Tea meditation is a form of meditation through the act of drinking tea. Tea meditation can be practiced by everyone, of all ages, and of different cultural, social, political, and religious backgrounds. It is a method of engaging ourselves in silence contemplation. Essentially, during the tea meditation, one looks inwardly to see one’s mind as it is, without any effort to interpret or judge. Whether our mind is pure or polluted, clear of confused, we only need to witness it. Once free from making judgment and blame, we’ll be spiritually open, understand ourselves deeper, and become more receptive to embrace others and their points of view.
Symbolic meaning of tea and tea cup
The cup symbolizes our body.
Tea symbolizes our mind.
Like a cup filled with tea, our mind can be filled with either random thoughts of a confused mind, or with the clear, unwavering focus of an enlightening mind. The challenge is to recognize and accept both as they are and become aware of one’s inner states. Enlightening mind or the confused mind…..what will you see in a cup of tea?
The confused mind and the enlightening mind
Confused mind defined as a mental state filled with all random thoughts, images, sounds, and emotions that completely absorb one’s attention and cause one to lose self-awareness.
Enlightening mind is the open-mindedness, the mind that constantly stays open, uncluttered, unbounded, free, and clear. When the enlightening mind appears, one finds oneself at peace; unmoved by the ebb and flow of sensations, urges, thoughts, and worries in one’s daily live. By practicing this enlightening mind, we will eventually unfold the Enlightened Mind, the non-dual mind. Non-dual mind transcends all forms, all conceptualization.
This state of non-duality is symbolized by the emptiness in the cup. In the tea meditation, regardless of our states of mind, either enlightening or confused, when we drink up the tea, we’ll see the emptiness in the cup, or metaphorically, see the true emptiness of the mind. The challenge is to see and experience this emptiness, instead of just seeing the empty cup.
The silent and disengaged, yet very attentive mind in the tea-drinking ceremony is particularly well-suited to the training of meditative awareness. As we go through the motion of drinking tea in the calm and relaxing space of the tea hall, we simply watch the states of mind arising within our awareness. The object of the awareness, either the confused mind or the enlightening mind, is not the focus; the awareness itself is.
TeaMeditation® as a Means for Promoting Self-Awareness, Cross-Cultural Communication, and Conflict-Resolution
Four steps of Tea Meditation
First, we should sit in a comfortable posture: body relaxed, eyes closed, and palms overlapping in the open-hand gesture. Still and unmoving like a tea cup; let focus on the breathing, or on an “energy center” in the body, a mantra, a divine name or image, or any other preferred meditation topic. At the same time, gently be aware of the subjective self, the one that is doing this meditation.
Awareness brings insight. At this second step, we quickly reflect on the mental state of the previous step. Is the manifested mind a confused one or an enlightening one?
- If the enlightening mind manifested, we are in a state of complete focus and clarity. Simply acknowledge it and stay open. By being still and open, we actualize the spirit of equanimity of an enlightening mind.
- If the confused mind manifested, let’s look deeply into its nature. What is its root? What causes that particular thought, image, sensation, or emotion to arise? Usually, our own shadow, our deep schema, or emotional blind spots created by our attachment to a notion of self (ego) is the source of this confused state. Let’s recognize these deep roots without blame, rationalization, or judgment.
To represent the two types of mind, two kinds of tea are served. A very light tea represents the clarity and plainness of the enlightening mind; while a strong, flavorful tea represents the power of addiction a confused mind can entail.
- When experiencing the state of clarity, we simply continue to sit, waiting for the tea to be served. Note: When the tea master is filling your cup with tea, you put your palms together to show respect for the tea and the tea master. Once the cup is filled, both you and the tea master bow to each other.
- When experiencing the confused mind, we push the tea cup further away from our body, as if to see it clearer, and then bow in respect and gratitude. This movement signifies how we differentiate from our embedded ego in order to objectify the ego and be aware of it. Note: During the tea meditation, a bell will be sounded to let you know when to push the tea cup out. After pushing the tea cup out, bow in silence and with respect.
- If the enlightening mind is experienced, the act of drinking tea is the act of unifying inside and outside, spiritual and physical; we acknowledge the inherent serenity, clarity, and luminosity of the enlightening mind.
- If the confused mind is experienced, the act of drinking tea is the act of recognition, accepting, and embracing; it reunites us with our “shadows”, our inner depths. Being aware of the deep undercurrents, we become free from its control.
Either confusion or enlightening, they are all states of mind. They are not to be feared, denied, desired, nor attached to. In tea meditation, we learn to become aware of our inner states of mind and accept them as they really are.
Tea Meditation in a global context
Tea meditation can help us see ourselves clearer and connect with our deep spirituality. In silence we can reflect inwardly to see our emotional blind spots and shadows. This awareness opens up our mind enabling us to be more accepting and embracing. By sharing that spiritual experience with other tea guests who have different cultural, social, and religious background with us, we can connect with them in the most humane way, transcending self-creating borders and man-made boundaries. Thus tea meditation is a means for cross-cultural communication and conflict resolution.
How to Sit
The Tea Guests should sit in a stable and relaxed position that they are comfortable with
How to place one’s hands
Have both palms face up and overlap in a V-shape. Rest the hands on one’s lap and gently touch the tips of both thumbs together.
Two kinds of tea
The light tea is bland, representing the purity of the enlightening mind. The dark tea is fragrant and flavorful, representing the enticing nature of the confused mind.
How to hold the tea cup
In Tea Meditation, one uses both hands to hold the cup, with each hand representing either Yin or Yang. Each person’s dominant hand will be Yang (right hander’s right hand will be Yang, and vice versa). Yang is the father, who inspires and guides. So the dominant hand will guide and hold the cup between its thumb and index finger. Yin is the mother, who nourishes and supports. Thus the cup lies on the palm of the Yin hand. Place the thumb of the Yin hand beside the cup and drink between the two thumbs. The thumbs and the index finger should all be flush with the rim of the cup. This represents the balance of Yin and Yang, with neither overpowering one’s body nor mind.
The ritual of Tea Meditation
Tea Host sounds the bell to start the meditation
Tea guests meditate in silence
Tea Masters serve the cups in silence
Tea Host sounds the bell again
Tea guests recognize which mind is experienced
Tea masters make the tea
Tea Host sounds the third bell
Tea guests push the cup out if confused mind is experienced. Otherwise, wait for the Tea masters to arrive. Put palms together while tea is being served.
When the cup is filled, the tea master and the tea guest bow to each other in silence. Tea masters serve the tea
Tea Host does not sound the bell, this step begins when one begin to drink one’s tea. Tea guests can drink the tea once they have been served. Bow to the tea cup before and after drinking the tea. Finish the tea in a reasonable amount of time to be ready for the next round of tea meditation.
Tea Masters return to position
The entire sequence is repeated once. The second round represents that in life, we always have a second chance.