The Urasenke Chado Tradition

The Urasenke Tradition of Tea originated with Sen no Rikyu, the 16th-
century tea master who perfected the Way of Tea. Urasenke Chado has
been transmitted to the present by sixteen generations of grand masters
dedicated to preserving the teachings of Rikyu.

A student once asked Rikyu to summarize the most important teachings
of tea, hoping for a glimpse of some secret teaching he had not yet
learned. Rikyu responded, “ First you must make a delicious bowl of tea;
lay the charcoal so the water boils; arrange the flowers as they are in the
field; in the summer suggest coolness, in the winter, warmth; do
everything ahead of time; prepare for rain; and give those with whom
you find yourself every consideration.” The student was disappointed
with this response, and said he already knew all that. Rikyu told him if he
could do all that well, then Rikyu would be his student. This teaching is
known as Rikyu’s Seven Rules. If we explore each of these rules in some
detail, we can understand a little better how the study of Tea can help
us in our daily lives.

Make a delicious bowl of tea.
The primary purpose of making tea is to serve a delicious bowl of tea to
the guest, and this means ensuring the water and tea are fresh and
good tasting, that we pay attention to the temperature of the water
and the proportions of tea and water, and that we whisk the tea
thoroughly. But Rikyu encourages a deeper level of engagement when
we make a bowl of tea our heart must be in it. We must prepare the tea
with the simple desire that the guest will find it delicious, and with no
added attachment to the guest’s recognition of the effort we have put
into preparing it.  Whether we are making a bowl of tea, responding to
an inquiry, or helping someone at work, be wholehearted.

Lay the charcoal so the water boils.
To lay the charcoal fire is not easy and can be daunting, but this is an
essential task to do, and do well, in order to prepare a bowl of tea. How
often do we hold back from a task because we find it difficult, or we
want to do something else right now, or we have felt stung by criticism,
or our ego is otherwise stuck on this task in one of any number of ways.
In the Zen meditation hall we are told: just bow, just chant, just have
some tea. It’s the same in the tearoom: just place that utensil there, just
fold the wiping cloth, just lay the charcoal. And it’s how we need to be
in our daily lives:  just sweep, just make breakfast, just mow the lawn,
just help your child with homework, just clean up after yourself. This is a
lifetime practice of simply doing what needs to be done with a lightness
of spirit.

Arrange the flowers as they are in the field.
Flower arranging for tea is somewhat different from the formal
arrangement of flowers known as ikebana. Rikyu placed one or two
flowers in a simple container, and arranged them in one movement,
without adjusting them once they are in the container. But how does
one ensure that they look good?  First of all, arranging the flowers as
they are in the field requires that we pay attention to them as they are
growing, and not just cut them without regard for their natural habitat
and growth patterns. Which ones are tall or short? Do they droop down
or stand up straight? What are they growing near? If we respect these
attributes of flowers as we observe them, cut them, and bring them to
the tearoom, then placing them in the vase becomes much simpler.

The same is true in our daily lives. If we learn to pay attention, to
observe what is going on, without judgment or opinion,we will appreciate
things as they are. If we pay attention to people, observe and get to
know them, without immediately adding our opinions about how we
want them to be, we will be to appreciate them and their own unique
qualities, just as they are.

In the summer, suggest coolness; in the winter, warmth.
In the tearoom we devote our attention to creating an atmosphere in
which the guests can enjoy themselves. This does not mean that the
heat or air conditioning is adjusted to make a perfect climate, but that
we celebrate the unique aspects of each season. For example, we may
hang a scroll in the tearoom that speaks of cool mountain breezes during
the summer, or serve warm sweets with the tea in winter. A portable
brazier is used in summer and placed as far from the guests as possible, to
prevent them from feeling its heat. In October it is moved closer to the
guests, and then in November it is put away in favor of the sunken
hearth in the middle of the tearoom, where guests can feel the warmth
of the charcoal fire and see its burning embers. Instead of shielding
ourselves from climate or circumstances, or complaining about them, we
accept them and find some enjoyment in them. We can do this for
ourselves anytime, any place, simply being where we are and accepting
what comes our way. If we can appreciate a slight breeze in the heat of
summer, or the feel of a warm bowl of tea in the midst of winter, how
much more our enjoyment of life will be.

Do everything ahead of time.
For a tea gathering, as for any event, we allow enough time to prepare
so that we are not going into the event feeling rushed and unready. On
an even more fundamental level, though, if we are running late, we are
wasting our guests’ time. If we consider this deeply, we are wasting our
own time. Our lifespan is short, that to delay is to waste a most precious
and non-renewable resource.  We may spend much of our time in a
daydream, enjoying a fantasy or planning what we’ll do at some future
date, instead of being fully present with each breath, each moment as it
is. This rule of Rikyu’s is so simple, but so difficult to practice. Don’t waste

Prepare for rain.
In a tea gathering, this means that the host will have umbrellas and clogs
for the guests, since they will pass through a garden at some time during
the gathering. In the event that it is rainy, or snowy, the host may need
to have some alternative plans to occupy the guests during the time
they would normally be in the garden. On a deeper level, though, we
understand this rule to mean having the ability to act in whatever
circumstances arise. While we can plan for some possible occurrences,
we cannot plan for everything, and so we need to be able to act from a
place of freedom and open-heartedness responding in a straightforward
way as a situation unfolds. What if something spills? Wipe it up and move
on. Don’t agonize over it. How wonderful to be able to do this in any

Give those with whom you find yourself every consideration.
It has been said that the way of tea is not really the way of tea, but the
way of host and guest, of relationship. This rule sums up all that have
gone before. “Those with whom you find yourself” are not just the
guests, but the utensils, the charcoal fire, the flowers, the tearoom, the
season and setting – all aspects of this phenomenal world. And what
does it mean to show them every consideration? An expression from the
Judeo-Christian tradition is “Do unto others as you would have them do
unto you.” If we care for our guests, as we ourselves would want to be
treated, it becomes very clear what we need to do for them, in a very
specific way. If we extend the same care to the utensils, the flowers,
the space we inhabit, the chores we do, the day and time we find
ourselves in, we find ourselves connecting with the truth that underlies
this rule. We are not separate from our guests, or from the tea bowls,
flowers, tasks, or planet and its atmosphere. To practice this rule
wholeheartedly, without reservation or hesitation, is to enter this truth.
And as we enter this truth, we find we can take up the tasks of our life
in any setting – the tearoom, our home and work place - with more
energy and commitment than ever before.
U  R  A  S  E  N  K  E
Transmitting the living art of Chado, the Way of Tea,
through harmony, respect, purity and tranquility

5125 40th Avenue N.E., Seattle, WA 98105    T: (206) 328 6018   mitchell@urasenkeseattle.org


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