Wednesday, May 2, 2012


I was talking to a member of a local taiko drumming group the other day, and she mentioned that a lot of American women tend to become interested in taiko because it makes them feel empowered. That really made me think about tea ceremony in comparison, because I honestly believe that no one, anywhere, in the entire history of the practice we know as chado, has ever come out of a tea room and said, “YES! Today I feel powerful!”

Part of that is by design. The philosophy of chado puts a lot of stress on the virtues of humility and self-discipline. Students are taught, from their very first lesson, to sit quietly, to follow a very specific set of rules, to keep your mind on what you’re doing and treat practice seriously. Some teachers are stricter about enforcing discipline than others, but ultimately, it’s about more than rules, it’s about an attitude. At its heart, tea ceremony is about achieving a state of tranquility – inner balance, if you will – by taking your focus off of yourself. At first, you focus on the rules. Then, on your state of mind. Then, on the other people in the room. Ultimately, the goal is to forget yourself completely.

That’s pretty much the opposite of empowerment, if you think about it, and in Western culture we tend to think of that as a bad thing. But maybe the real message of tea is that there are other goals one can pursue. Harmony. Tranquility. Respect. Purity of spirit. I guess that’s tea in a nutshell, ne? The pursuit of inner peace, even if only in moments.

(Not that I don’t enjoy a good drumming session now and then – it does get the adrenaline flowing!)