Why is tea served in one direction at the Sans Self Tea Gathering?
I am pretty clear of the reasons for most of the practices of Sans Self Tea Gathering. For instance, why a ‘loop’ seating arrangement is preferred; why seating is determined by random drawing; why participants are free to choose their brewing method, tea ware and tealeaves; why all participants have to observe the rule of silence; why there is no master of ceremonies; and why each participant takes tea brewed by the others as well as themselves. And yet, one thing puzzles me. Why do we serve tea in only one direction?
Participants of Sans Self Tea Gathering serve tea in one direction. For example, if a participant is to brew four cups of tea, three of these will be served to the three fellow participants on the left, and the last one reserved for own consumption. If it is agreed that tea is be served to the second, fourth and sixth fellow participants on the right, and the last one reserved for oneself, everyone will follow. Someone once said, “Is it not equally orderly if I serve one cup to the participant on my left, and two cups to the participants on my right, while reserving the last one for myself?” Another person suggested, “Why couldn’t I serve the first brew to the three participants on my immediate left, the second brew to the three participants on my immediate right, and the third brew to the fourth, fifth and sixth participants on my left? This way, I would be able to serve more people.” The fact is, serving tea in one direction would steer us away from any expectation of reciprocity – we serve tea to participants on our left, and are served by participants on our right. For the two suggestions mentioned above, the second idea is somewhat acceptable under this principle, but not the first one.
Principle aside, the emphasis on social interaction is too strong if we are to, as the second suggestion goes, serve tea to our left and right. Anyhow, the persons to be served may not be at their own places. Engrossing in social interaction distracts our attention from tea. At a Sans Self Tea Gathering, we are not encouraged to be too mindful of who the brewers are. When we are to serve certain participants in the designated direction, we will be able to do so for the sole purpose of serving. Meanwhile, taking four brews from the same people would enable us to feel the sincerity and efforts of the brewers. A wider coverage may increase the reach, but it will be hard to get to know the tea and the person in just one cup, as each cup of tea in each round comes from a different person. Furthermore, it is impossible to rinse the cup for different tea every time.
Even when everything goes like clockwork, there could still be such a scenario: a participant may want to offer one or two extra cups of tea to someone he wants to get acquainted or catch up with, having noticed that there is still some tea left. This is, however, too socially-inclined, and may cause misunderstanding among those you have served during the gathering – they may think that you serve them because you have to abide by the rules, but the people over there are the ones you really care!
What Sans Self Tea Gathering advocates is a peaceful, comfortable, and exquisite way of living. Simple, necessary rules are fine; an excessive emphasis on functionality and requirements may undermine its charm.