Cha Dao, Tea Ceremony and its Philosophy (Part 1)

Cha Dao Chan/Zen Confucianism Daoism Tea Ceremony Tea History

The Concept of Cha Dao

Cha Dao (茶道) is often referred to as a “Tea Ceremony”, but some nuances are lost in translation. In fact, it is improper to compare Cha Dao to Tea Ceremony since they belong to different dimensions. Tea ceremony is an iceberg, a surface part of Cha Dao that has an invisible depth. 

The concept of Cha Dao was first mentioned in the book The Record of What Mr. Feng Sees and Hears (《封氏闻见记》, written around 785 AD - 805 AD) by Feng Yan (封演): “茶道大行,王公朝士无不饮者”. It means that Cha Dao has become trendy and there is no one among the royalties, nobles, and courtiers who do not drink tea. Jiao Ran (皎然,730 AD - 799 AD) wrote many tea poems and one of which says “孰知茶道全尔真,唯有丹丘得如此”, that is, “drinking tea makes you fully understand the true nature of Cha Dao, only Dan Qiuzi, the Daoist immortal, knows the best”. In Ten Virtues of Drinking Tea(《饮茶十德》), Liu Zhenliang (刘贞亮,743 AD - 813 AD) said “以茶可行道,以茶可雅志”, which means that tea can be used to practice Daoism, and tea can be used to achieve elegance.

Although the concept of Cha Dao emerged in China, no clear definition of Cha Dao can be found in the official Chinese dictionaries. There have been a large number of discussions and interpretations of what Cha Dao really is since its emergence throughout eastern Asian regions including China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. There are slight differences in each region, yet all these interpretations are somewhat connected with similarities and rooted in ancient China. This phenomenon also reflects what Laozi ( 老子,571 BC - 471 BC), founder of philosophical Taoism, wrote in Dao De Jing or Tao Te Ching (《道德经》): “ 道可道也,非恒道也”, which means: “If Dao, the ultimate truth of the universe, can be explained with language, then it is not truly the eternal truth”. Some scholars conclude that Cha Dao is a combination of tea art, tea ceremony, the environment, and the spiritual practice of Dao (茶艺,茶礼,茶境,修道).

Tea art, tea ceremony, the environment, and the spiritual practice of Dao

Tea Art (茶艺)

Tea art refers to a set of skills in tea preparation and tasting, including teaware preparation, water selection, fire control, brewing skills, tasting technics, etc. History has witnessed changes in ways of tea preparation and tasting: Jian Cha Dao (煎茶道) was a norm in the early ages and became trendy during Tang and Song dynasties; then it was replaced by Dian Cha Dao (点茶道) in North Song and Ming dynasties; and nowadays the most prevailing way is Pao Cha Dao (泡茶道). The tea preparation and tasting method described in The Classic of Tea by Lu Yu is Jian Cha Dao (煎茶道), in which tea leaves (after steamed and dried) should be ground into granules, placed into boiling water, and continued to be boiled for some time. Dian Cha Dao was created in the late Tang dynasty and become popular in the Song dynasty. In Dian Cha Dao, tea leaves are ground into refined powder, placed into a bowl, and a small amount of water is first added to mix the powder into a paste, then more water is added to whisk the tea-rich liquid into foamy tea soup. During the Song dynasty, Dian Cha Dao was widely spread into Japan, North Korea, and South Korea. Today it continues to thrive as one of the major tea arts in those regions. For example, Japanese tea ceremony, also known as Sado (in Japanese Kanji: 茶道), uses the same tea preparation skills as Dian Cha Dao. Together with the fall of the Ming dynasty, Dian Cha Dao died out and lost its tradition in China under the rule of the Qing. Pao Cha Dao emerged in the late Ming and became the most popular way until today. One of the typical Pao Cha Dao is Gong Fu Cha, in which teawares are made small, tea leaves are infused with hot water, and the temperature and infusion time should be well managed.

Tea Ceremony (茶礼)

Tea ceremony refers to the ritual and etiquette of tea events and activities. Tea ceremonies are usually arranged in the situation of meeting friends, receiving guests, having weddings, having tea contests, etc. Tea ceremonies in ancient China were usually performed by royalties, nobles, monks, and scholars, therefore the rituals and etiquettes vary depending on different groups of people. There are three major forms of tea ceremonies: Court Tea Ceremony (宫廷茶宴), Temple Tea Ceremony (寺院茶宴), and Literati Tea Ceremony (文人茶宴).

Court Tea Ceremony

Court Tea Ceremony refers to the tea ceremony activities and tea-drinking customs enjoyed by the aristocratic class in the imperial palaces. During the Tang Dynasty tea ceremonies were held frequently in the palace to receive important guests, celebrate festivals, or merely taste fresh spring tea. Every year during the Qingming Festival (early April), a grand-scale "Qingming Tea Ceremony" is held to feast the ministers with the first spring tea of the year. In 1987, a series of tea sets were excavated under Fa Men Temple in Shaanxi Province. Later it was identified as the royal property of Emperor Xi Zong of Tang (唐僖宗,862 AD - 888 AD).

Tea set of the Tang court unearthed from the underground palace of Famen Temple

The video presented how to use these tea sets during a Court Tea Ceremony: 

Emperor Hui Zong of Song (宋徽宗, 1082 AD - 1135 AD) was a tea lover, not only did he write the book Treatise on Tea (《大观茶论》),  but he also co-painted the Wen Hui Tu (文会图) with court painters, portraying a Court Tea Ceremony. 

Temple Tea Ceremony

Temple Tea Ceremony refers to tea ceremony activities held in Daoist and Buddhist temples. Tea has been introduced into spiritual and cultural activities by monks and priests. It has a close relationship with Buddhism and Taoism. Tea is an important auxiliary method for Daoist priests to practice and reserved a prominent position in temple culture. Since Dao in Cha Dao is about philosophical Daoism, how come Buddhist monks practice Daoism? In fact, when Indian Mahayana Buddhism was brought to China during the Tang dynasty, it was highly influenced by Daoist ideas. This special school of Buddhism was later called Chan () in China or Zen () in Japan. Chan or Zen is the translation of Sanskrit ध्यान dhyāna which means “meditation". Jingshan Temple, built in 768 AD in Zhejiang province, is a Zen Buddhist temple and is known as the origin place of the Temple Tea Ceremony. Nanpo Shōmyō, a Japanese Zen monk came to Jingshan Temple in 1259 AD for studying Zen Buddhism, and on his return, he brought the book The Classic of Tea, the tea set for the tea ceremony, as well as the tea preparation skills and philosophy back to Japan. This is also known as the origin of the Japanese Tea Ceremony or Sado.

Literati Tea Ceremony

Literati Tea Ceremony refers to tea ceremony activities held among scholars and literati. It was a popular social activity for scholars and poets to get together, taste tea, and discuss poetry and philosophy. Since the Tang dynasty, tea poems appear in great numbers. There are more than 500 tea poems composed in the Tang dynasty and more than 1000 composed in the Song dynasty.

Jiao Ran (皎然) wrote in one of his poems:

一饮涤昏寐,情思爽朗满天地;
再饮清我神,忽如飞雨洒轻尘;
三饮便得道,何须苦心破烦恼。
(English translation)
A first sip clears the late-day drowsy head; The mind happy wandering in cosmic spreads.
A second sip purifies the soul; As if a sudden rain washes away dusts of old.
A third sip puts me right on the Way; No more need to dispel any worry away.

Lu Tong (卢仝, 790~835) wrote Seven Bowls of Tea:

一碗喉吻润,二碗破孤闷,三碗搜枯肠,惟有文字五千卷,四碗发轻汗,平生不平事尽向毛孔散,五碗肌骨清,六碗通仙灵,七碗吃不得也,唯觉两腋习习清风生。蓬莱山,在何处,玉川子乘此清风欲归去。
(English translation by Steven R. Jones 2008)
The first bowl moistens my lips and throat;
The second bowl breaks my loneliness;
The third bowl searches my barren entrails but to find
Therein some five thousand scrolls;
The fourth bowl raises a slight perspiration;
And all life's inequities pass out through my pores;
The fifth bowl purifies my flesh and bones;
The sixth bowl calls me to the immortals.
The seventh bowl could not be drunk,
only the breath of the cool wind raises in my sleeves.
Where is Penglai Island, Yuchuanzi wishes to ride on this sweet breeze and go back?

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