Osho on Zen Tea Ceremony and Ikkyu – The way tea is served in a Zen monastery is sacred

Question – Beloved Osho I love this little zen story, as it also has the flavor of your childhood stories. Ikkyu, the zen master, was very clever even as a boy. His teacher had a precious teacup, a rare antique. Ikkyu happened to break this cup and was greatly perplexed. Hearing the footsteps of his teacher, he held the pieces of the cup behind him. When the Master appeared, Ikkyu asked, ”why do people have to die?” ”this is natural,” explained the older man, ”everything has to die, and has just so long to live.” Ikkyu, producing the shattered cup, Added, ”it was time for your cup to die.”

Osho – Ikkyu is one of the most important Zen masters of Japan. There are many stories about him which can open new doors for you to contemplate and meditate. This is the first story about his childhood, when he was not a master yet but used to serve another master. He was doing small little things for him. But a man who is going to become enlightened has from the very beginning a clarity, a sharpness and an intelligence that people with great effort cannot even attain in their old age.

This story is beautiful. Ikkyu was very clever as a boy. The man who is going to become enlightened is bringing with him from his past life almost ninety-nine percent of his enlightenment. Just a small part was left and death came over him. Such people die consciously. And because they die consciously they know that death is a reality only from the outside; as far as the inner experience is concerned, it is just a changing of the house. Life continues.

Even in the mother’s womb the man who is going to become enlightened shows indications of intelligence. This seems unbelievable, but the Buddhists, the Jainas – two great authentic paths which have produced more enlightened people in the world than any other religion – both have this idea that when a child is in the mother’s womb he gives indications that he is not an ordinary unconscious child.

Scriptures describe exactly how he gives indications: He gives certain dreams to the mother. He is one with the mother’s body; he can project certain dreams. And for thousands of years the East has been looking into the phenomenon of enlightenment. For example, the white elephant is a very rare quality. Perhaps not one of you has seen a white elephant – except in language. When you want to condemn something you say, ”It is a white elephant, I don’t want it. It is unnecessarily expensive.” The child in the mother’s womb, who is going to become enlightened in this life, gives her again and again the dream of a white elephant. Upon that, the Buddhists agree, the Jainas agree – because they both have worked hard to find what kind of indications the conscious death of a person will bring to the mother into whose womb he has entered.

There are many other dreams upon which they have agreed – because they have been repeated so many times, and it has been only when the person was going to become enlightened. So it is not only cleverness, it is consciousness. I will not say it is just cleverness. Cleverness is ordinary; it is available to anybody. There are thousands of boys and girls who are clever.

Whoever has written the story, Gayan, has no idea of enlightenment; otherwise this word would not have been used. It shows consciousness, it shows awareness.

”His teacher had a precious teacup.” Remember again, it is not said in the story that his Master had a precious teacup – because the esoteric traditions of all mystery schools make a distinction between the teacher and the master. The teacher simply teaches you philosophies, theologies – he transfers to you the knowledge that is contained in the scriptures – but he himself is not enlightened. He is a knowledgeable person, a learned person. But it is not his own experience.

”His teacher had a precious teacup.” In China, in Japan they have made it a great art. Just yesterday one of my sannyasins from Spain brought me a very precious Chinese teacup. It is antique; it was produced in the thirteenth century – very fragile, but very beautiful. To have lived so long with such fragileness – it is very thin…. And because the tea ceremony has become a religious phenomenon in China and Japan, all monasteries have beautiful tea ceremony temples – in the garden, surrounded by ponds, beautiful trees, birds, swans, peacocks.

And the tea ceremony is a religious phenomenon; it is not something mundane. The way you drink tea is a mundane thing. The way tea is served in a Zen monastery is sacred. And to transform the mundane into the sacred is a great art.

You have to leave your shoes outside. You sit inside in a circle, listening to the samoar making its sound, the boiling water, the birds singing outside, the breeze bringing fragrances of flowers. Nothing is spoken; it is a meditation.

And the hostess will bring rare antique cups which may have existed for hundreds of years. They have survived so long because they are being taken with such respect and reverence in the hands. And the tea is poured…. Then people don’t just start drinking the tea. First they will smell the aroma, and then slowly, slowly, as if they are doing a prayer they will sip the tea. And because the cups and everything are sacred, they can survive for hundreds of years.

Our cups are far stronger, thicker, but are broken so soon. You cannot find in any other country cups a thousand years old, still in use and young and fresh. In silence the tea is sipped. And they all bow down – the hostess bows down to the guest. With care, with love they put their cups back. And slowly, slowly the guests depart. Not a single word is uttered, only gestures.

This is symbolic of a certain deep insight that if you want, your whole life can become a sacred phenomenon. If tea drinking can become sacred, then why should anything else remain mundane? In the world, people who don’t understand Zen… even making love is not sacred; it is something ugly, full of guilt, condemnation. People are loving each other because of a biological urge, not as a spiritual act of meeting with your beloved.

I have always thought, whenever I have come across any reference about the tea ceremony, that my people should create a love ceremony. It should not be a hit and run affair. You should have a temple, a love temple in your house, where nothing else is done. You go there only to play music, to dance, to sing, to burn incense. And love has not to be made deliberately. You are just listening to music and dancing and singing, and the whole room is full of fragrance, the incense. And if love happens spontaneously, not a cerebral thing that you have been thinking about… it is thinking that makes it ugly. If it is pure spontaneity it becomes the greatest prayer you can find in human life – the most precious meditation. I call it a love ceremony.

Ikkyu happened to break this cup and was greatly perplexed. He was a small child, and those cups are very fragile. Hearing the footsteps of the teacher he held the pieces of the cup behind him. When the master appeared, Ikkyu asked, ”Why do people have to die?” This is not cleverness, this is great intelligence. Why do people have to die?

”This is natural,” explained the older man. ”Everything has to die and has just so long to live.” Ikkyu, producing the shattered cup added, ”It was time for your cup to die.” He has made an accident into a profound experience. By bringing death into it, first he has stopped the mouth of the teacher – now he cannot say anything. If everything has its time and then it has to die, he has to accept that the precious cup has died.

But it is not just a story. Ikkyu, when he himself became a master, used to tell about this incident many times – that death is a natural phenomenon, that one should not be worried about it, and one should not be sad about it. Anything that one can be sad about is a life unlived. You go on dragging yourself without living – that is unfortunate. You are vegetating; you are not singing the songs that you have come to sing, you are not dancing the dance that is lying in your potential, fast asleep; you are not bringing your intelligence to its highest peak.

You will be surprised that even our so-called great geniuses only use fifteen percent of their intelligence. Eighty-five percent of their intelligence remains unused. And this is about our great geniuses – talented people use nearabout ten percent, and the common masses use not more than seven percent. One wonders, if people were using their intelligence to its full, the world would be a totally different place – far more alive, far more rich, far more beautiful.

The only thing that one should be sad about is that you are not living, but just passing time. Death is not something to be sad about – if it comes to a fulfilled life, if it comes to a life as a crescendo, its climax, it has a beauty of its own.

I want my people to live totally, and to live intensely, to burn their life’s torch from both ends together. If they can manage to live a total and intense life in each of their acts, their death will be something of a greater beauty than their life has ever been – because death is the highest peak, the last touches of the painter on the painting. That’s why I have been saying that death should be celebrated just as life should be celebrated. Both are natural, both are gifts.

Life is tiring; a time comes when you are spent. Death comes as a great help. It is nothing but relaxation, a deep relaxation. And it is not the end, it is only the beginning of a new life. If you think of it as an end, you will feel miserable – think of it as a beginning of a new life. Just a little difference of emphasis, and your whole experience changes its color, its beauty. Where there was sadness there will be joy, and where there were tears of misery, pain, anguish, there will be tears of fulfillment, contentment, blissfulness. The same tears with a new meaning, the same tears with a new music; the same death, but with a totally different taste.

When Ikkyu died himself, he collected all his disciples and asked them,” Just tell me some new way of dying, because I am not interested in imitation. People die on their beds; I don’t want to die on the bed.” The bed is the most dangerous thing – 99.9 percent of people die there, beware! So whenever you go to bed, remember: This place is very close to the graveyard. His disciples knew that he was a crazy man – now, whoever has ever bothered about how one dies? People simply die….

Ikkyu asked, ”Has somebody a suggestion?”
One man said, ”You can die sitting in the lotus posture.” Ikkyu said, ”That is not new. Many other
masters have died in that posture. Suggest something new, novel!”

One man said, ”You can die standing.” Ikkyu said, ”That looks a little better.” But a disciple objected; he said, ”Although it is not well known, I know one Zen master who has died standing. So you will be number two.” Ikkyu said, ”Then reject it. Suggest something new. I want to be first!”

One of his disciples suggested, ”Then there is only one way. You die standing on your head, in a head stand, shirshan. Nobody has ever tried it.” Ikkyu said, ”That is right. That suits me! I am so grateful to you.” He stood on his head and died.

Now the disciples were in trouble. They knew what to do when somebody dies on a bed – that his clothes have to be changed, that he has to be given a bath, new clothes have to be put on him, and then he is taken to the funeral – but what to do with this man who is standing on his head? He has not even fallen, and he is dead!

They tried in every possible way to find out whether he was dead or alive. He was dead, but there was no precedent, so they didn’t know what procedure should be followed.

Somebody said, ”I know his elder sister, who is also a Zen mystic. She lives in a nearby monastery. And he was always respectful to her. I will call her, perhaps she can say something. It is better to enquire before we do anything wrong.”

The sister came, and she was very angry. She came and she said, ”Ikkyu, you have been your whole life mischievous; at least in death, behave! Just lie down on the bed!” And Ikkyu jumped up and lay down on the bed and died. And the sister simply went out. She did not bother that he had died.

In the East it is not thought good to not follow the order of your elders, and particularly at such a moment. The disciples were amazed, because they had tried everything – the heart was not beating, the pulse was not there, they had moved a mirror in front of his nose, and there was no shadow of vapor. What had happened?

As the sister shouted at him, he immediately jumped, and just like an obedient child lay down on the bed and died! Even death is a game. And the sister did not even wait for the funeral. To those who know that life is eternal, death means nothing. It is the death only of your physical body, not of your consciousness. And particularly a man like Ikkyu is not going to be reborn; he will not be again encaged in another body. He will be moving into the eternity, into the ocean of the consciousness of the whole existence. It is a moment of celebration.

Source – Osho Book “The Razor’s Edge”

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