Chanoyu, also called chado (literally the "Way of Tea"), is a synthesis of numerous philosophies and arts which culminate into a unique method of preparing and drinking matcha (powdered green tea) and fine cuisine. Cultivated and nourished by the Japanese since the 1500s, Chanoyu is a discipline which transforms simple daily activities into the fine art of life. It is based on Sen Rikyu's seven principals, Make a delicious bowl of tea; lay charcoal so that the water boils; provide a sense of warmth in the winter and coolness in the summer; arrange flowers as they are in a field; be ready ahead of time; be prepared in case it should rain; and with whom you find yourself give every consideration [without fuss]. Practicing these seemingly simply activities one soon discovers how challenging it is to carry them out without fail.
"Tea with us became more than idealization of the form of drinking; it is a religion of the art of life. The beverage grew to be an excuse for the worship of purity and refinement, a sacred function at which the host and guest joined to produce for that occasion the utmost beatitude of the mundane. The tearoom was an oasis in the dreary waste of existence where weary travelers could meet to drink tea from the common spring of art-appreciation. " -The Book of Tea by OKAKURA Kakuzo (1909)
At a tea gathering one leaves behind the everyday world and enters an immaculate space where host and guest enjoy the subtle senses evoked by nature and the passing of time. Entering this space one usually is greeted by a scroll written by a Zen priest and a single flower moist with dew. A light meal is sometimes served and then thick and thin tea prepared along with Japanese sweets. The first serving of tea is koicha, fine quality matcha made thick by adding just enough water to make it flow. Koicha is always a more quiet and introspective part of a tea gathering where all the guests share a single bowl of tea. After the tea is drank the guests ask their host about some of the pieces selected especially for them such as the flower vase, tea caddy and bamboo teascoop, etc. After this the host prepares usucha which is a younger type of matcha and often more bitter so it is made with more water and is whisked to a froth. For usucha the host makes each guest their own bowl of tea and now the mood changes to become lighter and more relaxed. While topics of worldly concerns are left outside, here the conversation often turns to more poetic, congenial and artful topics. There are many occasions which can be honored by the gathering of a few friends for tea. Each occasion is unrepeatable as it is inspired by events in our lives and the changing of seasons, the passage of time. While we sit in the tearoom we watch the light of the day change, the steam rise from the kettle and listen to the birds in the garden and the pouring of water from a moist bamboo ladle. In this way it is said tea and zen have the same taste.
Wabi is the root of Chanoyu. While many objects which possess the wabi aesthetic are easily discernible it is the feeling, or way of life of wabi which is most difficult to convey. Wabi is a beauty that may seem superficially impoverished and unrefined. Internally, however, it stores a depth of richness and purity; ultimately a way of living and interacting with the world. Rikyu preferred this poem to express his feelings on wabi,
To those who wait
Only for flowers,
Show them a spring
Of grass amid the snow
In a mountain village
-Fujiwara no Ietaka
"Always bear in mind that wabi involves not regarding incapacities as incapacitating, not feeling that lacking something is deprivation, not thinking that what is not provided is deficiency. To regard incapacity as incapacitating, to feel that lack is deprivation, or to believe that not being provided for is poverty. This is not wabi but the spirit of a pauper." - Sen Rikyu
Sen Rikyu had also said that the practice of Chanoyu embodies the four virtues of harmony, respect, purity and tranquility. As we immerse ourselves in this discipline these virtues become more and more apparent and it is not until the first three are achieved that we can finally experience tranquility.
Each student learns essentially the same procedures for making tea depending on the environment, season and items used to make the tea. The procedures learned by each student are from an tradition extending back through the past 500 years. In the Zen tradition there are procedures followed within a temple or monastery which have been established to provide a focused environment so that one can concentrate solely on one's meditative practice. It is said the the procedures are for practice but not practice for the procedures. Chanoyu ultimately is no different. The procedures create the space for the practice, provide respect and cultivate concentration. They are a way for us to shed our self-centered ideas so that we can meet others in harmony and tranquility. A bowl of tea made with a pure heart and received with gratitude has the ability to quench both our physical and spiritual thirst. The study of chanoyu is more demanding than one might think. Great attention is given to body mechanics, spacial awareness and how we move, behave and interact within a small sacred space. Chanoyu makes us focus on the present moment and not on what might happen five seconds, minutes or hours from now. Again, tea and zen are the same taste.