2017 Summer in Japan and Korea: Tea and art with Mogu Sunim, Seonamsa Temple

Did I mention that I love having tea with monks?

Mogu Sunim is a professor of Buddhist Theology at Seonamsa temple, one of he most respected schools of Korean Buddhism and one of the few temples to send their students abroad to practice other forms of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, and Burma.

In addition to teaching, he is a tea-maker and an artist. We shared and enjoyed endless cups of tea made by Mogu and other monks, starting with green and end with padiocha.

As ever – the most striking thing about meeting a monk is the way they look into you;
the way some monks can read you.

In between tea sessions, I took a walk around the temple grounds. Relaxed and enjoying the mountain air, the feeling of the tea, and the sense of freedom that only long travel can bring, I received an email (heresy, I know) that caused me great concern. The topic isn’t important so much so as the emotion that it evoked – it tore me out of the moment, stole away the serenity of the tea and the monks and the mountains.

But Mogu knew. On returning to the tea room, showing no outwards signs of the concern, we had more tea, some rice snacks, and a melon. And then Mogu began to paint. Starting on paper, and then moving to fans. He turned to me and gave me a calligraphic fan that he had painted a tea cup with a lotus, and the Chinese characters for: “One cup of tea makes 100 problems float away”.

Pure joy with Mogu Sunim

And with that, I was OK. Mogu could see through my Façade and broke through it and re-centered me. Reminded me of where I was and that my worry doesn’t change a situation. It was my own small satori guided by a my very own bodhisattva.

I love having tea with monks.

2017 Summer in Japan and Korea: Maeda Shodo, abbot of Zuihoin, Daitokuji Temple

I love meeting with monks;

Some are kind, some are indifferent, some are focused on other things, and some are focused on you.

Years of meditation and practiced insight given certain monks the ability to read people. It is disconcerting to be read so easily by anyone, least a monk ready to correct your dissolution. Visitors are always in danger of being given advice that they may or may not be ready to hear.

A Christian Garden in Japan

Built in 1546 and used as a secret Christian temple, Zuihoin has since reverted into its Buddhist  origins. The gardens retain their original Christian symbolism.

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2017 Summer in Japan and Korea: Meeting with Mr Kanbayashi, the CEO of Kanbayashi-en Matcha Company

6 generations in...

My work with Analytical Flavor Systems has created some amazing opportunities that I would never have expected to be part of – like meeting Mr Kanbayashi, the CEO of the 450 year old Kanbayashi-en Matcha Company.

Introduced by the venerable Koike-sensei, we discussed collaborations and ways to bring matcha for a new generation of drinkers, and then shared tea in their original tea house from the late 1500’s.

Matcha is a traditional drink of the past, a historical product with antecedent rituals and practices, but it is also an ingredient, a flavoring, and a drink itself. The innovation for uses of matcha has never stopped, and the matcha of the future is going to taste great.

 

The Practice of Tea Ceremony

This is a draft section of my upcoming book “An introduction to the art and Science of Chinese Tea Ceremony”. Please help improve it with your comments, suggestions, and hate mail! 

How to practice tea ceremony is a difficult question, as it depends on what you consider to be the Chinese Tea Ceremony.  There are many different paths down this road, and readers here should note that I specifically promote the path of a scholar verses a spiritual or other path.


Edits: Thank you to Bethany and Courtney for your comments and edits – they have yielded a great improvement on the spelling, grammar and content of this draft!

Introduction

Diligence in your practice of tea ceremony is the only path towards developing GongFu. No one is born with an innate skill at brewing tea – it must be learned.

As you start, your tea will be imbalanced, your cup may be dry and bitter, and your guests will be unamused. The teas that tasted great from someone else’s hand will turn astringent from your unskilled pours. You will burn yourself on the gaiwan, come close to dropping your tea pot, and unfairly distribute precious tea from the gongdaobei. This is the path everyone must walk as they begin their practice.

Your road forks here. While anyone can become proficient in the utilitarian practice of brewing tea, only with a guide can you build skill in your practice and raise above the mechanical machinations of pouring water on leaves – and only with a teacher can you raise your practice to the structural-functionalist approach.

This book aims to be your guide, but it cannot be your teacher. This book is written as an introduction to the art and science of Chinese tea ceremony, and includes the information you must know to guide your practice and build your skill.

This book is a reference but it is not the reference. This book is not tea, it is not teaware, and it is not a teacher. There is no replacement for direct experience with references. You will never be able to identify real wild MengKu pu’er without having tasted other wild pu’er and other MengKu pu’er. You will never be able to identify a Qing Dynasty DeHua cup without having held a similar reference in your hand. This book cannot do that for you.

 

What this book can do is guide your reading, imbue you with knowledge, and inform your practice. Your knowledge is only useful in so much as it helps you understand tea ceremony and the related arts like tea or teaware identification. I promote an empirical and experiential approach to tea ceremony – those who can cite LuYu but can’t brew tea are not the true practitioners.

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