Category Archives: 02.Beauty in Emptiness and Solitude-Rong-tsang Tsai

Rong-tsang Tsai。Beauty in Emptiness and Solitude

Beauty in Emptiness and Solitude-Rong-tsang Tsai

茶道空寂之美Beauty in Emptiness and Solitude

蔡荣章Rong-tsang Tsai


(2007.08《茶艺》月刊社论Published in “Tea Art”monthly magazine)

Beauty in art has many and varied manifestations. It brings delight, excites our senses, causes solemn grief, induces sorrow, triggers a train of philosophical thoughts, and calms our anxiety (not without a hint of melancholy). What we are going to talk about is this kind of calmness accompanied by melancholy, known as beauty in emptiness and solitude1. This is unique to the Way of Tea2 in the realm of art.

Where does this feeling of emptiness and solitude originate from?  To answer this, we will have to go back to the basics, namely, the compounds of tea.  Caffeine and catechins are mainly responsible for the bitterness3 and astringency4 that have come to characterize tea. The absence of these two properties would result in flatness, yielding a forgettable drink that is a far cry from the exceptional beverage which has captured the palettes of the world since time immemorial.  The right mix of bitterness, astringency and aroma is the signature of premium tea. The ability in camouflaging the sharp bitterness and astringency while retaining tea’s natural allure is the key to the beverage of a lifetime.

Such teas calm our nerves and soothe our souls.  With each sip, our blood pressure lowers slightly, our muscle relaxes, our attention focuses better, and our emotions settle down. This state of tranquility is physically ideal for the manifestation of beauty in emptiness and solitude. For those who have some idea about this state, and the practice of self-cultivation, such melancholy-infused beauty readily enters our consciousness.  This could be the reason why throughout history, tea aficionados, especially literati and artists, have left behind a vast volume of work on beauty in emptiness and solitude as induced by tea drinking.  As such, this particular state has become an integral part of the tea culture.  This is further reflected in the environment in which tea is enjoyed, as illustrated by the term ‘thatched-hut tea ceremony setting’5. And, incorporating the essence of Zen practices, the idea of so-called ‘oneness of Zen and Tea’6 emerges.

The tie between Tea and Zen is strong.  The fact that both value emptiness and solitude is, to us, a key contributing factor.   This particular state of being is no stranger to the students of Zen; it is a state they have to embrace and enter into.  Meanwhile, it is also the path through which the beauty of tea can be experienced and appreciated. To this end, we consider the idea of conviction and simplicity described by Lu Yu in The Classics of Tea7a means to experience the state of emptiness and solitude.   In Japan, the spirit of emptiness and solitude advocated by Zen masters and Lu Yu’s proposition of conviction and simplicity8 was captured by great tea gurusMurata Shuko, Takeno Joo and Sen no Rikyu, among others in the practice of the Way of Tea. What we are doing is to expound on the idea of emptiness and solitude in art, tea and Zen practices, from the aesthetics’ point of view.


以下为文内之编码 Coding in the text:

空寂之美1 beauty in emptiness and solitude1

茶道 the Way of Tea2

3 bitterness3

4 astringency4

草庵茶席‘thatched-hut tea ceremony setting’5

茶禅一味‘oneness of Zen and Tea’6

《茶经》7 Classics of Tea7

精俭 conviction and simplicity8

大茶人9 great tea gurus9


The aesthetics, character and the state of mind created are not to be undermined in the understanding and enjoyment of tea; and yet, they are the hardest to express.  Writings on thoughts pertaining to tea, regardless of the languages used, remain scarce.   We have attempted to express them in Chinese, with accompanying English translation(Translator:Katherine Yip.2010.01), to elaborate our thoughts as they are. What we want is to share with fellow tea drinkers something more than just the drinking of it. This is, in our opinion, an important contemporary task in promoting the tea culture (Coding in the text is for cross-referencing of academic tea terms).