The Yellow House

Fifth tea ceremony of 2020: Today’s Japanese tea ceremony was held in the shrine room at the Yellow House, home of the Omena Karma Kagyu Buddhist Study Group. The shrine room is exactly what it sounds like, a room with an altar for many statues of Buddhas and deities and Tibetan holy things. My specific knowledge of Tibetan Buddhism is limited. I do know that practices include many meditations for the wellness of all sentient beings, which is nice. While preparing the space, I was informed that the first bowl of tea was to be offered to the Buddhas. This gave me a moment of pause… tea ceremony is not religious. How to do this, stay true to the ceremony, and respectful of my guests?

There were three guests this morning, all seated on chairs. To keep things simple, I planned to bring each bowl of matcha to each guest. In a way, I had to assist myself: whisk each bowl, deliver each bowl, get a new bowl, retrieve each empty bowl. It sounds more complicated that it actually ended up being. To solve the Buddhas’ bowl of tea dilemma, I simply made the first guest two bowls of tea, and she brought a tea sweet and the first bowl of tea to the shrine/altar. After that, everything flowed like a regular ceremony, except for my being both hostess and ohonto (assistant). Lots of up and down with this!

Todays’s temae was nishiki-datte, a four-panel chabako ceremony. The box ceremonies are so much fun…the attention to each of the implements as they are taken out of the box, out of their holders, and arranged for purification and use; the visual pleasure of everything in its place with comfortable spacing, all these make me smile, even now, as I am writing. In Tibetan and Chinese culture the symbol of the bat is used in both secular and religious art. I found a small watercolor print of two bats, which represents “extreme happiness,” and brought it for the makeshift tokonoma. The tea was Matcha Delight, the sweet, candied lotus seeds. I brought a small vase of dried grasses and seed pods from my yard. I needn’t have worried about the flowers, though, as there were orchids and amaryllis bulbs, and many other plants in the shrine room.

As always, after the ceremony we talked a bit about the significance of specific aspects of the tea ceremony. I think almost every time I use the chabako (box ceremony), the Q&A includes the question about the furadashi. The furadashi is the small container that looks like a jar with a cork top that contains extra sweets. It is the one implement that never actually gets used in the tea ceremony. We put it out at the beginning, and put it away at the end. Other than that, it just sits there. And, of all the things that happen in the tea ceremony, the fact that it never gets used seems to be of great concern to many guests! I am grateful for their rapt attention. Even more so, I am excited to listen to them put into words the experience that we shared, this thing of being together fully for a short time and bowl of tea.

Doing these traveling or pop-up tea ceremonies, I bring everything necessary with me. I am able to set up a simple space that as best as possible establishes the boundaries of both the physical and metaphorical tea space. Today, the sparse Japanese zen-like tea space in the colorful, abundantly decorated Tibetan shrine room created a beautiful juxtaposition. Thank you to my friends at the Yellow House.

With gratitude,