Last Friday, I went to visit the temple that Ikkyu, founder of the tea ceremony, restored in 1456 and spent the last 25 years of his life. I felt very fortunate to get the chance to go, for many reasons, perhaps most of all because it’s the home of the Japanese tea ceremony, the union of Zen and tea.Ikkyu is credited with the invention of the tea ceremony in Japan. He was regarded as a great Zen master with a rich and highly unconventional life story full of tales of how he got the better of Shoguns, and others, through guile.
The peacefulness of the place was balanced by the intense detail of the gardens, grounds, buildings and interiors.
Before sitting in front of the Zen garden, I was whacked on the back with a long wooden stick. I think this was to help wake up, and also probably to purify some negative karma. It was certainly shocked me into feeling more alert. I had seen it on TV a few times but did not expect it to sting so much!
The Zen garden was full of details but it felt like it was possible to experience all the details in one glance.
After sitting for a while, we went inside for some matcha and fermented bean biscuits which were made from beans grown in the temple.
I think you are supposed to have the matcha before sitting, to help you wake up. I believe that Ikkyu made the tea ceremony for a disciple who found it hard to stay awake during the hours and hours of sitting meditation (zazen). Matcha does wake you up but in a soothing, sustained way which is also relaxing.
A stone in the grounds was inscribed with the words of the Buddha, ‘Do not commit any harmful actions.’
I visited the temple with one of its sponsors. As we left, he said, “this place is the heart of Japan”.