Category Archives: 10.Sans Self Tea Gathering: The Basic Model – Rong-tsang Tsai

Sans Self Tea Gathering: The Basic Model – Rong-tsang Tsai

Sans Self Tea Gathering: The Basic Model – Rong-tsang Tsai

2012春,无我茶会英译更名为“Sans Self Tea Gathering”

蔡荣章Rong-tsang Tsai

无我茶会于1990初创建。茶会的意义着重于对“无”的体悟,无我应被解释为“懂得无的我”。在未发现适当用语之时,暂时英译为“Wu-Wo Tea Ceremony”。

2012年春,我们决定将无我茶会的英译定为“Sans Self Tea Gathering”。sans 一词取自于莎士比亚剧作《皆大欢喜》,原为法文,是“无”的意思,gathering取其聚会之意,这样比较接近创建者对“无我茶会”的诠释。

Changing of Name in English (Spring, 2012)
Wu-Wo Tea Ceremony is now ‘Sans Self Tea Gathering’

When the concept and format was established in 1990, it was temporarily called the Wu-Wo Tea Ceremony in English, given the fact that it was organized to celebrate the realization of ‘Wu’, literally ‘no’, ‘the absence of’ or ‘void’. ‘Wo’, on the other hand, is ‘I’, ‘me’ or ‘self’. ‘Wu-Wo’ is thus best understood as ‘I who understand the idea of nothingness’. The term has been used ever since, before a more appropriate one comes along.
In spring, 2012, we coined the term “Sans Self Tea Gathering” which we thought is closer to the intention of the founders of this activity. Sans, an archaic French word meaning ‘without’, has been made popular by some of the greatest literary works through the ages, including William Shakespeare’s comedy “As You Like It”. To call it a tea gathering, instead of a tea ceremony, is to better reflect its nature. (English Translator : Katherine Yip英语翻译:叶德明)

无我茶会基本架构 Sans Self Tea Gathering: The Basic Model
蔡荣章 Rong-tsang Tsai
(“Sans Self Tea Gathering 180,” First edition: 1999.9, Second edition: 2010.9)

Sans Self Tea Gathering 1 is a form of tea gathering that requires participants to bring along their own tea wares. Sitting in a circle, each participant is to brew four cups of tea, three of which will be offered to fellow tea drinkers on the right or left, saving the remaining to oneself. As such, each person will be drinking four cups of tea. After the agreed rounds of brewing, everyone will pack up – this is when the ceremony comes to an end.
Seats will be determined by random drawing upon arrival. Each participant would have known the procedure and the way the ceremony is to be conducted, having received notification 2 from the organizer beforehand. There is no event director or master of ceremonies during the congregation – everything will follow the pre-agreed arrangement. Quietly, each participant brews tea; there is no restriction as to the school or regional practices imposed on the style of the equipage and brewing technique.
After the last round of tea is taken, the organizer has the option of arranging a 5-minute session of music appreciation, to let the flavor settle in, or induce reflection on the tea ceremony. Other activities can also be arranged when the tea ceremony is over.
Such is the basic model of a Sans Self Tea Gathering. Here is a summary of the above:
1. Sitting in circle, everyone brews, serves and drinks tea.
2. Seats are determined by random drawing.
3. Tea is to be served to the person sitting next to you (on the left or right, in one direction).
4. Tea wares, tea leaves and water for brewing are to be brought along by the participants.
5. Number of cups and brewing, and the way to serve tea is agreed upon beforehand; the event flow is also pre-determined.
6. No talking is allowed throughout the ceremony.
Why is Sans Self Tea Gathering conducted in such an unusual way? In essence, it represents the seven principles 3 the ceremony embraces:
A. Seats determined by random drawing – an absence of hierarchy 4
Before the ceremony begins, participants will have to take a seat. Each of them has to draw a number and be seated accordingly. There is no pre-determined seating; no one knows whom will they be seating next to, and serving tea to, until they are seated. There is no hierarchical differentiation and no difficulty in finding a seat – just the way we were born. Don’t you think things will be made difficult if we can choose the family to born into?
The same goes with tea gatherings for parents and their children. The nature of random drawing is as such that children may not be serving tea to their own parents, and parents may not be offering tea to their own children. This is perhaps the perfect picture of the famous saying: “Respect the elderly as you would your parents, care for the young as you would your children”.
B. Tea offered in one direction–no action of reciprocity is expected5
When the tea is brewed, it is offered to the next person(s) in the same direction. If the number of cups agreed for the day is four, and three of them will be offered to fellow tea drinkers on the left and the last one for oneself, it will be done exactly that way.
Tea is offered in cups during the first round; whereas, tea brewed during the second round will be poured into tea pitcher 6, which will then be poured into the cups you have offered. This means that person(s) being offered will be able to enjoy several rounds of your brew.
Alternative arrangements can be made. For example, one may be serving tea to the second, fourth and sixth fellow tea drinkers on the right, or the fifth, tenth and fifteenth fellow tea drinkers on the left, as long as the arrangement is made known before the ceremony begins. In sizable tea gatherings, the reach of tea serving can be extended.
A uni-directional flow of tea serving realizes the spirit of “expecting no reciprocity” – to put it simply, it is the appreciation of “doing something for nothing”, when a person doesn’t expect to be offered tea in return when he offers his. “Serving tea” is a laudable act in the Way of Tea 7. The experience is made even purer if we don’t have to worry about reciprocating.
For the sight-challenged, a person may serve tea to a fellow drinker on each side, while reserving one himself – this will save them the inconvenience of moving around to offer tea. In this circumstance, the spirit of mutual-help takes the place of reciprocity.
C. Accepting and appreciating tea of all kinds – setting aside personal preferences 8
Each attendant of the Sans Self Tea Gathering will have to bring along their own tea. As highlighted in the notification, any type of tea is welcome. This way, a participant may get to sample a different tea in each cup offered. As advocated by the Way of Tea, a person is to accept and appreciate tea without letting personal preferences get in the way. As it goes, preference rules out things you don’t like, which could be something intrinsically wonderful. By rejecting, we could be depriving ourselves of the blessings in life. What Sans Self Tea Gathering reminds us is exactly this – we have to set aside personal likes and dislikes in order to develop amicable relationships and cultivate goodwill, wherever we go.
From green tea, oolong tea to black tea, each has its unique color, aroma and taste. As tea drinkers, it is important for us to brew, present and enjoy each accordingly.
D. Making an effort to brew well–it is about getting better each time 9
There is no guarantee that each cup is masterfully brewed – chances are that a person will be served tea that is downright bitter and astringent, or bland and tasteless. When this is the case, there could be two types of emotional response: “Who made this? It is awful.” Or “I’ve messed up. Got to be careful.” As far as the Way of Tea goes, the latter attitude is encouraged, for the simple fact that “brewing a good pot”10 is basic. What is there to be explored if we can’t even brew our tea well? This is not unlike the study of music and art. It is pointless to talk about a certain realm induced by music when a person can’t even play the piano well; likewise, a person can’t possibly be elaborating on the use of lines and colours in bringing out a certain artistic mood if he hasn’t mastered the use of brushes. This is why no one is allowed to talk once the Sans Self Tea Gathering begins; there is only one mission – to brew a good pot.
When serving tea at the Sans Self Tea Gathering, we always reserve one for ourselves. This will enable us to assess the brewing, and make quick adjustment to improve during the next round. A bad brew is a disgrace to ourselves, disservice to the others, and yes, to the tea brewed. Just as our seniors keep reminding us, doing one’s task well is the single most important element in a person’s self-cultivation.
E. There is no event director or master of ceremonies – everything goes as agreed 11
The Sans Self Tea Gathering goes by pre-determined schedule and pre-agreed arrangement; there is no event director at the venue. If according to the schedule, venue set-up begins at 8.30, participants responsible for placing the seat number tag would be there on the dot. Participants responsible for drawing would have prepared the lots for fellow drinkers who begin arriving at 9, as scheduled. Seats will be taken according to the drawn lots. Participants will then lay out their tea wares, and socialize with fellow tea drinkers and admire others’ equipage. Brewing begins at 9.30, and that’s when everyone goes back to their seats, including those who were busy with drawing for seats a while ago. Tea will be served according to the agreed way after the first round of brewing. When a person has been offered the agreed number of cups, he may begin drinking. Tea from the second brewing will be served with a tea pitcher, followed by drinking, and so on. When the agreed rounds of serving and drinking have been made, participants may stay in their original places to enjoy music (if it has been arranged), while relishing the unique tea experience. At the end of the music session, participants will wipe clean the tea cups they have used with tea towel 12 or paper towel, and bring along a tea tray 13 to collect their own cups. Participants are not expected to dispose of tea residue. The Tea Ceremony is over when all tea wares have been packed. There is nobody directing or conducting the event flow – nevertheless, it goes like clockwork.
When everything is pre-arranged and pre-agreed, what’s the point of having someone there directing? For regular participants of the Sans Self Tea Gathering, following agreed rules is like second nature.
F. Observing silence during the Ceremony – appreciating mutual-understanding and the beauty of collective rhythm 14
When the “Tea ware appreciation and Socialization” 15time is up, everyone will stop talking and concentrate on brewing. In the course of brewing, participants will calm down, feel their own existence in this space, and appreciate their oneness with the world around. When tea is served, it is done in peace and silence. As participants offer tea to each other, they seem to have been strung by an invisible silk ribbon that moves rhythmically along with the gentle act of tea serving. In moments like these, words would be superfluous. There is no need for verbal expressions like “thank you” and “have some tea, please” – a slight bow, and a smile, will suffice.
The ideas of “silence” and “mutual-understanding” described here, as well as “the absence of directing” elaborated in the previous section, are pivotal to the success of a Sans Self Tea Gathering – only by keeping intervention to the minimum will it happen in as natural a way as the system of the universe, and the cycle of seasons.
G. To each his own – there is no restriction as to the school or regional practice in brewing 16
At a Sans Self Tea Gathering, the method of brewing is subject to no restriction, and this applies to differences in tea ware and tea leaves preferred by tea drinkers as influenced by certain schools, styles or regional background. The choice between teapots and lidded cups 17, preference with tea leaves 18or powdered tea 19, and that of the method and style of brewing are not matters of concern.
Regardless of such differences as in equipage, tea leaves, attire, language and places of origin, the Tea Ceremony calls for an effort in brewing a good pot and sharing it with fellow drinkers, be they new or old acquaintances, as determined by random drawing.
You may wonder, if there is no restriction whatsoever as to the tea ware and brewing method, and participants are required to accept and appreciate teas that come their way, does it mean that brewing will become a matter of chance? Make no mistake; Sans Self Tea Gathering does observe the principle of “Making an effort to brew well”. Once you have decided on the tea presentation setting and brewing method, you will have to come up with the best possible setting and brew at the time of the congregation.
Meanwhile, it is true that there is no special requirement as to the attire and protocol; and yet, with the same principle of “getting better each time”, they should be appropriate for the occasion.
无我茶会 1 Sans Self Tea Gathering 1
「公告事项」2 notification 2
七大精神 3 seven principles 3
无尊卑之分 4 an absence of hierarchy 4
无报偿之心 5 no action of reciprocity is expected 5
茶盅 6 tea pitcher 6
茶道 7 Way of Tea 7
无好恶之心 8 setting aside personal preferences 8
求精进之心 9 it is about getting better each time 9
「泡好茶」10 brewing a good pot10
遵守公共约定 11 everything goes as agreed 11
茶巾 12 tea towel 12
奉茶盘 13 tea tray 13
培养默契,体现群体律动之美 14 appreciating mutual-understanding and the beauty of collective rhythm 14
茶具观摩与联谊15 Tea ware appreciation and Socialization 15
无流派与地域之分 16 there is no restriction as to the school or regional practice in brewing 16
盖碗 17 lidded cups 17
叶形茶 18 tea leaves 18
粉末茶 19 powdered tea 19

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 the thoughts pertaining to tea, regardless of 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 the knowledge of tea alongside tea drinking. This is, in our opinion, an important contemporary task in promoting the tea culture (Coding in the text is for cross-referencing of the academic terms of tea).