Live in the Present With the Ancient Tradition of Teaism
Here’s something mind-blowing: Teaism is about tea. It’s about the way Teaists prepare, drink, and even just sit and think about the east Asian leaf juice.
But Teaism isn’t just about tea. It is a tradition that slowly evolved into its modern state over thousands of years and yet is still quite modern. You might have heard of Teaism by another name, chadō(茶道). The term, literally meaning ‘the way of tea,’ is used to describe not only the famous Japanese tea ceremony but also the philosophy brilliantly outlined in Okakura Kakuzō’s “the Book of Tea.”
Tea with us became more than an idealisation of the form of drinking; it is a religion of the art of life. The beverage grew to be an excuse for the worship of purity and refinement, a sacred function at which the host and guest joined to produce for that occasion the utmost beatitude of the mundane.
The Book of Tea is not only about the moment of the actual ceremony, but everything in between. Teaism is the preparation of the room, the preparation of the room that will lead into the ceremony room, the preparation of the room where participants will wait to be led into the ceremony room, the layout of each room, the objects in each room and what they represent — even the note which the kettle will sing when the water boils.
The ceremony is carefully planned so that everything happens “simply and naturally,” and feels exactly that way. According to Okakura “…strangely enough it was often successful. A subtle philosophy lay behind it all. Teaism was Taoism in disguise.”
Teaism teaches us appreciation about each element and the whole itself. It is the Taoist principle of nothingness, the individual elements are at no point on their own, and one struggles to appreciate them in their own merits. Each of the elements relies on its connection to its surroundings to find meaning, it is not the thing itself which is special, but that empty space between them. This is nothingness, the vacuum.
The tea ceremony finds its roots in Taoism and Zen, and in many respects forms the basis of modern minimalism. The tea ceremony includes only that which is absolutely necessary for the themes of that ceremony. If the host is conveying the essence of a midsummer’s night, only that which is a part of that essence is a part of the tea room. It is kept intentionally empty, using the space to bring form and attention to that which will help understand how everything is connected.
If Teaism is Taoism in disguise, then so too is minimalism.
It is an example of how you can create the life that you want to live. Just as a minimalist might seek to reduce clutter, to abstain from doing that which doesn’t fill his life with absolute meaning, so too does the Teaist. We aim to create a perfect moment in time, one that we understand exactly where we fit in and how everything goes together. The Teaist strives to use only those elements which add harmony or as Marie Kondo might say — ‘spark joy.’
Art, to be fully appreciated, must be true to contemporaneous life. It is not that we should ignore the claims of posterity, but that we should seek to enjoy the present more. It is not that we should disregard the creations of the past, but that we should try to assimilate them into our consciousness.
The tea ceremony is that assimilation, containing the shapes and structures determined in the past and the choices made in the present. The Teaist method for preparing flowers is not only about how they are arranged right now but the way they are connected to the room, how they have grown and what will happen to them after. Flowers are left until they dry and whither, and when they die often they are buried — at times even monuments are erected in their memory.
The flower itself is not what is being celebrated, it is the flower in the world around it and the world around it. The way that everything is tied, how everything has come to grow and how they will soon pass that is being celebrated. During the next ceremony, a new arrangement will take its place, and at the moment when we are turning our attention to the flower, we turn our attention to everything connected that as well.
How Teaists create emptiness is the secret to all of the ceremonies. It is about becoming a part of that room itself. The best tea ceremony has no participants at all, there is just a tea room that has been fulfilled. The tea ceremony becomes the present, and it becomes its history, and it becomes you.
Teaism is not devotion to just one moment, it is the realization that each moment is transcendent. The tea party is the realization of many moments into just one. The arrangement of the room is made to show the seamlessness of thought. To make the coordinated seem fresh and natural, spontaneous.
Teaism is the present, even when it has passed. Through it, we see the nature of nothingness. We can find our place in the present when we use the lessons it imparts, filling our space with what matters, even if that means removing or replacing throughout the passage of time and holding on to things which on the surface seem to bog us down. It is in making conscious decisions about what we keep in our lives and how we live that we can remain in the present.