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Lions Roar : May 2013
Reviews WE SAT WITHOUT the marking of periods, without bells (or whistles). It was the last night of the year. I’d asked the tea master to set up at the back of the temple hall and prepare tea every four hours or so, and instructed an attendant how to quietly invite those sitting to line up when it was their time to be served. But he surprised me, bringing the first cup forward, bow- ing toward the altar, and then to me in the teacher’s seat. The grass scent blossoming like a green roar in the dark. Turning the cup, lip to edge, suddenly nothing but bitter froth. “Zen and tea are of one taste.” That famous phrase was coined in the fifteenth century by Zen adherent Murata Juko. His story is one of the charms of William Scott Wilson’s new book, The One Taste of Truth: Zen and the Art of Drinking Tea. We learn that Juko, a somewhat obscure Zen priest, was struggling with some attitude issues. Wilson writes that he was “troubled by his own slack attitude toward his priestly superiors and the fact that meditation simply put him to sleep.” Juko conferred with a doctor, who prescribed tea, and Juko then went on to build a small thatched hut for tea drinking, hang a scroll in the alcove for inspiration, and not only seemed to turn his personal issues around but also set in place an aesthetic and spiritual direction lasting centuries. That’s quite a cup of tea. The first myth most of us hear about drinking green tea is that Bodhidharma, the First Ancestor of Chan (Japanese: Zen) Bud- dhism, was so sincere about staying wakeful that he yanked off his eyelids. Wherever they landed, tea plants sprouted, becoming the brew of choice for future enlightenment-seeking monks. In The One Taste of Truth, Wilson, one of the foremost trans- lators of traditional Japanese texts on samurai culture, offers us a more developed, exquisite invitation to the dance of tea cul- ture, its history, and its evolution alongside Zen. In his introduc- tion, he informs us that true ceremonial tea drinking began with PHOTOBYLIZAMATTHEWS THE ONE TASTE OF TRUTH: Zen and the Art of Drinking Tea by William Scott Wilson Shambhala Publications, 2013; 256 pp., $14.95 (paperback) REVIEWED BY B ONNIE MYOTAI TREACE Quite a Cup of Tea SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2013 83