“Meanwhile, let us have a sip of tea. The afternoon glow is brightening the bamboos, the fountains are bubbling with delight, the soughing of the pines is heard in our kettle. Let us dream of evanescence, and linger in the beautiful foolishness of things.”

This is just one of many serene scenes painted for us by Okakura Kakuzo in his Book of Tea. I was reminded of the verse while visiting the gardens and tearooms of Kyoto last month. 

But how can we linger in beauty when our minds are filled with the accumulated clutter of the day? 

Alan Watts recounts the old story of a learned man who came to a teacher to inquire. The master politely invited his visitor to share a cup of tea while they had their discussion. When the master had prepared the tea by the strict procedures of the tea ceremony, he began to pour the whisked matcha into the visitor’s cup. He continued pouring until the cup overflowed. 

Finally, the discomforted seeker cried out “Sir, my cup is already full. No more will go in!” 

At once the master put down the teapot and proclaimed, “Like this cup, you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you the spirit of tea, unless you first empty your cup?”

If we are mindful and enter the day with an empty cup, we recognize the tea spirit (teaism) in our daily activities—making a cup of tea, gardening, painting, making music, writing, cooking, and even sweeping. Okakura reminds us that “one of the first requisites of a tea master is the knowledge of how to sweep, clean, and wash, for there is an art in cleaning and dusting.” 

One of several meditation gardens at Daikotuji Temple, Kyoto, Japan.
 If we find teaism in the humble act of wielding a broom, we find contentment. 

Or, as the Tao Te Ching teaches, simply be

Or, as the English housewife instructs, have a cuppa tea.
Or, as The Book of Tea says, “Within the mystical teacup, the little thing becomes the great thing. Those who cannot feel the littleness of great things in themselves are apt to overlook the greatness of little things in others.”

Or, as I might suggest, go forth into every morning with an empty cup and see what beautiful foolishness comes your way!

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