Tea & The Watercourse Way - Sitting in a Tea meditation practice in Auckland

Since ancient times, water has been considered as the mother of tea. Tea was first boiled in water, and tea, these days, is still being brewed in water. One of the ways to improve the quality of tea is to prepare water considerately.

"Water is the mother of tea, the teapot its father, and fire the teacher" ~ Chinese proverb.

The Dao (Tao, translated as The Way) itself is first described as "The Watercourse Way" by Alan Watts (in his "Tao The Watercourse Way" book collaborating with Al Chung-liang Huang in 1975). He mentioned, "Tao is the flowing course of nature and the universe; li is its principle of order which, following Needham, we can best translate as "organic pattern"; and water is its eloquent metaphor."

In the practice with tea, water is the first element that we would need to take care of. Different type of tea has different requirement for the water. For example, green tea requires water at 160°F to 180°F (70°C to 82°C) while oolong tea needs higher temperature water. Also, the purer and higher quality the water, the better the tea. In ancient times in China, people used to prepare tea with snow water from the mountain. In ancient Vietnam, the servants in the palace also collected morning dew to brew tea for kings.

However, water doesn't only play the role of the "mother" to nurture, warm up, open up and brew the tea leaves. Its significance is also in the essence of the practice.

"Nothing in the world
is as soft and yielding as water.
Yet for dissolving the hard and inflexible,
nothing can surpass it.

The soft overcomes the hard;
the gentle overcomes the rigid.
Everyone knows this is true,
but few can put it into practice.

Therefore the Master remains
serene in the midst of sorrow.
Evil cannot enter his heart.
Because he has given up helping,
he is people’s greatest help.

True words seem paradoxical."

~ Tao Te Ching, verse 78, translated by Stephen Mitchell, 1955

The 7 qualities of Water following the teaching of the Dao

"The supreme good is like water,
which nourishes all things without trying to.
It is content with the low places that people disdain.
Thus it is like the Tao.

In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don’t try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present.

When you are content to be simply yourself
and don’t compare or compete,
everybody will respect you."

~ Tao Te Ching, verse 8, translated by Stephen Mitchell, 1955

  • Humility: Water naturally flows to the lower area. It always seeks the lowest place.
  • Honoring depth: Water gather together and is always willing to to go deep. The deeper part of the ocean is always the stiller part.
  • Generosity & Kindness: Wherever water flows on this planet, the land and all living beings are nurtured.
  • Reflection & Integrity: Calm water mirror its surroundings. Still and clear water shows everything at its bottom.
  • Fairness & Non-judgment: Water doesn't try to control. It is constantly moving and flowing anywhere that is needed.
  • Flexibility & Softness: Water always find the least resistant path. It handles all obstacles with ease.
  • Patience & Resilience: Water takes its time to flow. It can cut through rock and stone over a long period of time. Water follows the order of nature and seasons.

A tea sitting is a beautiful practice to "be like water". In a tea meditation, all its require is the willingness for deep listening. Listening with our whole being to connect within and without. When we use the ocean as a metaphor for our consciousness, our thoughts and feelings are like the waves. There are big waves and there are small waves. The good ones and the bad ones define each other. And they come and go. The more we are willing to just listen and let go of judgments, the deeper we go. And at some points, we might be able to see that we are the ocean itself. There wasn't any separation from the first place. We are small and we are vast. We can go deep and we can flow very far. We are soft and we are strong. We can take our time to find our most natural path of living in this world. We can be like water.

Sharing on Tea practice with The Grounded Circle in Auckland

At The Grounded Circle, I have been hosting Tea ceremony/ Tea meditation/ Tea circle for almost 2 years up to this point. We usually run these sessions 1-2 per months around Auckland Central. My favourite space to run the tea sessions these days is SOMM (The School of Modern Meditation near Kroad, Auckland CBD). Images below show a little bit of the space and our tea setting.

What you could expect in sitting with us in a tea practice:

- Moments of sharing stillness and inner peace.

- Moments of deep connections within yourselves and with the world we live in.

- Moments of encouragement to let go and surrender to things that are no longer serving you.

- Moments of reflection, creativity, and many more beautiful qualities of returning to the Source, to the essence of our spirits.

In this article, I also would like to share in details a few terms that we usually use in the Tea practice.

  • Mindfulness Tea Ceremony: a Chinese, Cha Dao or Vietnamese tea ceremony is a relatively new thing. If you google Chinese tea ceremony or Vietnamese tea ceremony, what comes up are tea ceremonies for weddings. The Chinese tea ceremonies that we have been introduced with these modern days are from the tradition of Gongfu cha (originated from Southern China). Originlally, Gongfu cha is a tea tradition rather than a formal ceremony. The so-called Cha Dao Tea Ceremonies with tea bowls and side handle pots were recently developed by Master Wu De from The Global Tea Hut, a wonderful tea organisation based in Taiwan.
  • Tea meditation: in Vietnamese, we call this Thien Tra (which literally means meditation tea or Zen tea). This is a mindfulness practice that uses all of our senses to guide us through the tea practice.
  • Tea circle: In most tea traditions, the host and the guests gather around a tea table or a tea space in a circle. There is no indication of power in the circle. Every guest is equally important around the circle. A tea circle is a beautiful place to bring people closer together. We don't argue to prove ourselves right and others wrong in tea circle as humility is prioritised over righteousness. A tea circle is a place for deep listening with an open mind and an open heart.

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