Although cha-no-yu literally means "hot water for tea", it's generally accepted translation is "tea ceremony." For its practitioners, cha-no-yu is a call to mindful awareness through the careful preparation of a simple beverage. For others, it can serve as a respite from the bustle of daily life--an opportunity to be wholly present in the moment.
The history of cha-no-yu begins in 1191, when Eisai Myo-an, a founder of Zen Buddhism in Japan, returned from China with seeds to grow tea for religious purposes. He taught people to grind the tea (or cha) into a powder and drink it with hot water, both for its healing power and to enhance meditation. About 400 years later, a Zen monk named Sen Rikyu developed a style of tea ceremony known as wabi-cha, which is still practiced today. Wabi-cha embodies the Zen characteristics of natural process, irregularity, intimacy, unpretentiousness, earthiness, and simplicity.
In this way, cha-no-yu is an embodiment of many Japanese ideals. The host creates a quiet and simple gathering influenced by nature. The teahouse is arranged with art objects and a flower, all characteristic of the season. These decorations are offered for contemplation and for the enjoyment of the guests. While all are kneeling, a quiet hush settles in and the tea is prepared. The sounds of water boiling in an iron kettle and the bamboo whisk blending the powdered tea with water all become part of a shared experience. Each guest is then presented with a bowl of ma-cha, the type of tea used for the ceremony.
The event is an opportunity for introspection. It provides each person with a moment to meditate. First, you attune your sense to the vessel. Then you focus on the warmth, fragrance, color, and texture of its contents as it is raised to your lips. The tea is gently sipped from the warm vessel cupped in the hands. The intimate moment shared with the other guests becomes a singular experience with a bowl of tea. When the tea is finished, one contemplates and reflects on the ceremony that has just taken place. Ultimately, the event becomes a moment of harmony and equipoise--an opportunity to leave conflict behind and to cultivate peace.
There are many reasons that cha-no-yu has lived on through the centuries. People, both in Japan and throughout the world, enjoy the simplicity of the ceremony. It is not a practice that becomes demanding. The relaxation that can be found in simply sharing a moment with guests and friends is reason enough to partake in the sipping of ma-cha. It becomes a soothing experience for all involved. It is rewarding and enriching to have some time out of the day for such repose, and it can happen anytime one wishes to take it.
There is a Japanese saying, ichi go ichi e, which can be translated as "one moment, one meeting". This saying sums up the purpose of the cha-no-yu. Each moment in our lives is new, and taking the time to recognize and contemplate the beauty and wonder in each of these moments is a spiritual movement in itself. The tea ceremony allows us to share this serene moment with those around us and captures the spirit and simplicity of "one moment and one meeting".
Picture taken from The Tea Ceremony, published by Kodansha International available through Amazon.com - AIKO Institute -1420 N. Claremont Blvd #204C - Claremont, CA 1711