Below are the reflections from students who participated in the Chado Urasenke Tankokai Michigan Association 10th Anniversary Celebration, which took place on the weekend of May 6th and 7th, 2017.
The Michigan celebration last week showed me a glimpse of what tea should be about. Back here in Champaign-Urbana, whenever we do tea, we are performing for an uninitiated public. Students, community members, friends from out of town, all sorts of people come for tea. We tend to narrate our temae, and while teaching others how to be kind and how to be mindful is so, so imperative in these times, these feel like demonstrations rather than gatherings. Michigan was my first opportunity to participate in a real tea gathering, with teishu who have been doing tea for longer than I have been alive and guests who know how to laugh and enjoy a seki with friends. During our seki, rather than stoic silence with the brief interjection of memorized Japanese phrases, guests had genuine curiosity about us, our dougu, and our tankokai. They were proper still proper guests, of course, but there was an air of levity that I had never seen before. There is a time for silence, but I thought, this is what an usucha seki should feel like.
I feel like I learned so much over the weekend, but it is difficult for me to pinpoint what exactly I learned. I suppose the best way to summarize is by doushin, the gomei of the chashaku we used during our seki. In our small tea study group, it is easy to slip into the mentality of thinking you know everything, especially with how quickly college students come and go. The depth of knowledge by Machida-sensei, the breadth of Sekine-sensei and Hirota-sensei, and the sheer combined years of experience of each person in that banquet hall... I have never been more humbled. Michigan was a phenomenal reminder to always keep a childlike mind, full of wonder and curiosity, and to always maintain the attitude of a student.
I enjoyed the experience of seeing a variety of tea ceremonies and meeting the variety of members from different branches. It’s not at all common to see such an event occur, let alone take part in it, especially as a college student. I was so touched by the efforts and talents of everyone in attendance. While I wish there were more translators and English material, it was still an honor to observe lessons by a gyotei-sensei and hear the lecture on the history of chado.
My favorite part of the weekend was the lecture by Director General Sekine---I loved his words about how Daoism, Confucianism, Shintoism, and Buddhism live within wa, kei, sei, jaku. I had never realized the syncretism of these philosophies within chado, and I was so surprised at how he eloquently made those connections. Coincidentally, before I left for Michigan, I had taken a final exam on East Asian literature and culture where we had discussed these philosophies. After we returned home, I visited my professor to tell him about this exciting info!
In the Urasenke creed, we refer to Iemoto as our father, a parent for all students in the family of the Way of Tea. Although I already feel like the Urbana members are my family, I realized that this was still true when we were seated with other branch members during dinner. It felt as if I was talking to my family simply through the passion, dedication, and love we shared for tea. Even though some of these people were thousands of miles away from me or had studied tea even before I was born, I naturally connected with them and their kind words.
Finally, I felt my kokoro revert to a beginner’s one once more. Everyone diligently worked to make this weekend a success, and we put our spirit into fulfilling the rules that Sen Rikyu lived by. Although by the end of everything, I felt exhausted, I could rest easy knowing that the Urbana group was well-prepared and able to make delicious bowls of tea for everyone.
From sharing a single bowl of tea, many people could take in the efforts and kindness of those who had once been strangers to them. Dr. Sen believed in peacefulness through a bowl of tea, and chado imparts kindness and happiness to all who partake in it regardless of experience or background. Once again, I am honored and overjoyed to have been able to participate in such a splendid occasion.
I greatly enjoyed participating in the Michigan events. In particular, being able to demonstrate table style for those I had met in New Mexico the previous summer. It’s rather fortunate that I’ve had the chance to travel and learn from a variety of teachers from around the country, and the opportunity to meet back up from time to time is a treat. It was quite a surprise when I saw them in the hallway during the first morning, but upon some reflection, it would likely have been more surprising if I had not seen anyone I recognized. Tea is about the interaction between people in a tea room, supposedly as a microcosm of how interactions occur outside the tea room, and it was rather neat to see those two worlds come together.
Perhaps the highlight from the public tea sessions was not necessarily the outward facing tea demonstration, but all the work that went into making sure that everything ran smoothly in the hallway we used for preparation. As remarkable it is the direct interaction between the host and the guests, if it were not for the indirect assistance in the back, the tea demonstration would certainly have been greatly hindered. There’s a phrase in the sciences regarding research, that “if I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulder of giants.” Here, the success of the host is only possible through the dedicated support of the assistants. Reaching outside those involved during the event in person, we may also consider the farmers cultivating the tea plant, the artists who created the tea implements, and the teachers who nurtured the tea student.
I was also able to participate in a guest lesson from a high-ranking teacher from headquarters. Although there were some issues during the translation of the instruction, there was quite a bit I took away from the lesson. In particular, it was a fundamental idea from Sen Rikyu of “give those with whom you find yourself every consideration.” Here, even if one is a guest, one is still like a host to the other guests. In illustration, when excusing oneself to partake in drinking tea, one places their tea bowl between themselves and the adjacent guests. I was asked during the guest lesson “what else would you say here?” During our typical practice, what is usually said is simply “please excuse me for going ahead,” which is actually an abbreviated version of a fuller expression. By placing the bowl between oneself and the next guest, it is almost like an offering, and the continuation of the phrase is “would you care for it [some tea]?” That is, we give those who we find ourselves (the neighboring guests) our consideration (by offering our tea). I was glad that, albeit with a little bit of help from the back and forth in translation, that I was able to furnish this proper continuation of the abbreviated phrase. It was a very good lesson.
The Michigan Tankokai’s 10th Anniversary Celebration was an incredibly unique opportunity for me. I learned a great deal more than I expected, and I found myself genuinely enjoying the experiences of serving and drinking tea with friends and strangers.
The lessons with Machida-sensei were very illustrative and interesting. It is always a pleasure to hear a new perspective about the basic procedures of serving tea. In addition, I found myself very attentively watching the different temae that were being performed for Machida-sensei’s lessons. Many of these ceremonies, including those with otsubukuro and karamono, were entirely new to me. I enjoyed watching the nuanced differences between these higher temae and the basic ones that I have learned. Dr. Sekine’s lecture was equally engaging and thought-provoking, challenging the reasons behind the procedures of tea.
Perhaps the most special part of this celebration, however, was the fact that this was the first time I experienced the delight of drinking tea and serving tea to strangers. The commemorative chakai for the 10th Anniversary celebration was a rare and exceptional opportunity for me to experience a formal tea gathering. It was an opportunity to enjoy the appreciation of the simple beauties of having tea with those around me. In addition, I had the opportunity to serve tea as teishu to a group of guests I had never met, which was both terrifying and exciting as a special chance to share with others the thing that I love.
It was all together an extremely special and educational experience for me, and I hope to have the chance to participate in similar events in the future.
I approached the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Chado Urasenke Tankokai Michigan Association with eager anticipation tempered by anxiety. Having studied chado for only one year and a half I was intimidated by the prospect of sharing tea with those vastly more experienced and knowledgeable than I. But the experiences of this weekend eased that anxiety into heightened reverence, respect, and appreciation.
The event was marvelously put together. The seki were elegant, the sweets impeccable, the tea delicious, and the dogu refined. The indoor tea gardens took my breath away and lent the conference room vibrancy. I was in awe of my surroundings. However, it was, of course, the people around me that gave meaning to everything. Everyone we students were introduced to or greeted at the hotel seemed to be a sensei or longtime practitioner of tea, all people who have dedicated a great deal of themselves.
By the time it was my turn to make tea I could not keep my hands from shaking. I was frightened that my guests would not enjoy my tea as I had enjoyed those that morning. Despite my unsteady temae my guests responded with sincere smiles and thanks. Few things have felt more rewarding but I was taken aback by such a response until Glenn-sensei explained that seeing a beginner anxious is a sign that they want to do well. I was reminded that tea is a direct form of communication, a way of connecting and showing consideration without misunderstanding. Small gestures took on the richness of an entire language.
Following this reminder I felt truly blessed when the Orange County Association invited us to be their guests, having waited until we finished our last temae. Machida-sensei, too, spoke to this spirit in asking what sentiments are abbreviated in the bow before drinking and the messages conveyed to guests through conscientious attention to detail while Dr. Sekine reminded us of the great history and tradition we take part in and its broader place in, and connection with, the world.
By the end of this weekend I felt a renewed admiration for everyone there and as though I had really entered a community. I better understand my humble place as beginner, which rather than discourage has created an intense desire to move forward in my studies and to carry the spirits of tea with me everywhere.
Attending the 10th anniversary of the Michigan association was a very rewarding experience for me. When we do tea here in Urbana-Champaign, it usually takes the form of either a lesson for ourselves and our fellow tea students, or a demonstration for members of the community who are unfamiliar with the practices of tea ceremony. Because of this, our temae usually have an underlying air of formality to them. However, this was not at all the case while we were doing tea for others in Michigan. Since everyone was familiar with the practices of tea, each seki felt more like a gathering of friends with one person making tea, rather than the very structured sort of meeting that arises out of a lesson or demonstration. It was very refreshing to be able to share the spirit of tea with others in such a genuine manner. Even the process of haiken during our seki was very different. In lessons, we’re so used to asking for haiken because that’s part of the procedures for temae. Yet when we were in Michigan, our guests asked for haiken not because they were obligated to, but because they were genuinely curious about the equipment and bowls we were using. Seeing everyone else get so excited about tea made me even more excited to be a student of this wonderful art form.
As a student, it was also very illuminating to observe the lesson given by the gyotei sensei on Sunday. I had the opportunity to not only revisit and refine the basic skills of warigeiko, but also learn more about the meaning behind and origin of many practices we continue in study of tea. I’m continuously amazed at how deep the study of tea can go. It seems as if it is nearly impossible to learn all that tea has to offer. This is something that truly excites me! To have the opportunity to continue learning and growing for the rest of one’s life is so rare in a world where too often people choose to focus on monetary and material gain, rather than growing intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally. I feel incredibly lucky to have stumbled upon the practice of tea at a relatively young age, as I will be able to continue studying and practicing chado for the rest of my life. I was very fortunate to participate in the events of the 10th anniversary of the Michigan association, and I hope to continue participating in events with the broader Urasenke community for years to come.