Beauty, wares, and GongFu
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!
The implications for beauty in its application and utility for tea ceremony render a different understanding to the artisan and the artist; it is application that leads to beauty and utility that leads to application – a cracked bowl is not a bowl at all. The artist believes beauty is intrinsic, while the artisan sees beauty in creation; the artist believes beauty is preserved, while the artisan knows it is fleeting; the artist believes beauty is of the senses, while the artisan understands it is the experience. Tea is an art of the artisan – a momentary and fleeting experience for the creation of beauty.
To brew simply with what one likes is to ignore the wisdom and availability of further learning and finer wares. Tea does not give up its secrets readily, masking both the flaws and wonders of every brew behind brewer mistakes and ill-chosen wares. Each surface the tea touches and every technique the brewer applies extracts its toll on the applicability of knowledge, theory, and aesthetics on the ceremony; it may be impossible to determine what is best among what is available – It is beyond doubt impossible to determine what is perfect. Tea demands a lifetime to master, but makes no promises in return.
To bring something onto the tea table and into the tea ceremony, to thrust a tea upon the boundaries and forms confined by the ware, to set the subject of taste and expectation to rest through the chosen wares is to sing the glory of each piece and pronounce it fitting and best. To do otherwise is to deny the practice, your practice, of GongFu.
Do not lust. The pieces you don’t have won’t make you a better brewer, no more than better shoes will make you a faster runner. The most fitting pieces will find you, and find you after the price of time spent in study and practice has had time to shape you and define what you are looking for. There is a tuition free to be paid, not only in the exchange for the wares, but in the time and practice it takes to utilize each piece in its best and proper form.
If you have ever questioned what tea to brew from a yixing or why a cup was so small, you were not, or are not, ready for that ware. You will not understand the tea brewed from it or poured in it or consumed from it. It is not your tea, not your skill in GongFu, if the wares control the brew.
To be the master of your ceremony, to bring an experience to life, requires the GongFu wrought by failure. Drink your bad brews. Drink your over-seeped and imbalanced teas. Drink your bitterness deep and commune with your mistakes. Drink the tepid water of your weak infusions. Unless you face every failure in the cup as an opportunity for understanding, your mastery of the tea and tea ceremony will be not. Use the jade dew or ruby liquor as a window to your mind, and a salve for your burns; they will heal, but the knowledge will remain.
May each cup be an invitation; for yourself and those who’s cups run dry. Do not fear that any cup is wasted, for if your GongFu is great enough, even those who lack the knowledge of tea will understand that they are in the presence of something special. If your practice can draw in the world and give an understanding to all, only then do you have nothing left to learn.