An Act of This Very Moment

One day Rikyū was summoned by his teacher Jōō to visit his mountain hut during July at its hottest. Rikyū arrived at the tea hut with sweat pouring off him. Passing through the garden (roji) he noticed that a fresh green leaf had fallen into the water basin (tsukubai) at the side of the path. The leaf, he saw, was covered with dew. At that instant Rikyū realized that tea is an act of "this very moment". Owing to the heat of summer, the valley water in the basin would soon become lukewarm. By floating the leaf in the water, Jōō had preserved an atmosphere of coolness, and thus transmitted his feelings to Rikyū. It was an act not of "now,” but "of this very moment" — a moment of surprise.

- Sen Sōshitsu XV, "The Spirit of Tea"

Movement in Stillness - The Way of Tea

Entering the tea room, only the sound of the kettle, like "wind blowing through the pines,” suggests activity. Simple flowers from nature have been arranged in the tokonoma "as they are in the fields.” The host brings in just a few carefully chosen utensils, places them in a prescribed pattern on the tatami, thus creating a still-life of rustic objects. Host and guest acknowledge each other's presence and communicate wordlessly through a deep bow, hands sliding on the tatami. Boiling water is poured into the tea bowl, tea is whisked briskly and offered. Osakini : "excuse me for drinking before you.” The tea bowl is returned respectfully to the host, and the used objects are again cleaned and silently taken away. A bowl of tea has been offered and shared — nothing else happened.

The Tea Room as a Microcosm of the Universe

"Blue mountains, green waters — they are my home."

I close my eyes and try to conjure up blue mountains and green waters in my mind, and I find a bowl of tea resting in my hands. When I open my eyes and look, the bowl is full of green tea. Within a small bowl is a great expanse of nature. As I drink the tea quietly, the blue mountains and green waters become my home. - Sen Sōshitsu XV, "The Spirit of Tea"

Wabi, the Beauty of Imperfection & The Way of Tea

In the sixteenth century Sen no Rikyū introduced the forms of Wabi Tea handed down to us through several different lineages. One of these is the Urasenke tradition practiced at Tenku-an. As opposed to the rich and showy display of the tea practice of his day, Rikyū stressed the simplicity of the Way of Tea. "Chanoyu is a matter of simply boiling water, making the tea, and drinking it." He put the meeting of people and sharing a bowl of tea at its heart. Rather than trying to impress his guests with expensive objects and complicated technique, he cultivated the unexpected and incomplete. This opens up a space for the guest’s own appreciation and interpretation. "If you say absolutely everything you have to say about something, then obviously there is nothing more to say. What you leave unsaid — that is the charm of chanoyu" (Sen Sōshitsu XV).

This Wabi aesthetic we find throughout the Zen Arts. It is beautifully expressed in Rikyū's favourite poem:

"Those who only long for the cherry flowers in full bloom, I want to show them the young grasses emerging through the snow in the mountain village" - Fujiwara Ietaka (1158-1237)

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