Category Archives: TAOISM

The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzo Part I

Sacred-Texts  Buddhism  Taoism  Shinto

The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura

I. The Cup of Humanity

Yix Ying Antique style teawares

Tea began as a medicine and grew into a beverage. In China, in the eighth century, it entered the realm of poetry as one of the polite amusements. The fifteenth century saw Japan ennoble it into a religion of aestheticism–Teaism. Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence. It inculcates purity and harmony, the mystery of mutual charity, the romanticism of the social order. It is essentially a worship of the Imperfect, as it is a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life.

The Philosophy of Tea is not mere aestheticism in the ordinary acceptance of the term, for it expresses conjointly with ethics and religion our whole point of view about man and nature. It is hygiene, for it enforces cleanliness; it is economics, for it shows comfort in simplicity rather than in the complex and costly; it is moral geometry, inasmuch as it defines our sense of proportion to the universe. It represents the true spirit of Eastern democracy by making all its votaries aristocrats in taste.

The long isolation of Japan from the rest of the world, so conducive to introspection, has been highly favourable to the development of Teaism. Our home and habits, costume and cuisine, porcelain, lacquer, painting–our very literature–all have been subject to its influence. No student of Japanese culture could ever ignore its presence. It has permeated the elegance of noble boudoirs, and entered the abode of the humble. Our peasants have learned to arrange flowers, our meanest labourer to offer his salutation to the rocks and waters. In our common parlance we speak of the man “with no tea” in him, when he is insusceptible to the serio-comic interests of the personal drama. Again we stigmatise the untamed aesthete who, regardless of the mundane tragedy, runs riot in the springtide of emancipated emotions, as one “with too much tea” in him.

The outsider may indeed wonder at this seeming much ado about nothing. What a tempest in a tea-cup! he will say. But when we consider how small after all the cup of human enjoyment is, how soon overflowed with tears, how easily drained to the dregs in our quenchless thirst for infinity, we shall not blame ourselves for making so much of the tea-cup. Mankind has done worse. In the worship of Bacchus, we have sacrificed too freely; and we have even transfigured the gory image of Mars. Why not consecrate ourselves to the queen of the Camelias, and revel in the warm stream of sympathy that flows from her altar? In the liquid amber within the ivory-porcelain, the initiated may touch the sweet reticence of Confucius, the piquancy of Laotse, and the ethereal aroma of Sakyamuni himself.

Those who cannot feel the littleness of great things in themselves are apt to overlook the greatness of little

Antique photo of woman practicing “Ikebana” or Japanese flower arangement

things in others. The average Westerner, in his sleek complacency, will see in the tea ceremony but another instance of the thousand and one oddities which constitute the quaintness and childishness of the East to him. He was wont to regard Japan as barbarous while she indulged in the gentle arts of peace: he calls her civilised since she began to commit wholesale slaughter on Manchurian battlefields. Much comment has been given lately to the Code of the Samurai, –the Art of Death which makes our soldiers exult in self- sacrifice; but scarcely any attention has been drawn to Teaism, which represents so much of our Art of Life. Fain would we remain barbarians, if our claim to civilisation were to be based on the gruesome glory of war. Fain would we await the time when due respect shall be paid to our art and ideals.

When will the West understand, or try to understand, the East? We Asiatics are often appalled by the curious web of facts and fancies which has been woven concerning us. We are pictured as living on the perfume of the lotus, if not on mice and cockroaches. It is either impotent fanaticism or else abject voluptuousness. Indian spirituality has been derided as ignorance, Chinese sobriety as stupidity, Japanese patriotism as the result of fatalism. It has been said that we are less sensible to pain and wounds on account of the callousness of our nervous organisation!

Why not amuse yourselves at our expense? Asia returns the compliment. There would be further food for merriment if you were to know all that we have imagined and written about you. All the glamour of the perspective is there, all the unconscious homage of wonder, all the silent resentment of the new and undefined. You have been loaded with virtues too refined to be envied, and accused of crimes too picturesque to be condemned. Our writers in the past–the wise men who knew–informed us that you had bushy tails somewhere hidden in your garments, and often dined off a fricassee of newborn babes! Nay, we had something worse against you: we used to think you the most impracticable people on the earth, for you were said to preach what you never practiced.

Such misconceptions are fast vanishing amongst us. Commerce has forced the European tongues on many an Eastern port. Asiatic youths are flocking to Western colleges for the equipment of modern education. Our insight does not penetrate your culture deeply, but at least we are willing to learn. Some of my compatriots have adopted too much of your customs and too much of your etiquette, in the delusion that the acquisition of stiff collars and tall silk hats comprised the attainment of your civilisation. Pathetic and deplorable as such affectations are, they evince our willingness to approach the West on our knees. Unfortunately the Western attitude is unfavourable to the understanding of the East. The Christian missionary goes to impart, but not to receive. Your information is based on the meagre translations of our immense literature, if not on the unreliable anecdotes of passing travellers. It is rarely that the chivalrous pen of a Lafcadio Hearn or that of the author of “The Web of Indian Life” enlivens the Oriental darkness with the torch of our own sentiments.

Perhaps I betray my own ignorance of the Tea Cult by being so outspoken. Its very spirit of politeness exacts that you say what you are expected to say, and no more. But I am not to be a polite Teaist. So much harm has been done already by the mutual misunderstanding of the New World and the Old, that one need not apologise for contributing his tithe to the furtherance of a better understanding. The beginning of the twentieth century would have been spared the spectacle of sanguinary warfare if Russia had condescended to know Japan better. What dire consequences to humanity lie in the contemptuous ignoring of Eastern problems! European imperialism, which does not disdain to raise the absurd cry of the Yellow Peril, fails to realise that Asia may also awaken to the cruel sense of the White Disaster. You may laugh at us for having “too much tea,” but may we not suspect that you of the West have “no tea” in your constitution?

Let us stop the continents from hurling epigrams at each other, and be sadder if not wiser by the mutual gain of half a hemisphere. We have developed along different lines, but there is no reason why one should not supplement the other. You have gained expansion at the cost of restlessness; we have created a harmony which is weak against aggression. Will you believe it?–the East is better off in some respects than the West!

Strangely enough humanity has so far met in the tea-cup. It is the only Asiatic ceremonial which commands universal esteem. The white man has scoffed at our religion and our morals, but has accepted the brown beverage without hesitation. The afternoon tea is now an important function in Western society. In the delicate clatter of trays and saucers, in the soft rustle of feminine hospitality, in the common catechism about cream and sugar, we know that the Worship of Tea is established beyond question. The philosophic resignation of the guest to the fate awaiting him in the dubious decoction proclaims that in this single instance the Oriental spirit reigns supreme.

The earliest record of tea in European writing is said to be found in the statement of an Arabian traveller, that after the year 879 the main sources of revenue in Canton were the duties on salt and tea. Marco Polo records the deposition of a Chinese minister of finance in 1285 for his arbitrary augmentation of the tea-taxes. It was at the period of the great discoveries that the European people began to know more about the extreme Orient. At the end of the sixteenth century the Hollanders brought the news that a pleasant drink was made in the East from the leaves of a bush. The travellers Giovanni Batista Ramusio (1559), L. Almeida (1576), Maffeno (1588), Tareira (1610), also mentioned tea. In the last-named year ships of the Dutch East India Company brought the first tea into Europe. It was known in France in 1636, and reached Russia in 1638. England welcomed it in 1650 and spoke of it as “That excellent and by all physicians approved China drink, called by the Chineans Tcha, and by other nations Tay, alias Tee.”

Like all good things of the world, the propaganda of Tea met with opposition. Heretics like Henry Saville (1678) denounced drinking it as a filthy custom. Jonas Hanway (Essay on Tea, 1756) said that men seemed to lose their stature and comeliness, women their beauty through the use of tea. Its cost at the start (about fifteen or sixteen shillings a pound) forbade popular consumption, and made it “regalia for high treatments and entertainments, presents being made thereof to princes and grandees.” Yet in spite of such drawbacks tea-drinking spread with marvellous rapidity. The coffee-houses of London in the early half of the eighteenth century became, in fact, tea-houses, the resort of wits like Addison and Steele, who beguiled themselves over their “dish of tea.” The beverage soon became a necessity of life–a taxable matter. We are reminded in this connection what an important part it plays in modern history. Colonial America resigned herself to oppression until human endurance gave way before the heavy duties laid on Tea. American independence dates from the throwing of tea-chests into Boston harbour.

There is a subtle charm in the taste of tea which makes it irresistible and capable of idealisation. Western humourists were not slow to mingle the fragrance of their thought with its aroma. It has not the arrogance of wine, the self- consciousness of coffee, nor the simpering innocence of cocoa. Already in 1711, says the Spectator: “I would therefore in a particular manner recommend these my speculations to all well-regulated families that set apart an hour every morning for tea, bread and butter; and would earnestly advise them for their good to order this paper to be punctually served up and to be looked upon as a part of the tea-equipage.” Samuel Johnson draws his own portrait as “a hardened and shameless tea drinker, who for twenty years diluted his meals with only the infusion of the fascinating plant; who with tea amused the evening, with tea solaced the midnight, and with tea welcomed the morning.”

Charles Lamb, a professed devotee, sounded the true note of Teaism when he wrote that the greatest pleasure he knew was to do a good action by stealth, and to have it found out by accident. For Teaism is the art of concealing beauty that you may discover it, of suggesting what you dare not reveal. It is the noble secret of laughing at yourself, calmly yet thoroughly, and is thus humour itself,–the smile of philosophy. All genuine humourists may in this sense be called tea-philosophers,–Thackeray, for instance, and of course, Shakespeare. The poets of the Decadence (when was not the world in decadence?), in their protests against materialism, have, to a certain extent, also opened the way to Teaism. Perhaps nowadays it is our demure contemplation of the Imperfect that the West and the East can meet in mutual consolation.

The Taoists relate that at the great beginning of the No-Beginning, Spirit and Matter met in mortal combat. At last the Yellow Emperor, the Sun of Heaven, triumphed over Shuhyung, the demon of darkness and earth. The Titan, in his death agony, struck his head against the solar vault and shivered the blue dome of jade into fragments. The stars lost their nests, the moon wandered aimlessly among the wild chasms of the night. In despair the Yellow Emperor sought far and wide for the repairer of the Heavens. He had not to search in vain. Out of the Eastern sea rose a queen, the divine Niuka, horn-crowned and dragon-tailed, resplendent in her armor of fire. She welded the five-coloured rainbow in her magic cauldron and rebuilt the Chinese sky. But it is told that Niuka forgot to fill two tiny crevices in the blue firmament. Thus began the dualism of love–two souls rolling through space and never at rest until they join together to complete the universe. Everyone has to build anew his sky of hope and peace.

The heaven of modern humanity is indeed shattered in the Cyclopean struggle for wealth and power. The world is groping in the shadow of egotism and vulgarity. Knowledge is bought through a bad conscience, benevolence practiced for the sake of utility. The East and the West, like two dragons tossed in a sea of ferment, in vain strive to regain the jewel of life. We need a Niuka again to repair the grand devastation; we await the great Avatar. Meanwhile, let us have a sip of tea. The afternoon glow is brightening the bamboos, the fountains are bubbling with delight, the soughing of the pines is heard in our kettle. Let us dream of evanescence, and linger in the beautiful foolishness of things.


Part II- next note

“Welcome to thee,/ O sword of eternity!/ Through Buddha/ And through Daruma alike/ Thou hast cleft thy way.”

With a smile upon his face Rikiu passed forth into the unknown.

This Etext was prepared by: Matthew and Gabrielle Harbowy


The Body as a Mountain

The human body represented as a mountain. Depicted here are the Cinnabar Fields (dantian), the Three Passes (sanguan), and the palaces of the inner deities. Source: Duren shangpin miaojing neiyi (Inner Meaning of the Wondrous Scripture of the Upper Chapters on Salvation; CT 90), 8a-b.

excerpt from The Golden Elixer site

Honji Suijaku, Medieval Shinto

Honji Suijaku



Perhaps the best way to introduce medieval Shinto is to discuss it in terms of the traditions that influenced it. Although Buddhism was not the only influential tradition, it was undoubtedly the most important. The Buddhist theory of honji-suijaku (“original substance manifests traces”) pervaded practically the whole of Shinto. The theory of honji-suijaku, transmitted from China to Japan, became the theoretical foundation for considering Japanese kami as “manifest traces” (suijaku) or counterparts of the “original substance” (honji) of particular Buddhas and bodhisattvas. For example, as early as the Nara period, Hachiman was considered both a kami and a bodhisattva without a clear distinction of Shinto or Buddhist identity. In later periods almost every Shinto shrine considered its enshrined kami as the counterpart of some Buddha or Buddhist divinity. It was customary to enshrine statues of these Buddhist counterparts in Shinto shrines, and this practice further encouraged the interaction of Buddhist and Shinto priests. [Japanese Religion, 120-1]

via Honji Suijaku.

Chinese tea « The Heavy Table – Minneapolis-St. Paul and Upper Midwest Food Magazine and Blog

i love it i see reincarnation in effect, a tea aficionado who seems to be more enthralled with tea than a native Chinese.  The soul of tea need not possess any geographic conditions.  I seem to have the soul of a Celtic Sicilian whom landed in Dezima island for clanging temple bells, zealot that I be.  But seriously, it’s hard to choose with so many wonderful tea enthusiasts. I am enjoying the already unpretentious attitude this devotee radiates.  The more I love tea, the less I seem to know. Concealing beauty as opposed to the 20th Century ‘in your face, self aggrandizing what’s in it for me’ world we are steeped in.  Tea has a strange quality of being theraputic without words.



Duckler’s interest in the traditional Chinese belief systems of Taoism and Confucianism dovetailed with tea in surprisingly significant ways, he says, talking about both tea and Taoism’s relationship to “ideas about the cyclical nature of time, ideas about connecting to the natural way of things — the idea of trying to seek out whatever path makes the most sense, the idea of not resisting and not fighting but being more open to opportunities and enjoying the things in that moment.” As for Confucianism, the ritual of tea drinking is a natural physical analogue: it revolves around “humility, hospitality, and ritual.”

As for humility: Duckler tells a story of traveling to Hangzhou in China’s Zhejiang Province to study tea. “A taxi driver picks me up and says: ‘What are you doing in Hangzhou?’ Taxi drivers are really nosy in China — they just want to know everything about your life. And I said ‘I’m here to research tea and learn about tea culture.’ And he said: “That’s ridiculous! You flew all the way to Hangzhou from Qingdao to learn about tea culture? You are wasting your money. I’ll make you a deal. I’ll drive you around the city, charge you $10, take you back to the airport so you can go home and I’ll tell you everything you need to know about tea culture.’”

Duckler was committed to his trip, but he agreed to let the taxi driver tell him about tea culture. “He said: ‘All right, this is it. You take a cup … you have some water in your thermos…. you take some tea, you put the tea in the water. Drink it. That’s tea culture. You don’t need to know anything else.’ I thought: ‘Is this guy messing with me, or is he some kind of crazy tea sage who needed to teach me a lesson about humility and simplicity?’”

I have to remember: “What would the taxi driver say to me if he saw me right now? I don’t want to disappoint the taxi driver!”


Chinese tea « The Heavy Table – Minneapolis-St. Paul and Upper Midwest Food Magazine and Blog.

He Xiangu



He Xiangu or Immortal Woman He is the only female deity among the Eight Immortals.


He Xiangu was from Yong Prefecture (today Linglin County, Hunan) in Tang Dynasty, or from a wealthy and generous family in Zengcheng County, Guangdong.


At birth He Xiangu had six long hairs on the crown of her head. When she was about 14 or 15, a divine personage appeared to her in a dream and instructed her to eat powdered mica, in order that her body might become etherealized and immune from death. So she swallowed it, and also vowed to remain a virgin.


Up hill and down dale He Xiangu used to flit just like a creature with wings. Every day at dawn she sallied forth, to return at dusk, bringing back mountain fruits she had gathered for her mother. Later on by slow degrees she gave up taking ordinary food. The Empress Wu dispatched a messenger to summon her to attend at the palace, but on the way there, she disappeared.


One day during the Jing Long period (about 707 CE), He Xiangu ascended to Heaven in broad daylight, and became a Taoist Immortal.


Taoist Meditation

“Gathering The Light” – Taoist Meditation

Turning the light around” is a phrase used frequently in relation to the practice of Taoist Inner Alchemy and meditation. What does it mean?

When the light is turned around, the energies of heaven and earth, yin and yang, all congeal. This is what is called “refined thought,” “pure energy,” or “pure thought.” When you first put this technique into practice, there is seemingly nonbeing within being. Eventually, when the work is accomplished, and there is a body beyond your body, there is seemingly being within nonbeing.

~ from The Secret of the Golden Flower, translated by Thomas Cleary

In this process of “turning the light around,” we reverse the direction in which our attention habitually flows – from being outwardly-focused to being inwardly-focused. There are many techniques to support this “turning-around” process. One of the most powerful is simply to bring our attention to the flow of our breath: following the inhalations and exhalations. We might focus on the rise and fall of our abdomen as we inhale and exhale, or on the sensations of coolness and warmth in our nostrils. Practicing like this for just several minutes a day can bring profound benefits.

In Taoism it is often said: the entire cosmos – the infinity of stars and planets and innumerable galaxies – exists within your own body. How do we find this internal cosmos? By “turning the light around” – shining the light of our awareness onto the contents of our bodymind. Through this process of looking inward, the “external” world is then, paradoxically, once again revealed – in its true form.

To use an analogy from mathematics: our habitual focus on the external world – on reaching and reaching and reaching for things outside of us – is like an infinite series, whose members increase by a factor greater than one. The sum of such a series is itself infinite: there is no end, no sense of completion, ever, to this kind of “external” search. The process of a mind that has “turned the light around,” on the other hand, is akin to an infinite series whose members increase by a factor less than one. The sum of this kind of infinite series is actually finite, and can be calculated. It is a kind of infinity which – by becoming ever more subtle, resolves into a tremoring stillness – a non-conceptual, ungraspable “answer” which leaves us feeling sweetly satisfied – content as an infant at its mother’s breast.

via Taoist Meditation.

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