The Japanese Philosophy of Tea: Every Sip Counts
That's Philosophical #24
Welcome to That’s Philosophical, the warmest newsletter on the internet. Once a week, I send you inspirational ideas to take a break in a messy world.
Japanese philosophies are so unique. Historically, they linked wisdom to different objects as a metaphor, and that’s what I really like about them. A great example is the process of making a katana, turns out, it is a philosophy in itself.
You probably heard about Japanese tea traditions. But I wanted to dig a bit deeper and see what’s the purpose behind loving tea so much.
Make Tea, Not War
Tea in Japanese culture is a tool for meditation and getting together. A guy who studied Zen basically invented the idea of using tea as a spiritual practice. The ceremony is based on a philosophy called Wabi-sabi.
According to this amazing philosophy, we should be satisfied with what we already have. It celebrates aging and doesn’t see it as a bad thing.
An example of wabi-sabi is the art of kintsugi. They fill cracked dishes with gold-dusted lacquer to highlight the beauty of its age and damage rather than hiding it.
Wabi-sabi acknowledges that everything around us changes and we should not try to hold on to things that go. And at the same time not try to always focus that we will become something better. We should try to appreciate the present.
Wabi | Sabi
Wabi-sabi is two concepts harmonically working together.
Wabi is a principle that focuses on an inner spirituality of seeing beauty in simple stuff.
Sabi is about appreciating the beauty of aging and impermanence, it’s more about material things around us. Sabi embraces imperfection and serves as a reminder to cherish one's unpolished nature. It is considered to be the first step to "satori", or enlightenment.
Joined together, Wabi-sabi recognizes the beauty of simple yet fleeting things in life. Leonard Koen explains it as:
“Wabi-sabi is the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete, the antithesis of our classical Western notion of beauty as something perfect, enduring, and monumental.”
Which is really freeing if you think about it. If you start to look for beauty in things that are not considered “perfect”, you will find way more joy in life. Sometimes beauty is found in the little things, like tea.
Japan Did it Before it Went Mainstream
Wabi-sabi is heavily used in interior design. You can notice that most tea rooms are minimalistic, and no, the Japanese weren’t ahead of everyone in design trends. They just used the philosophy. According to it, an older table with scratches is better than a new one. Every scar holds history that you can appreciate.
It’s all about not buying what you don’t really need and not using things in excess. Wabi-sabi says one branch of flowers is enough to decorate the room. Using any more is pointless. Appreciate natural beauty, get things that will last. Rather than buying quick, accessible, and disposable, buy lasting, high-quality, and more expensive. Let these things grow with you over time.
Every little thing in the tea ceremony is chosen to be in perfect harmony. The room should be elegantly simple. Even the mat people are sitting on, tatami, is designed to mindfully slow down while coming into the tea room. The host pledges their life for tea, which was also carefully selected and grown in a beautiful tea garden.
The Unrepeatable Nature of a Moment
Another delightful concept called ichi-go ichi-e, is a philosophy of treasuring each meeting. It translates as “once in a lifetime”. This philosophy embraces the fact that no moment can be replicated.
This concept is used to cherish every moment. Every gathering, even with the same people at the same place, won’t be the same. So try to appreciate every time you share a cup of tea with close people. Each meeting is literally a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“Everyone in your life will have a last day with you and you don’t even know when it will be.”
A Reminder of Why I Love Philosophies
This is somewhat close to lagom. Simplicity and appreciation in everyday things. I hate to say this again, but do you know what it is also similar to?
To That’s Philosophical’s main principle- taking a break.
The goal of sitting down and drinking tea is to free yourself from the daily stimulation of the materialistic and fast-paced world.
That’s why I love such philosophies. It’s been 600 years, but this ceremony seems to be more needed now than ever. Imagine a daily tea ceremony break where you forget about your phone and sit down to just stare at a tea and drink it like it’s the last cup in your life. I am sure that would help so many people with mental health. Imagine not going to social media to escape stress, but instead, facing it to understand its nature.
“Doing nothing is respectable at tea.”
— Sasaki Sanmi
Finally, Appreciate The Tea
In a culture where we tend to buy more and buy new, Wabi-sabi would be a perfect philosophy to apply. Why buy new if the old stuff still works and is more beautiful just because of its age?
I don’t know how the Japanese came up with an antidote to consumerism in the 14th century.
What if we shift our focus from always looking for the perfect and embracing an imperfect nature of everyday things instead?
Focusing on a cup of tea might be the smallest, yet the most fundamental building block towards becoming more mindful.
“It insulates purity and harmony, the mystery of mutual charity, the romanticism of the social order.
It is essentially a worship of the Imperfect, as it is a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life.”
- Okakura Kakuzō
Oh my god okay, I will now try to enjoy my morning tea like I never did. I encourage you to make every sip count!! See you next week :)
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