It is bright and clear this San Francisco morning as I arrive for my tea lesson. I climb the steps of an ordinary looking building, walk through the door, and enter the world of tea. The fragrance of incense and the gentle rustling of my sensei’s kimono greet me from behind the white paper doors of the tea room. I peer around the entrance and join her as she builds a fire in the brazier. It is a perfect fire. She knows exactly where to lay the charcoal, and it burns with ruby red intensity.
I imagine my sensei at home in the deep woods, tending a campfire. I tell her this, but she says she can’t imagine carrying heavy loads through the woods. We laugh at the thought of it, and it occurs to me that she doesn’t need to go anywhere. She is already there.
This is the feeling of the tea room, the feeling deep at the core of Chanoyu, the Way of Tea. It is a place where, even in the midst of the city, you feel the peace and tranquillity of a mountain hut. A place where worldly cares disappear.
Walking I reach where
the waters well forth
Sitting, I watch the moment
– Wang Wei (699-759)
We sit quietly by the newly made fire and I feel our companionship. We don’t need to go backpacking into the mountains. The great serenity and profound nature of mountain, desert, and ocean can be found here, in a single bowl of tea.
When Rikyu, Japan’s legendary sixteenth century tea master, was asked the secret of the Tea Ceremony, he replied, “‘Lighting the fire. Boiling the water. Whisking the tea.” “Well, that seems easy to do,” said the student. Rikyu responded, “If you can truly do this, then I will become your student. “