Finding Humanity in the Tea HouseMar 19, 2022
In 2014, I was led into an old Japanese tea house, by Sensei.
Accompanying me were a dozen or so folks I really knew nothing about, other than I’d trust my life with each one of them without a thought.
Together, we were about to be awestruck by a timeless discipline we knew little about, within the gentle whisking of sound and tastes most of us never had, during a traditional sadō ceremony. Tea.
Just the act of stepping into an old Tea House forces one to express humility, regardless who is seated inside. There, everyone is kinda equal in status.
The door is only a few feet high, forcing even the emperor to show humility to a fisherman. You have to bow, you don't have a choice.
In this moment, everyone was at a same level and together, we enjoy tea and it’s process.
Well, it’s more than that.
The study of primitive martial arts brought me here, where I sit with my colleagues and teachers, witnessing two ladies express an art form in front of us with elegance, producing flavors in simple and beautiful cups.
Everything is perfect here.
As I sit smiling, I watched my teacher engage the elder Tea Sensei with an utmost respect.
I reflected how nice it was to see ‘my’ teacher be so humble before another master. Equality of character, silent precision and the kindness of sharing brings a certain type of grace that can only be experience.
This, along with many other moments, what Sensei has explained to me as ‘one moment, now’, had become a bit of a common spark of what some people call coincidence.
Here I was, where most people couldn’t dream of being, witnessing what many could never imagine. And it’s just a cup of tea and some snacks.
Surrounding me were people who I shared a unique path in life with, commonly referred to in our circles an ‘buyu’, loosely translated as ‘martial friend’.
As I watched our host move from guest to guest with the gentle movement of colorful butterflies, I’d rested back on the tatami and once again reflected on those whom I was sharing this cultural treasure with, and the feeling filled me with gratitude ... and a bit of sadness.
Germans, a couple of Belgians, a Frenchman, a Canadian, a few Americans, some British fellows, Swedes, a Swiss, some Japanese friends and an Aussie.
In my head wasn’t a new thought; I’d had it before on many trips to Japan.
But today, in that tea house with the little door and the brilliant master hosts, before my teacher and colleagues, I thought about how only a few years ago our grandfathers were slaughtering one another in bloody trenches, on devastated islands, in the burning cities …
I thought about the horror of screams in unknown languages, body parts being picked up, the smells of flesh, ammunition, body odor and the sewage of fear.
Just horror of war.
And now, look at us. Among one another, people I know I’d trust more than most friend or family member, people who are special to me, yet I know so little about. All led by a senior retried Japanese soldier, studying ways of primitive killing.
But are we?
Or are are simply exploring how to persevere a balance in life few get to see or feel. And here before me, I consider that tolerance may be the currency to persevere, it's what is needed to see this simple, gentle balance.
Be it pain, fatigue, heartache, passion, makes no difference. It’s tolerance.
Where tolerance has no place, the humility I witness has no possibility.
And here in that tea house, I simply enjoyed the company of people who saw far past the colors of nation, religion, gender or tribe.
We were one in the humility of the tea house, together in one moment, the now.
This insight is something special, I never would have seen without the pursuit of budo. It’s easy to talk about around the camp fire in between Bob Dylan songs, but to live and feel it, in presence of it is humbling.
Why the horror of such war when only a few years later we can enjoy each other so much without the flags of battle and sounds of fury?
I certainly have no answer.
But tonight, I will drink tea and think about my Buyu as the war machines of mighty nations once again drive us backward.
There will be no ‘ganpai’, no honorific gesture, just the silence of tolerance in my thoughts, inviting peace in that one small space I’ll sit.
To me, that is the humility of budo.
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