A Proper Cup of Tea
As I was sipping my green tea, one afternoon, I re-read Pema Chödrön's The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness. Of course I'd dogeared certain pages, underlined paragraphs, lines.
She talks about a quotation a friend has hanging on the kitchen wall:
"Hold the sadness and pain of samsara in your heart and at the same time the power and vision of the Great Eastern Sun. Then the warrior can make a proper cup of tea."
She goes on:
"I was struck by it because when I read it I realized that I myself have some kind of preference for stillness. The notion of holding the sadness and pain of samsara in my heart rang true, but I realized I didn't do that; at least, I had a definite preference for the power and vision of the Great Eastern sun. My reference point was always to be awake and live fully, to remember the Great Eastern Sun - the quality of being continually awake. But what about holding the sadness and pain of samsara in my heart at the same time?"
She talks about being willing to "feel fully and acknowledge continually your own sadness and the sadness of life, but at the same time not be drowned in it." This is how you find balance, completeness. She says, "One can hold them both in one's heart, which is actually the purpose of practice. As a result of that, one can make a proper cup of tea."
This reminds me of the words by Joseph Campbell:
Life is not perfect, it will never be perfect. There is some consolation in this fact.
In another chapter, Pema Chödron talks about inconvenience. How life is such that "you're never going to get it all together." Things aren't going to run smoothly, there will be monkey wrenches in your plans, oh so many monkey wrenches. She goes on,"You're never going to get all the little loose ends tied up."
"Wholeheartedness is a precious gift, but no one can actually give it to you. You have to find the path that has heart and then walk it impeccably."
So there you are, walking with your sorrow and your joy, teacup balanced in hand, on the path that has heart, walking impeccably. No one said it would be easy. But the key is the wholeheartedness. The key is that you will constantly need to right yourself.
The key is that this is all just fine.
Things can be overwhelming at times. It's useful and good to sit and drink tea. And who is more articulate on the subject of drinking tea than Thich Nhat Hanh?
“Tea is an act complete in its simplicity.
When I drink tea, there is only me and the tea.
The rest of the world dissolves.
There are no worries about the future.
No dwelling on past mistakes.
Tea is simple: loose-leaf tea, hot pure water, a cup.
I inhale the scent, tiny delicate pieces of the tea floating above the cup.
I drink the tea, the essence of the leaves becoming a part of me.
I am informed by the tea, changed.
This is the act of life, in one pure moment, and in this act the truth of the world suddenly becomes revealed: all the complexity, pain, drama of life is a pretense, invented in our minds for no good purpose.
There is only the tea, and me, converging.”
He has also said this:
In the classic 1906 volume by Kakuzo Okakura, The Book of Tea, the author says,
"Teasim 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."
After discoursing on the subject of humanity's struggle for wealth and power, he says,
"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."
Okakura also cautions:
"However, let us not be too sentimental. Let us be less luxurious but more magnificent."
And so let us take some time today to make a proper cup of tea, and to sip it reverently. For these tender attempts to accomplish something possible really are nothing short of magnificent.