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Peace Education

The Meaning of the Japanese Tea Ceremony

USA-2009-11-03-The Meaning of the Japanese Tea Ceremony

Washington DC, United States - November 3 is the ‘Day of Culture’ in Japan. It was established in 1948 as a national holiday to commemorate the new Japanese constitution, which contained a denunciation of war and emphasized the sovereignty of the people and fundamental human rights. The Day of Culture has become an occasion to enhance the appreciation of culture, liberty, and peace. On this day, citizens who have made great contributions in the development of Japanese culture in areas such as literature, porcelain, paintings, Chano-yu, and others, are given the highest award by the Japanese Emperor.

UPF's Washington DC office hosted a Japanese Tea Ceremony in November 2010 for members of the diplomatic corps and gave the following background about the meaning of the tea ceremony:

The Way of Tea

The Way of Tea encourages people to reach the highest ideals of internal character and is meant to also be a guide in human affairs.

What we learn in the “Way of Tea” is how to respect others, live in harmony and peace, and obtain a tranquility of heart. It also teaches beautiful manners and the etiquette of serving others.

The Grand Master of the tea ceremony, Kensei, says that the essence of the “Way of Tea” is the “Heart of Peace.”

He condensed the spirit and teaching of the Way of Tea into these four Chinese characters.

Wa - Harmony Kei - Respect Sei - Purity Jyaku - Tranquility

Wa is the state of harmony and beauty that only creates a feeling of goodness.

Kei is the attitude of respect for all things. This is not only a sincere respect for human beings, but for the sanctity of nature and all material objects.

Sei is purification.  The pure heart without flaw makes a person honest, truthful and sincere. In the tea ceremony, there are several movements made by the master in the process of preparing and serving the tea which symbolize the purification of the heart.

Jyaku is the level of enlightenment when you are in oneness with the universal principle. At this stage there is only tranquility in one’s heart.

The is a guide for how to live. The other extreme is the Bushi Do or the Way of the Samurai and is a guide for how to die.

The Bushi Do was initiated and practiced by the Samurai which were the leadership and warrior class in the military government in the Japanese feudal system. In contrast, the Way of Tea was initiated and became popular among merchants who were considered to be in the lowest class.

The Way of Tea spread from the bottom up. The practice was not forced on any class of society and it grew naturally in popularity.

It is also true that warriors and lords patronized the drinking of tea and promoted the tea ceremony. Often when they were in a battle, a tea master would accompany the lord with a portable tea set for the ceremony. The tea ceremony helped the lord find calm and tranquility even in the midst of battle.

The fundamental teaching of the Way of Tea is the equality of all people, in order to eliminate any elements which might give advantage to a particular kind of person.

The Way of Tea offers useful guidelines on how we can live together with respect, peace and harmony. For this reason, the Way of Tea lasted more than one thousand years after the disappearance of the Samurai.

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