Chado and chanoyu kept nibbling at my brain. What were these foreign words that kept popping up on my screen?
As I researched an article I was writing about online tea purveyors, these words distracted me from my subject. "Later," I told myself. When I've had a chance to purchase a bag of nice African rooibos tea and I can sit and peruse those Web sites again, then I'll investigate chado and chanoyu.
When the time came, it was more difficult to find an explanation for the terms than I expected.
Chanoyu is a Japanese tea ceremony, but saying that is like calling the Grand Canyon a hole in the ground. Chanoyu, which literally means "hot water for tea," is a process that takes years to master. From chanoyu came chado, or "the way of tea." This is the spiritual journey taken through chanoyu. It is not an end or destination, mind you, like nirvana. Rather, it is, in essence, the elevation of aspects of everyday life to a higher spiritual realm, and it is a lifelong lesson. If you are interested in seriously pursuing the disciplines of chanoyu and chado, your best bet is to connect with a tea master, but you can get a head start with the basic principles and history from these online sources:
Omotesenke of Florida [http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/jmassey2]. This is a site dedicated to "promoting the Japanese tea ceremony." It gives a brief but adequate explanation of the four principles of tea, which are wa (harmony), kei (respect), sei (purity), and jaku (tranquility). When you're ready to host a tea ceremony, refer to a section called The Seven Secrets of Tea. The secrets sound simple enough: Make tea that is pleasant to drink, make the tea room comfortable, arrive ahead of time, etc. These seven secrets not only ensure a successful chanoyu but are also reflections of how life should be, as taught by Rikyu, the father of chanoyu. Then you can follow along with the steps of the ceremony. The site explains the actual actions of chanoyu and why they are done. In addition to a word glossary, there is a pictorial glossary, showing all the objects used in chanoyu, categorized into bamboo, wood and ceramic, and metal and miscellaneous. Under each photo is an explanation of its function.
The site briefly discusses tea's relevance to Zen Buddhism and its connection to Christianity. While more complete histories of chanoyu can be found elsewhere, this site contributes a few quirky details, such as the 14th-century tea-guessing game of toche, wherein people were given 100 bowls of tea and had to guess from what part of Japan the teas came.
Cha-No-Yu [http://welcome.to/chanoyu]. This site has basically two things to offer: steps for a chanoyu and descriptions of hanging scrolls. The steps for the chanoyu are separated into those for the guests and those for the host, which makes it easy for both to practice and memorize the steps more easily. A hanging scroll (kakemono) is considered crucial to the décor of a tea room because the scroll a host chooses sets the tone for the ceremony and symbolizes its purpose. Cha-No-Yu has a list of different scrolls a host may choose from, and the glossary is helpful too. There is a basic explanation of chanoyu and the history is brief. The author has a good grasp of the English language, but at times it gets muddled, making it difficult to follow. Most of the links do not work, but the author admits to being unable to maintain the site. The computer paintbrush artwork on the welcome page does little to enhance the site, but it is a sweet gesture towards the promotion of peaceful thoughts.
Kaihan Zen Magazine [http://www.kaihan.com/japanese-culture.htm]. This site has a page called Tea & the Tea Ceremonies. It is an odd site that has less to do with tea than with Zen Buddhism and the author's feelings about East-West relations. It reads somewhat like a dissertation. You won't find much information here about chanoyu itself, but if you feel—and you'd better really feel —like venturing into a philosophical analysis of the essence of tea, its relation to Asian culture, and East-West misunderstandings, this is the place to go.
TeaHyakka Magazine [http://www.teahyakka.com]. Along with an informative historical synopsis, this site has a brief discussion of fabrics and utensils, as well as a pictorial guide to conducting a chanoyu, told in the first person.
Interestingly, TeaHyakka Magazine includes an explanation of how chanoyu fits into the Chinese Yin Yang/Five Elements/Feng Shui philosophies. It gives examples of chanoyu elements and how the elements represent these philosophies; even the tea room itself is arranged in a yin yang fashion, as seen in the diagram provided.
The most intriguing part of this site is the transcript of a talk given by Brother Joseph Keenan in Japan in 1990. It does not tell us much about the physical act of chanoyu, but elaborates on the tea ceremony as a cultural art form and its influence on society. It asks the question, "Why Do Something as Difficult as Tea?" and eloquently answers with ancient fables, personal stories, and cultural references. The difference between this essay and the one on the Kaihan Zen Magazine site is that Keenan's is more focused and somehow less aggressive and more penetrating. He makes chado more approachable and relevant to the here and now.
Holy Mountain Trading Company [http://www.holymtn.com]. This site has a lot of fun stuff related to tea (e.g., legends of ancient gods and goddesses), useful information (e.g., the health benefits of tea), a beautiful assortment of Asian and other teapots for sale, and the all-important rules of etiquette one must follow if one is to be a guest at a chanoyu. But it is also the only site I could find for a complete description of a chaji—a full tea presentation preceded by a meal. It describes the actions of a chaji as well as what kind of food is served and how it is served.
What I discovered is that you will never master chanoyu just by reading about it or even by hosting a tea party in your kitchen with your closest friends. My research showed me that it is a journey that one embarks on, constantly learning and always hoping that chado is within grasp. I'm sure that I have simplified the entire experience with the narrow spiritual vision of a Westerner, but grander enlightenment on the subject is what these Web sites are for.
Whether or not chanoyu is for you, as Brother Joseph Keenan said, "No matter how or where you follow your path, don't forget to take the tea!"
Roberta Roberti is a freelance writer who has written more than 25articles for various publications. You can find links to some of themat her web site (www.rroberti-writer.com).