Meditation Spaces

Simple white and bamboo shoji doors in a simple tea room
Todays modern meditation spaces are still influenced by traditional Zen tea ceremony styles.

Meditation spaces today that exhibit the Japanese Tea ceremony influence are simple, clean and often incorporate tea ceremony elements such as scrolls on the wall for contemplation, seasonal changes in decoration for beauty and peaceful connection with the environment, and two doors, one for the host to enter and one for the guests to enter, for energy flow and access.

The beauty and simplicity of Japanese influence is a great idea for any meditation space in your home. Most elements are easy to find today on ebay.com, or your local retailers such as Target and Walmart. Shoji screens are relatively inexpensive, and grass mats and window treatments are easy to come by in your local Home Depot. So don’t let the beauty, simplicity and elegance scare you away. It’s just a few dollars out of the pocket, and it can be a peaceful and amazingly effective way to achieve that perfect meditation space for practice and quiet time.

Two meditation cushions on a wooden deck overlooking a zen garden.
Creating a personal meditation space outside, or in your home is now easier than ever.

On the other hand, if you are so guided, you could create a traditional meditation space based on this beautiful way of architecture if you have the resources. There are many examples on the web, and with today’s internet it allows you to also purchase not only new materials, but today you can purchase repurposed and recycled architectural features from around the world to create an amazing meditation house, room or space. You Tube has how to videos, and several websites offer traditional and modern instruction.

Visit the article ‘Tea Ceremony‘ in the Britannica and learn more about the tea ceremony today  in the article ‘Tea Ceremony in Japan‘.  Also on this blog read Meditation Music to create that perfect space.