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What is Cha Dao? Learn how to hold a simple tea ceremony


What is Cha Dao? Learn how to hold a simple tea ceremony

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When you’re feeling frazzled and run-down as a day unfolds, yearning for quiet and connection, do you ever find yourself reaching for a cup of tea? Have you ever pondered the mystery a bowl of tea holds, the calm, warmth and peace it brings into your day, miraculously gifting you exactly what you have been longing for?

Lu Yu, the Sage of Tea, who was born in 733 CE and lived during the Tang Dynasty, referred to tea as “the sweetest dew of heaven”. In his renowned Classic of Tea (Cha Jing), the first known monograph on tea, he wrote: “Tea tempers the spirits and harmonises the mind, dispels lassitude and relieves fatigue, awakens thought and prevents drowsiness, lightens or refreshes the body, and clears the perceptive faculties.”

What is Cha Dao?

Cha

The Chinese word for tea is cha, and in Simplified Chinese the character (茶) comprises three parts. The top symbol represents a plant (or grass), the middle part indicates a person and the bottom radical depicts a tree. Among the several ways to look at the etymology of this character, both a person and a plant are involved in the formation of cha. This likely represents a connection, possibly harmony between a tree and a human, or epitomising tea as the plant provides a person with the sense of being rooted and balanced.

It’s the most consumed beverage in the world, with some sources saying more than 3 billion cups of tea are drunk daily.

After water, tea is perhaps the oldest known drink to humankind and has been used as medicine for millennia. It’s the most consumed beverage in the world, with some sources saying more than 3 billion cups of tea are drunk daily.

Tea comes from the leaves of the camellia plant, which can be a tree or a shrub. There are more than 250 species, with Camellia sinensis var. sinensis originating in Yunnan, China. It is one of the major species (yet not the only variety and sub-species) from which tea originates, resulting in leaves to harvest and process into white, yellow, green, oolong, red, black and puerh teas.

Dao

Dao philosophy honours the principles of balance, grace, quietude, mindfulness, simplicity and harmony with nature. This was outlined in the classic Chinese text Dao De Jing (also known by the ancient text Tao Te Ching, authored by sage Laozi [often spelled Lao Tzu] more than 2500 years ago). It consists of 81 verses that teach you how to live a life of balance, according to the laws of the universe, which Laozi called dao.

Meaning “the way”, dao refers to the natural way of the universe unfolding, together with the way in which humans can live a life of balance and behave in accordance with the universal laws.

Dao encompasses the whole of the universe. It gives birth to, nourishes, penetrates and flows through all things, yet it is intangible, formless and cannot be measured or exhausted. Through following “the way” (dao), you are taught to recognise the sacredness of nature and that life (inclusive of yourself, animals, water, plants, mountains, soil, rivers and oceans) is interconnected and filled with chi, the essence of life itself.

The relevant example in this instance is tea. Broken down, that is the chi of the mountain where the specific tea was grown, the wind, rain and soil that nourished the tea plant, the sun and moonlight the plant absorbed, the earth that provided clay for making the tea bowl and the pure spring water you collected to brew your tea. All these energies flow through you when you drink a bowl of tea.

In harmony with the tao,

the sky is clear and spacious,

the earth is solid and full,

all creatures flourish together,

content with the way they are,

endlessly repeating themselves,

endlessly renewed.

When man interferes with the tao,

the sky becomes filthy,

the earth becomes depleted,

the equilibrium crumbles,

creatures become extinct.

From Verse 39, Tao Te Ching (translated by Stephen Mitchell)

Cha Dao — “the way of tea”

Cha Dao, translated as “the way of tea”, is an ancient practice with a long-standing lineage of tea sages, masters and teachers. It integrates tea as a plant, a beverage and a tradition as well as a medicine for the body, mind and spirit, and with that a dao, passed from a teacher to a student.

“The way of tea is the inherent essence of doing things as tea; it is about creating the way of life around tea because of love for the tea,” clarifies Wu De, a teacher, Cha Dao practitioner and chajin (tea person).

“To make a fine tea, you have to have the right weather conditions, and then the earth — the proper soil with the proper trees, minerals, insects and ecology — and then, of course, a human, the one to process tea and skilfully produce it. When tea arrives at the door, it is a raw product that still needs to be cooked with a human skill [in order] to create the ceremony.”

Cha Dao is living life in a harmonious way with nature, respecting the lineage, slowing down when sitting for tea, meditating with tea, recognising the chi exchange as well as the sacred mystery that every bowl of tea offers.

In Cha Dao, as Wu De adds, the brewing of tea is “in alignment with tea [nature] itself, as opposed to cultural impositions and morals we created over time [social rules formed in the human world].”

Cha Dao is living life in a harmonious way with nature, respecting the lineage, slowing down when sitting for tea, meditating with tea, recognising the chi exchange as well as the sacred mystery that every bowl of tea offers.

Tea as medicine

Tea has been used as medicine by ancient healers long before it became a social beverage. Shen Nong, who is regarded as the father of Chinese medicine, named tea “the king of medicinal herbs”.

A growing body of research supports the beneficial medicinal effects of regular tea drinking, concluding it may be effective in reducing post-stress cortisol levels, strengthening your immune system, improving memory and concentration, slowing ageing and boosting metabolism.

As a powerful source of health-enhancing polyphenols (flavonoids and catechins), which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, tea is also linked to a lower risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, along with a reduction of free radicals and decreased risk of cancer.

Stepping aside from the scientific findings and rational thinking, tea medicine is holistically integrative. It expands beyond human physiology, allowing for self-cultivation and purification of the heart, mind and body.

“Tea is a plant medicine created by nature for humans. It is the avatar of love. It is a manifestation of Mother Earth’s care and concern for us, as she created the abundance of medicine, not just the physical medicine for our livers, stomachs and hearts, but also spiritual medicine to help us commune with our spirit and the Great Spirit,” explains Wu De.

The importance of ceremony

A ceremony is a sequence of acts of ritual significance. Having aroused from a multiplicity of human life experiences throughout generations, it is designed to connect humans to ancestral wisdom and their traditions. Throughout millennia, ceremonies have been used to bond communities, mark important events in people’s lives, express joy and sorrow, worship the sun and the moon, celebrate seasonal changes and cultures, as well as connect with the Spirit.

A growing body of research supports the beneficial medicinal effects of regular tea drinking, concluding it may be effective in reducing post-stress cortisol levels, strengthening your immune system, improving memory and concentration, slowing ageing and boosting metabolism.

When asked about the causes of our craving for spiritual connection and ceremonies, Wu De suggests it is the realisation that we have lost the connection to our lineage and profound ancestral teachings that provided us with the methods and rituals to live harmoniously with nature and nourish us physically, mentally and spiritually.

“We have to redevelop the new cosmologies, rituals and ceremonies to connect to what we have forgotten,” continues the teacher.

In many ways a ceremony can be looked at as a primal human need for survival. Through rituals passed from the lineages of past teachers, you can reconnect with the ancient teachings and re-establish a sense of belonging, as well as add meaning and depth into your life.

Tea ceremony

The Simple Bowl Tea Ceremony is often taught by Wu De during his workshops to those wishing to commence a tea practice at home. You can discover for yourself how much depth, healing and peace this quiet ceremony can bring into your life.

Wu De advises to begin your tea practice with a trial of drinking at least three bowls of tea every day for a week: “Put the tea in the bowl, add water and don’t worry about the method at this stage. The only rule is no multitasking — no phone, no music, no talking.”

Trying this practice, even for as little as seven days, will require commitment because discipline is needed to experience tea medicine. Wu De advises, “Self-discipline is the only form of real self-love. If you really love yourself, [you can] discipline yourself enough that you have the power to make decisions that are good for you!” (And tea is!)

As the simple ritual outlined below aims to assist you with the beginning of your ceremonial practice, it’s important to set an intention. The purpose is not to learn the technical skills of tea brewing, nor to own the finest tea ware, but rather to focus on creating space for tea, quietude and connection to yourself and nature, allowing the tea to do the talking and the healing to begin to unravel.

Do not let limited access to the rarest high-grade tea stop you from trying this tea practice. If the springs to gather your water are out of reach, filtered water will suffice. If you do not have a tea bowl in your possession, reach for a rice bowl instead!

Bowl tea practice simply comprises heat, water and tea. It’s said to be the oldest way to prepare tea.

Simple bowl tea ceremony

Ingredients:

  • Sustainably produced organic loose-leaf tea (white, green, red, oolong, red, black or puerh tea)
  • Water (spring water, if possible)
  • A kettle with a heat source
  • A bowl
  • A quiet, clean space to prepare and drink your tea in
  1. Put the loose-leaf tea into the bowl.
  2. Pour hot water over the tea leaves.
  3. Drink three or more bowls of tea sitting cross-legged or on a chair in silence and holding the bowl in both of your hands (use the same leaves for all your steepings).
  4. Repeat the steps above for a week, setting aside 20–30 minutes for tea for the next six mornings.

Taking your tea beyond

If this practice resonated deeply with you during your tea ceremony trial, and you would like to learn more about tea, brewing methods, qualities of tea, Cha Dao and its lineage, there are resources and information available.

A great place to start is Global Tea Hut’s website, where you can get free online access to past issues of Global Tea Hut magazine. Founded by Wu De, it connects and educates tea lovers in more than 40 countries. Global Tea Hut offers translations of ancient texts on tea, interviews with modern tea experts and articles on tea processing, tea tradition, travelogues on tea-growing areas and Cha Dao. Every month the magazine arrives with a small gift to enhance your tea practice, as well as a tin of chemical-free, sustainably produced tea. It introduces 12 organic teas to its subscribers every year.

Wu De and his students also manage Tea Sage Hut, a donation-based tea and Zen centre in Miaoli, Taiwan, where they offer free 10-day courses.

May the words of Zen scholar and author D T Suzuki inspire you further on your tea ceremony path: “Who would then deny that when I am sipping tea in my tearoom I am swallowing the whole universe with it and that this very moment of my lifting the bowl to my lips is eternity itself transcending time and space?”

Wu De: teacher & friend

Wu De (born Aaron Daniel Fisher), who often calls himself a student of the leaf, is a teacher, author, ordained Zen monk and founder of Global Tea Hut magazine and Tea Sage Hut. Wu De leads tea workshops and seminars around the world and will be visiting Australia in early 2019. You can contact him on globalteahut@gmail.com or globalteahut.org.



 

Mascha Coetzee

Mascha Coetzee is a yoga teacher, holistic health coach, nutrition assistant and linguist, and a practitioner of hatha yoga, inclusive of ashtanga, vinyasa and yin yoga. She integrates the wisdom of yoga, Ayurveda, CTM and modern research in her lifestyle and teachings. Mascha is based in Launceston, Tasmania.