Osho on Zen Tea Ceremony, In the tea house, the tea temple, nobody talks

Question – Beloved Osho, How does the Man of Zen take his Tea?
Osho – For the man of Zen everything is sacred — even taking a cup of tea. Whatever he does, he does as if he is in a holy space.

There is a story about Moses. When he went on Mount Sinai to meet God and to receive the Ten Commandments, he saw a miracle happening: a green bush, lush green, and inside it a beautiful flame, fire. As he approached it somebody shouted from the bush, “Take your shoes off. This is holy ground.” The Judaic interpretation is that the flame was God himself. That’s why the bush was not burning, because God’s fire is cool. And Moses unconsciously was entering into the area which was like a temple or a synagogue: the living God was there. He took his shoes off and went in.

I don’t think there is anything historical in it, but there is one thing significant: that wherever God is, the ground becomes holy. Zen approaches things from the very other extreme: wherever there is sacredness, God is. Wherever there is holiness, God is. Not vice versa — not that God’s presence makes any place holy, but if you make any place holy, the presence of the divine, of godliness, is immediately felt there. So they have tried to bring the sacred into everything. No other religion has gone that far, that high, that deep. No other religion has even conceived the idea.

In Zen there is no God. In Zen there is only you and your consciousness. Your consciousness is the highest flowering in existence up to now. It can go still higher, and the way to take it higher is to create your whole life in such a way that it becomes sacred.

A cup of tea is the most ordinary thing, but they make in every monastery a special temple for drinking tea, surrounded by beautiful trees, ponds… a small temple. You enter into the temple, taking your shoes off, and Zen believes, “Where you leave your shoes, leave yourself too.” So you enter into the temple absolutely pure, uncontaminated. In the tea house, the tea temple, nobody talks. Only silence deepens. Everybody sits in the Zen meditative posture. The samovar is preparing the hot water for the tea, and the sound of the samovar has to be listened to as carefully as you have listened to your master. It does not matter what you are listening to, what matters is how you are listening.

Zen changes everything and takes a far more significant posture: it is not a question of what you are listening to, it is a question of how you are listening. So it doesn’t matter whether the master is speaking or the sound of the samovar. And everybody is sitting there silently while the tea is being prepared.

Listening to the samovar… slowly the aroma, the fragrance of the tea leaves fills the temple. You have to be available to it as if it is divine grace. It is transforming everything small — the smallest, most negligible things — into something very significant, meaningful… giving it a religious color. And then the woman who is tending the tea will come to you. Her grace in pouring tea into your cups, and the silence, and the sound of the samovar, and the fragrance of fresh tea, creates a magic of its own.

Nobody speaks. Everybody starts sipping the tea, tasting as totally as possible, being in the moment as intensely as possible, as if the whole world has disappeared. Only the tea is there; you are there — and the silence. Now a very mundane affair… all over the world people drink tea and coffee and everything, but nobody has been able to transform the character of the mundane into the sacred.

As the tea is finished, they bow down to the woman in respect. Slowly they go out of the temple without making any noise. In fact people all over the world don’t enter into temples with such silence; in the temple all kinds of talking and gossips are going on. Women are enquiring about each other’s jewelry and clothes — in fact they go there to show off their jewelry and clothes; they don’t have any other place to exhibit their possessions. All the temples and churches are nothing but gossiping clubs where people go to gossip about all kinds of mundane things. They destroy the whole meaning. And Zen has changed a very ordinary thing into an extraordinary experience. You will never forget drinking tea with a man of Zen. You will be fortunate if the master is present. Every gesture is filled with significance.

It is called a tea ceremony, not tea drinking. It is not a tea shop or a tea stall, it is a temple: here, ceremonies happen. This is only symbolic. In the whole of life, around the clock, you have to remember that wherever you are it is a holy land and whatever you are doing it is divine.

But just remembering will not be of much help. It is supported by meditation; otherwise it will remain a mind thing, it won’t go deep. That meditation is always there to give it depth. So the whole day in a Zen monastery, from the morning when people get up till the night when they go to sleep, is a long prayer. They are not praying — there is no God to pray to — but they are prayerful, they are thankful, they are grateful. And with the meditation in the background, each small thing starts having new significances that you had never thought about.

Who had thought that a cup of tea could have some spiritual significance? But in Zen it has. If you look just on the surface it may look like a ritual. If you are an outsider, it may look like a ritual. You have to be an insider to understand that it is not a ritual; they are really living it, enjoying it, because behind it is the world of meditation, silence.

It is not only the silence in the temple; a greater silence is within them. It is not only the holiness outside; a greater holiness is within them. The whole day they are whole — whatever they are doing: cleaning the grounds of the monastery, working in the garden, cutting wood, carrying water from the well, cooking food. Whatever they are doing, they are doing so totally that unless you are an insider you can see only their action. You will
not be able to see from where that action arises — the oceanic depth within them.

It happened: One emperor of Japan went to see Nan In, a famous Zen master and one of the strangest masters of all. The emperor had heard much about him. Many times he had invited Nan In to come to the court, to be a guest of the emperor, but he always received the message, “It is always the thirsty who goes to the well, not the well to the thirsty.”

Finally, the emperor decided to go himself. When he went inside the gate of the monastery… it was on a mountain, surrounded with thick jungle, and one man was chopping wood. That was the first man he met.
The emperor asked him, “Where is the master? Can I see him?”

The man stopped and said, “Yes, you can see him. Just go directly ahead and you will reach the place where he lives.” And he started chopping wood again.
And as the emperor was going on he shouted, “Don’t disturb the place. Just sit down and wait. The master comes whenever he feels like coming. That is his mastery.”

The emperor thought, “Strange people. Just a woodcutter, but he talks with the emperor in such a manner that if he were in the court he would have been beheaded! But here it is better to be silent and go.”

So he went and sat at the cottage where the master was supposed to come. After a few minutes, the master came. And the emperor was puzzled, because he was dressed in the robe of the master, but his face looked exactly like the woodcutter.
Looking at his puzzled face, the master said, “Don’t be worried, we have met before. I was chopping wood; I had directed you to this place.”

The emperor said, “But why did you not say then and there that you are the master?”
He said, “At that time I was not. I was just a woodchopper, a woodcutter — so totally involved in it that I had absolutely no place left for the master. That’s why I told you to wait, so that I could finish with my wood, take a shower, put on the master’s robe, remember that now I am a master, and be total in it. Now I am ready. For what have you
come?”

The emperor said, “I have completely forgotten for what I had come! Seeing the situation, that the master chops wood — don’t you have disciples? I have heard that you have five hundred disciples.”

He said, “Yes, I have. They are in the monastery, deeper in the forest. But chopping wood is such a joy that I would rather chop wood than be a master. It is such a sacred, such a blissful feeling, the cool breeze, the hot sun, the whole body perspiring, and each hit of the axe making the silence of the place deeper. Next time you come, join me! We do all kinds of things which are necessary, but one thing remains common, as a golden thread running through all actions, and that is meditation. And meditation makes everything divine. Then actions don’t count. What counts is your consciousness at the moment of the action.”

This is changing the whole ideology of ordinary mind: it judges the act, it never bothers about the consciousness out of which this action is born. An action coming out of meditation becomes sacred, and the same action without meditation is mundane.

We have made our lives full of mundane things, mundane acts, because we don’t know a simple secret that can transform the quality of everything that we do. And remember, if you don’t know the secret of transformation, amongst those mundane things you are also mundane. Unless you have a consciousness which makes you sacred and holy, which is going to transform everything that you do into the same category in which you are…
Whatever you will touch will become sacred. Whatever you will do will become holy.

Zen is the very essence of all religions, without their stupid rituals, nonsensical theologies. It has dropped everything that could be dropped. It has saved only that which is the very soul of religiousness. So even drinking a cup of tea with a Zen master, you will find you are participating in a religious phenomenon.

Source – Osho Book “The Path of the Mystic”

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