When you enter the compound that comprises the tea-area, you first pass through a rustic garden paved with stepping-stones, lined with moss and greenery. Next you step under the inner gate before reaching the primitive hermitage in which tea is served. This preliminary area serves as the boundary that simultaneously separates and connects the outer everyday world, and the inner rustic and sacred tea-area. Its meaning and purpose is as well symbolic as practical.
While such a tea-compound may most commonly be found in city centers, surrounded by bustling streets and office buildings, advancing through a tea garden symbolizes the transition a participant makes from the hectic everyday world into the unworldly and austere area of tea. Surprisingly somehow, the busyness of the mundane and the sounds of its immediate outer precincts are completely shut out in this enclosure.
Practically, the garden allows the participant to envision this journey as a means to relax, temporarily take distance from practical matters and for a moment is freed from worldly conceptions and boundaries. In the past, the rite of tea was mostly a practice enjoyed by the samurai warrior-caste. For them, being part of an uncompromising vertical hierarchy must have been burdensome. In this respect, the tea area provided a relief from the strict modes of conduct that were associated with their social status. Moreover, a tea-occasion accommodated interaction with persons whom the participant would otherwise not be able to speak face to face with, allowed for personal expression which would on the other hand be unacceptable, and constituted an area of peace in which even foes would be able to share a bowl of tea.
For the warrior, participating in a tea gathering meant that he would enter the area of tea unarmed. Considering that the tea-chamber is a peaceful establishment, this corresponds to the necessity to guarantee every participant’s safety. However, while in the secular world a warrior would never leave his sword unattended (not even when asleep), why would he agree to do so in the tea area?
In the materialistic world, the sword is not only the highest token of his warrior status; a warrior would care for it as if it were his heart and soul. Society implies that without it, his worth is nihil and that should he loose his soul, he would be no one. In the tea-area however, participants are temporarily freed from social shackles, and are allowed to be the person who they in essence are. When the warrior leaves his sword at the entrance, he symbolically parts from his material self and civil obligations.
What this illustrates is that the rite of tea is not only a means to relax and refresh ourselves; it also implies that we take up the burden of social roles and status to the extent that we suppress or try to cover up the human being we essentially are. Moreover, considering that the tea-chamber is constructed in a space that is explicitly unworldly, it suggests that ‘being who we essentially are’ is unacceptable or inconvenient for society, and that we are obliged to distance ourselves from social standing in order to have peace.
It is my wish that someday we no longer need to explicitly seek for remote environments in order to be allowed the freedom to be the human being we at our core are, and to be respected, and respect others for it. It is my belief that such a world, rich in understanding, compassion and empathy can constitute a peaceful and better world, just as it has proven to be possible within the compounds of a small tea hermitage. It is my dream that I can contribute to realising this world by introducing the peaceful atmosphere of the exclusive tea-area into our daily lives.
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