Flipside Journey: Japanese Tea Ceremony

Continuing our theme of consecration of the present moment for Flipside, Teen Programs experienced Japanese Tea Ceremony at the Urasenke Chanoyu Center where the mission is “peacefulness from a bowl of tea”.  ;)

Going to the center was a way for us to experience “the way of tea” and the philosophy behind whats considered to be the art of appreciating the beauty of the present moment.  Going into the tea house feels like NYC slips away and all of a sudden you’re in Japan.  All the materials for the tea house were shipped from Japan and great attention was given to every detail.  Even the clay walls of the tea house are of the same ancient technique that you see in traditional buildings in Kyoto and would have had to been put in by a traditional craftsman who builds tea houses specifically. Everything in the area we entered was designed to be beautiful to the eye. There are two gardens one must traverse on the way to having tea.  When you pass through the gates after the first garden, you are symbolically leaving behind the everyday and entering the realm of the moment, almost the realm of the gods.  As a special guest of the tea ceremony, its believed that you are like a god and are treated as such.  They greet you with an expression that recognizes you as a god when you come in.  It reminded us of how people say “namaste” in india and sometimes even in yoga class which means the divinity in me recognizes the divinity in you”.  image

Pass through these gates… walking on the stepping stones to a different more contemplative state of mind.  

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Once you sit in the tea hall on traditional tatami mats, there are many beautiful things for you to look at such as the alcove with calligraphy towards the back or the subtlety of the white butterfly designs on the sliding doors to the left.   Everything is meant to be directed towards being in the present moment.  There are no watches allowed to remind us of time and even the conversation topics must stay to whats being noticed in the room and about the ceremony to keep you absolutely in the present.

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The way you sit and act in tea ceremony is highly choreographed: its like a performance in which the tea master and the audience both are acting their roles.  The way you use your hands in a very specific way puts you in touch with the grace of the tea ceremony.  For example, you have to place your hands together in a triangle on the mat in front of you when you bow, or hold the cups with specific hand movements.  It reminded us of the mudras a buddhist practitioner would take when meditating in front of a painting to embody the god or the way similarly you take the poses of the gods in yoga.  

One might meditate on a painting with a figure holding a bell and a vajra and then in ritual take the same hand positions with an actual bell and vajra.  

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Leaving the Tea Ceremony and coming out into the streets of NYC was surreal.  We felt as if we had stepped right out of Japan.  

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The Buddha