The Arrogance of Sado (tea ceremony)
by, 10-10-2010 at 01:37 (5641 Views)
First things first:
I have nothing against people practicing tea ceremony (Sado or Chado) or against making tea. I am fond of green tea now that I have acquired a taste for it, so allow me to put any murmuring to rest immediately. I have attended sado and watched otomae several times, whether I liked it or not, and personally I believe it takes a lot of skill and discipline to be accomplished at it. Perhaps, Sado is one of the toughest arts around and truly, hats off to those that undertake it. However, the idea of person in the tea ceremony is something I want to focus on here, and the crux of my reason for writing this.
As a primer, for anyone not familiar with Sado, please take a look at this Wikipedia article:
to see it:
Anyone familiar with a sado setting knows that it usually takes place with a visual aid of some kind. Art, nature, architectural, whatever. Not all schools do this- in that case the focus is on the making of the tea. Along with this there is an extreme, highly ritualized ceremony that is borderline robotic in order to make the tea. As a whole, these practitioners view this as the "proper" way to make tea and aspire to be one of the great soshoha (tea philosophers) of yesteryear. It's from this I take great issue, and propose that the art of tea ceremony unto itself is simply a rote practice in materialism and hubris. It's "me-ism" in it's finest form. Look at me, look how great I am at otomae...look at the great and expensive chawan (tea cups) and art I have (conversation generally gravitates to this), my fine hiki-cha (ground tea), I only buy the finest for my guests. The whole thing is a spectacle, aimed at everything else but the simple enjoyment of tea in a nice setting. There's no focus on anything but the making of the tea in a propped up atmosphere. The whole thing, in my opinion, is phony. Simplicity is not a complex task, regardless of what anyone thinks. Once something becomes complex, basic and rational thinking leads to the conclusion that all simplicity is lost.The setting is nothing, the tea is valued at nothing more than its expense and fame (some of the most expensive tea is downright awful tasting and bitter IMHO) and the wares are valued in terms of their expense and the fame of their manufacture. (The design may be horrible, but hey, it's from a famous Kyoto school). This all leads up into "look at how great I am at making tea" where the simple act is turned into a ritual, natural movement is transformed into a robot dance with the function almost completely lost- even turning the washing of the tea cups into a ritual that subtracts from the true flavor and beauty and the setting which you are in. That is to say, the ceremony itself is a distraction. I would rather be handed tea and sweets without being pulled away from the setting.
There's nothing special about making tea, there's no set way to make it. There's no letter from the tea diety telling everyone the secret formula. It's water and dried, ground leaves for the love of Pete. There's no proper way to do this and that. These are egotistical lies one tells themselves to make themselves feel relevant, or to cast worship and praise on someone else who considers themselves above the rest. At the root of this is simple, unabated hubris- the kind one finds in a child. There is a great amount of claptrap on how cultured and civilized "we are" or "I am" because of doing it. It goes deep in to the psyche, reflecting some unknown passion to be watched, to feel worthy and to show off your expensive wares. Furthermore, sado has been viewed as the height of refined behavior in Japan, one that is almost unearthly and deserving reverence. To accompany this notion, there is a well known saying made by Sanyo Rai at the turn of the 19th century which goes:
"Those who do not know the art of tea ceremony are uncivilized."
This could be father from the truth, IMHO and this could be easily countered with "those who do know the art of tea ceremony are spoiled children". You are not going to find a farmer's wife taking 15 minutes to make her husband a cup of tea. That is WASTED TIME in the real world, and most people (especially the lower caste of old Japan) have jobs and a family to tend to. Most people but the social elite and useless aristocracy who already view themselves as better than other people and have oodles of time to waste. Those who historically would not mix outside their caste because it was "unclean" and beneath them. That assumes that the true simple life is beneath you and that those not following your ways (or in this art-form) are beneath you. That, unfortunately, is elitism and the root of unchained hubris.
To the first time foreign viewer, this is simply something curious, a novelty. The practitioners have a chance to play directly to a virgin audience and to show how refined they are. They giggle at the foreign mannerisms and lack of knowledge about a subject that has no more cultural significance than a few brief swallows. That is to say, making a simple act into some drawn out ritual is not the mark of high culture, but of latent elitism and hubris at it's highest level.
Enter in the Zen argument. It's a form of meditation. It's a form of self control and balance. Meanwhile, outside your doors people are suffering and in need of your help...but don't bother to look, one's too busy "getting into oneself" to bother. The real world is of no concern and a distraction. Block that out. What one is doing is more important than the rest of the world. Sound familiar? In the West, we have a word for this. Selfish. Don't pay attention to the pain and suffering of others, be at ease with it and think about nothing. Ugg. Shut the door, a storm is coming and if we pretend it's not there, it will go away. Usually that never works and it gets worse and more damage is done, but any other problems that spurn from the original can be ignored too. But of course, make sure your guests are well cared for, after all that will make you look better as a tea master.
Materialism is a MAJOR problem in Japan. It's true of other cultures as well, but there is at least a social recognition and a movement against it. In Japan it's almost expected. Not everyone thinks that way and there are those who are against the whole thing, but there is a obvious general cultural tendency. Putting this in perspective, let's say we turn sado into say, "Bag-do". There is a propensity to own name brand bags like Gucci in Japan and there is a "mania" that follows with it socially, so this is an easy jump to make.
Let's say you are invited to a bag-do ceremony, where a woman puts her makeup and wallet into the bag. You sit and watch as the bag is presented, to which you ask the maker of the bag. You are allowed to hold it, albeit in a certain way. It's rotated in a robotic manner so you can look at the fine design and wonder at it's sheer materialism. Each item to go into the bag is laid out in front of you, then carefully placed in the bag with little or no wasted motion. Finally, after 25 minutes, the bag is ready to be worn. Only in the prescribed manner of course, whether or not it is practical. It's uncivilized to do otherwise.
Sound ridiculous? Well, it is. Completely and utterly so. Not only has the worship of a material item like an expensive bag been put on display, but the very way you pack it is under circumspection to make you more "proper" and "right" in owning the bag. It's taken materialism and hubris and placed it above the truth that the bag is only as useful as what it's supposed to do. That is the simplicity and beauty of the bag, drowned out. Function is no longer important.
Anyway, I have been invited to a tea ceremony this afternoon, this fine Autumn day perhaps ruined. Let's see if I can show them that the only thing important is the tea and the setting and that I could not care less about their hubris and fine cups, without making them too mad!