Tea Ceremony is a Buddhist Practice 

Teaching in Nanbo Roku

Nanbo Roku (A Record of Nanbo, or Southern Records), is a historical masterpiece formulated in 17th century by Nanbo Sokei, a Rikyu"s disciple. In the past three centuries, this narrative biography has been taught as the most important textbook of Japanese tea ceremony. The close relationship between tea and Buddhism is elucidated in the first chapter. Tea ceremony, like Zazen, meditation, nenbutsu, is a kind of spiritual life to achieve fulfillment.


“Master Soeki replied, In the style of 'small-room-tea' the self-discipline and spiritual attainment are to be achieved, first of all, through the spirit of Buddhism. Taking pleasure in the imposing construction of the tea-house and in the rare delicacy of food is an affair of the mundane world. However it is quite sufficient for a man to live in a house with a roof which does not leak and eat just enough to keep away hunger. This is nothing but the teaching of the Buddha, and accordingly the essential spirit of the art of tea as well. Carrying water into the house, gathering firewood, boiling water, making tea, offering it to the Buddha, giving it to one’s fellow-men and also drinking it himself. Arranging flowers and burning incense. All these are nothing other than a practice trying to follow the trace of the deeds of the Buddha himself and Bodhidharma. As for further elucidation of the significance of the art of tea, it depends on you, the most eminent monk, yourself to bring it to light.”

Source: Sōkei, Nanbō. "A Record of Nanbō." The Theory of Beauty in the Classical Aesthetics of Japan. Springer Netherlands, 1981. 135-158.

Tea Ceremony in Jodo Shinshu Temples

Today, tea ceremony is still an important service to Buddha and monks. Every May, Jodo Shinshu temples host tea ceremony in memory of Shinran Shonin’s birth.

750th Shinran Shonin Birthday Service in Higashi Honganji, Kyoto, 2012 (copyright Urasenke school)

Shinran Shonin Birthday Service in Hongwanji, Kyoto, 2015 May (copyright Asahi shinbun)

History Between Jodo Shinshu and Tea Ceremony

Ekoji, located in the Washington DC Metro area, is a Jodo Shinshu temple. Since 14th century, Jodo Shinshu has built a cultural and religious connection with tea in Japan. Tea is served to Buddha and monks in respect to its religious meaning. Tea utensils were found in a biographic paining scroll of the 3rd generation. Figure below is from the Volume V, Section 3 of Bokie Scroll 慕帰絵詞. On the upper left corner, four Tenmoku 天目 tea bowls with holders 台子 are placed in a large lacquer tray. In the small lacquer tray next to the large tray are four tea containers 棗、茶入. Chasen 茶筅 is laid beneath the lacquer tray. There are several water jars 水指 on the lower floor of the shelf. In the corridor, a young monk holds a ladle 水杓, and takes care of a water boiler. This scene depicts a Waka meeting, organized by the 3rd generation for writing his Waka 和歌 collection 閑窓集. His Waka collection was published in 1315. It is clear by early 14th century, tea has become adopted by Jodo Buddhist. However, as for the purpose of such tea drinking activity, it is more likely a service to the attendants of the Waka meeting, who are the court officials and royals, simply for entertainment or refreshment other than any religious mind. It is unclear whether the tea drinking behavior in Jodo temple was passed from Zen Buddhist, or a bottom up influence by the secular world. The use of Tenmoku tea bowl and Chasen indicates such style was identical to Chinese Song, instead of a direct descendant of the Court Style that inherited from Chinese Tang of some 500 years before. This is in good accordance with the history. Tea was originally imported from China in 9th century, then almost disappeared for several hundred years with only sporadic records in the court, and reimported again by Zen Buddhist. Yabunouchi family was first officially invited by the 13th generation to serve tea at Hongwanji in 1640. This begins the 370 year tradition of serving tea to the Monshu of Hongwanji in every January.

New Year Service to Hongwanji Monshu (copyright Yabunouchi School)

  The connection between Hongwanji and Yabunouchi school tea ceremony peaked in 1795. 18th generation wished an everlasting collaborative relationship with Yabunouchi family, and built tea room Nostalgie in his temple.

Tea Room Nostalgie

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