Tea and temples – Posture and gesture

We worked at Nakamura’s until dark, and still had a ways to go to finish binding our journals. Nakamura showed us the final steps, gave us a sample and then packed up our books for us to finish when we get home (assured that we have the correct tools, since I can do simple bookbinding). We walked down the hill back to the bus, our way lit by iPads and the occasional bug meeting a sad end on the electric fences that enclosed some of the farms.

Dinner, cooked for us by Gufu (Atsko’s husband) was a warm and welcome sight. We had a wonderful rice curry, piquant shallot pickles and a warm banana dessert, scented with cardomom and cloves. After dinner we browed Gufu’s field notes from his travels in India, beautifully detailed, with careful sketches in lieue of photographs (since he doesn’t own a camera). We all agreed that we could aspire to this kind of note keeping in any of our fields.

This morning most of the group went up to the ana zenjo temple to hike up to the top of the dragon falls, and (contemplatively) wiggle and wend their way through the crevices to see the dragon. The hike is too steep for my knee, so I stayed back at Yama no gakko to write and walk along the river. It was a warm morning and many older people were out enjoying the sun, which gave me lots of practice in bowing and saying “ohayu gozaimasu” (good morning).

The rocks were a tight fit at the temple, so much so that the woman leading the group had them tie their white pilgrims jackets on the side, not in front, so as not to give them even an inch less freedom to slip between the rocks. Each person had a candle, making the journey that much more difficult.

A quick, but beautiful bento lunch back at Yama no gakko and we were off again, this time to particpate in a (semi)formal tea ceremony. We visited the local tea teacher (it takes about 25 years to earn your license as a teacher of the tea ceremony). She demonstrated the ceremony with the “sensei” (the teachers – Hank, I and Atsko) and then served each of the students tea and a sweet in the formal manner. Thankfully this was a teaching moment and not the far more challenging formal tea ceremony. Even following Hank’s example, and earlier briefing, I had a difficult time with the rubric.

Since I can’t sit seiza – the experience provided me with an interesting meditation on posture. It felt clumsy to bow from the position I could sit in, and to bend over to examine the tea cup when I was through drinking, though I am certainly flexible enough to do so. When we get back after break, in my class we’ll be talking about the ways in which the contemplative communities that grew out of the desert eremite tradition shaped their rule of life to foster contemplation and prayer. What role do posture and gesture play in these rules? How do we shape our bodies in order to give shape to our meditation and prayer?

The tea teacher talked a bit about the background of the ceremony (with Hank providing translation), which is modeled on the Catholic mass. The careful purification of the vessels, and in some traditions, the sharing of a single cup, certainly evoke the movements of the Eucharistic celebration.

I am writing this down by the river behind Yama no gakko, finding it hard to imagine that at this time tomorrow night we will be pulling into a hotel parking lot near Kansai Airport, ready to fly home on Monday morning. The trip has given us many threads to pull into our courses when we return, and I am looking forward to some rich and engaging conversations back in Bryn Mawr’s halls.

One thought on “Tea and temples – Posture and gesture

  1. I'm sad the trip is coming to an end as I have made this journey with you all in spirit. Loved the tea ceremony and the way serving is presented. How simple it is just to be thankful to serve. I wonder what the students thoughts were when they were participating in this ceremony. Too bad I can not be in class with you when you return I would love to hear what the students have to share. Thank you for allowing me to travel with you. Gracias (since I can not say it in Japanese ).Ivonne

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