A few weeks ago, while I was in the famous oolong tea producing area of Wuyi in China, I dropped into the Buddhist temple near the shrine to the 400 year old big red robe (da hong pao) tea trees. I was lucky enough to have tea with the Abbot of the monastery and to drink some of the delicious Big Red Robe tea made by the monks.
I asked the Abbot of the monastery about what, for him, is the relationship between Buddhism and tea.
He said that firstly, preparing and drinking tea is a way to help make the mind quiet and focused. Tea is good for health and makes you feel calm and relaxed. In today’s busy world of constant distractions, taking time to sit down and enjoy tea is a good way to make a space for calmness and relaxation.Secondly, he said that tea is a product of man and nature. The tea trees and their growth, picking, and processing depend on both man and nature. The knowledge and methods behind the way the tea is made has been developed over centuries and represent local history and culture. The environment expresses itself in the tea leaves. Through drinking the tea, you are actually in touch with nature, history, culture, past, present and future (as the effects of changes in the environment and culture will show in the leaves). The form and taste of tea tea that you drink communicates all this information, especially if you are aware of it.
As we drove down the hill and back to a near by-tea garden, we were all silent as we though about what he had said. Tea represents so many things. Depending on what you want and what your attitude is, it can be just a way to take a few moments to relax, it can be a connoisseur experience, or it is a mirror reflecting the past, present and future. It also made me think how much we owe the people who have perfected tea making methods (and continue to do so) over the centuries and how much we need to care for the environment and ourselves.
Having drunk tea in such a beautiful place, I thought again of how the atmosphere created by the care you take when making tea, the tea wares used and the overall environment, makes so much difference. It doesn’t have to be for spiritual benefit. Simply taking the trouble to create a simple and beautiful space certainly helps you appreciate the tea fully!