When a friend who’s a longtime Buddhist meditation teacher asked me recently if “emptiness” comes into our study and practice of chado, the Japanese way of tea, I didn’t quite know how to answer. On Talking Tea we had chatted a bit about emptiness in a Daoist context, and its relation to tea, in our episode Tea & Daoism: Adjacent Connections, and we touched on some of the connections between tea and Buddhism in a few of our earlier episodes. But I hadn’t thought about how, or if, emptiness comes into play in the specific practices of the Japanese way of tea.
To explore this question further, we asked Drew Hanson, an instructor in the Urasenke school of chado and founder/owner of the Boukakuan Japanese Tea House in New Jersey, to join us again on Talking Tea. (Drew was our guest in two earlier Talking Tea episodes, Tea, Heart to Heart and Chabana: Flowers for Tea.)
Drews begins by talking with us about what emptiness might mean in the context of tea: about thinking and non-thinking in our tea practice, about being and breathing, physicality and non-verbal communication between the host and guests at a tea gathering. Drew discusses how, through all of this, there is “mindfulness but also emptiness”. We look at spatial components of emptiness in chado, from the pathway leading us to the teahouse, to the space in the tea room, to the “spaces between” (you’ll have to listen to find out what that means), and how these components allow us to let go of everything that defines us in the “outside world”. Drew chats with us about the importance of dropping our agendas in tea practice, about what our objective (if any) should be, and how the emptiness pervading all of this ultimately leads to joy.
For more info on Drew Hanson and the Boukakuan Japanese Tea House, including info on Japanese tea ceremony classes and demonstrations, go to the Boukakuan website at njgreentea.com.
Some resources on emptiness or other works mentioned in the episode are:
Progressive Stages of Meditation on Emptiness, by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, translated and arranged by Lama Shenpen Hookham, 2016 edition, available as an audiobook on Audible or in paperback/Kindle editions on Amazon. The audiobook version was narrated and produced by Talking Tea’s Ken Cohen.
Baisao, The Old Tea Seller, translated by Norman Waddell.
The commentary mentioned on the Heart Sutra is The Heart Attack Sutra by Karl Brunnholzl.
Talking Tea is produced and hosted by Ken Cohen. You can follow Ken on Twitter @kensvoiceken.
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The views and opinions expressed by guests on Talking Tea are those of the guests and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Talking Tea or its staff.
This podcast features music from “Japanese Flowers” (https://soundcloud.com/mpgiii/japanese-flowers) by mpgiiiBEATS (https://soundcloud.com/mpgiii) available under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/). Adapted from original.