Cha Dao - The Way Of Tea - A daily practice sitting with tea

What is Cha Dao?


Cha Dao, with Cha is Tea and Dao is The Way in Chinese, means The Way of Tea. It is a practice that is rooted in the philosophy of Dao, Daoism in China.

The Chinese character for tea is recorded in the eighth-century treatise on tea The Classic of Tea by Lu Yu. This character has three parts: the top part 艹 refers to leaves or plants, the middle part 人 represents person and the bottom part 木 means wood or "being rooted".  Each of these parts reminds us of the essential factors for harvesting and creating tea: trees, people, and leaves. In the book "Cha Dao", author Solala Towler shared, "Thus the true meaning of cha or tea could mean something like the plant that gives human a sense of being rooted or balanced."

Daoism (or Taoism) is the native philosophy from ancient China, dating back thousands of years. It was the philosophy that Chan Buddhism was influenced by. Chan Buddhism is an early form of Zen Buddhism in the ancient time. Zen and its ideas can be traced back to Daoism and Mahayana Buddhism.

Cha Dao, The Way of Tea, goes beyond just a hot cup of tea, it is the way of living in harmony with nature and following the natural flow of the universe. The practice with tea in Cha Dao is all about listening, not only with the sense of hearing, but with our whole being. It is in deep listening that we can connect deeper to our true essence and with the world around us. The Way of Tea, in general, encourages a life of slower pace, a life of being in tune with the rhythm of nature, a life of honoring our deep bonds with life itself, a life of being fully engaged while letting go of our personal judgments and the need to control.

How a daily Cha Dao practice can look like?

 Since Cha Dao is the way of living following the natural flow of life (or the universe), there are a few key principles in the practice:

  • Slowing living & being present: A tea sitting, or a tea ceremony is a practice for this. In Japanese tea ceremony, there is a famous saying 一期一会 "I chi go, I chi e" means one time, one meeting. Tea sitting helps us to practice mindfulness and honoring life in every single moment. It is a practice that encourages us to use our senses to be in our body and in the present moment a lot more effortlessly.
  • Finding & following the least resistant path (The Watercourse Way in Daoism): Water always flows to the lower level, it always follows the least resistant path yet it can cut through rocks and stones with its resilience and patience. Water is the metaphor to leaning on to your nature, using your softness and flexibility as strength, and being humble in life. This can be practiced in a tea sitting, and importantly throughout every waking minute of our life.
  • The joy of being simple and unpolished (The Uncarved Block or P'u in Daoism): It is the concept of living simply, naturally, uncluttered and unpolished. Solala Towler, in "Cha Dao", mentioned, "It is when we allow outside pressures and complications to take up residence within us that we run into trouble and lose our sense of safety and spontaneity, which is to Daoists is very serious indeed." This can be practice in our day to day lifestyle, it can be in any decision we make in our life. With the intention of living simply, not cluttering our outer or inner world, we can see ourselves subtracting and doing less instead of accumulating and always wanting more.

A daily sitting with tea:

A daily sitting with tea, for me, is part of my daily meditation practice. A sitting with tea is simple, you just need some tea and some equipment to brew the tea. Equipment are varies with the simplest is a bowl or a glass, or a full set of tea ware.

The most important aspect of a tea sitting is to meditate with each and every single moment, from setting up the tea space, preparing, brewing, serving tea, and packing everything down.

A tea sitting, ideally, would be in silence so that you can really rest into the present moment to listen. In a previous article, I have shared about "connecting with your senses in a tea sitting". You can read more on it here.

Similar to any meditation practice, the mind wants to do its own thing which is generating thoughts. Thoughts happen to us almost all the time. It's a natural thing to be a human. One of the misunderstanding of a meditation practice is that you have to empty your thoughts. What is crucial about meditation is that it is a practice of letting go of your personal judgments on how things should be a certain way. It means letting go of your expectation as well. So, let go of the need to control your practice and the goal that your mind has to be totally empty.

In a tea meditation practice, with some actions of making the tea and using your senses as anchors, your mind is trained to focus on the task at hand. This is the first step in meditation. The second step is to keep returning to your anchors again and again. Whenever your mind slips away, you can bring it back.

Three bowls of tea are suggested for the practice. With each bowl, allow yourself time to enjoy it slowly; and notice your mind will be a lot calmer the longer your tea sitting goes.

Tea sitting with The Grounded Circle in Auckland Central

In Auckland Central, I host Tea sitting (or called Tea meditation/ Tea ceremony) monthly at The Grounded Circle, a community I founded in 2022. In our tea sitting, everyone is welcome (includes +16 kids) as the essence of gathering with tea is to bring the community together. Around the tea table, there is never an indication of hierarchy, and every guest is equally unique and important.

We usually share different tea in different seasons to honor the cycles of nature of all living beings. In a tea sitting, we usually share some bowls or cups of tea together in noble silence.

There are 3 types of tea traditions that we serve at the our tea meditation sessions:

- Gongfu cha (a popular tea tradition from Southern China) with small tea pot and little tea cups.

- Side handle pot & bowl (an ancient ritual of drinking tea from a bowl), this practice was recently being put together into a bowl tea ceremony by an organisation named Global Tea Hut. So the ritual and the way of bowl tea drinking is ancient, but the hand movements in this ceremony were put together by Master Wu De, the founder of Global Tea Hut.

- Bowl Tea meditation (an ancient way of brewing tea) with no "ceremonial" rules. The essence of this practice is in its simplicity so that we can go deeper into our meditation practice without the performance aspect of a tea ceremony.

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