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Lions Roar : May 2013
Eisai, who brought the precepts of Chan Buddhism from China to Japan, along with tea seeds, bushes, and the customs of tea he had learned in Chinese Zen temples. What is perhaps most interesting about Wilson’s book is his approach to this “one taste” of tea and Zen. After a few lines acknowledging the obvious—“what is called in English the Tea Ceremony (chanoyou) incorporates the mindfulness, quiet, and simplicity required for Zen study,” and “what is most important to both is the awareness that each and every moment is unique, and is to be valued and savored...”—he makes an apt bow to the possibility of saying too much. He points to the presence of the ubiquitous hanging scroll at the entrance to the place of practice, and in doing so recreates the necessary pause, the breath at the entry, the liminal. Most of the book illuminates the words and characters on these scrolls, focusing on the single-line phrases (ichigyomono) from the Zen classics, familiar Confucian and Taoist works, or classical Chinese poets. A hunger of sorts is cre- ated to see the scrolls...but that is a different book. So the grass-hut practice of Murata Juko had been in place, in a way, in China for several hundred years prior, when monas- tics would appreciate the calligraphic works of their teachers or their teachers’ teachers. It would be brought into fine focus by the most famous of all Japanese tea masters, Sen no Rikyu, who would ask that the “essential virtue” of the calligrapher be part of the host-guest experience, not just the meaning of the brushed words. Yet in Murata Juko there’s a possibility to see into the cup, to taste that moment when medicine and sickness no longer divide a body, and, as they say, history begins fresh. Perhaps it’s just that I like thinking of Juko’s hacking miscan- thus to make that hut. There’s that moment when after all the promises and vows, after all the public ceremonies, you notice that you haven’t done your own work, not quite. I find it’s per- petually this way, noticing that we’re still somehow falling asleep. That there’s an edge to our promise, a condition on our practice. I think of one of my early training periods at the Zen mon- astery, as I was transitioning to a more senior role. One of the routines was to go several times a day to each of the many altars in the monastery and do a series of bows and silent services. All my life I had disliked public shows of earnest behavior, simply found them distasteful. As I moved through this requirement as part of becoming a Zen priest, I could see so clearly the differ- ence between the relaxation and sheerness of my practice when I was “alone” versus how it felt when I’d come into the dining hall, where I’d be aware of others’ observation while they were hanging around prior to the noon meal. To generally reside in an interior way in the midst of others was easy. But I’d not yet learned how to be on focus while I was, nominally, in the cen- ter, and let there be a lightness about it all. What is it to build When “tasted” deeply, life itself is more genuine, less guarded. SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2013 84