Balancing ‘Freedom’ vs ‘Confinement’ at the Sans Self Tea Gathering
蔡荣章 Rong-tsang Tsai
At a Sans Self Tea Gathering, seating is decided by random drawing. Participants settled down in a loop formation, then brew and serve tea in one direction for a pre-agreed number of brews. They remain seated after enjoying the last round of tea for a few minutes of music appreciation or meditation, before collecting their cups and packing up. The gathering then comes to an end. All participants of Sans Self Tea Gathering need to bring along their choice of tea ware and tealeaves; as such, there is no restriction on the method of brewing or the types of tealeaves used. This realizes one of the seven principles of Sans Self Tea Gathering: that there is no restriction as to the style or regional practice.
As the tea gathering progresses, small teapots, lidded cups and matcha tea bowls make their appearance; indeed, this is an interesting showcase of varieties. Sans Self Tea Gathering is a great opportunity to experience the different styles and regional practices of brewing in one occasion, where tea has brought people together. Differences only add to the substance and enjoyment of the Way of Tea. Everyone is free to make their choices and not confined to using a particular kind of tealeaves and brewing method.
Having said that, the absence of confinement is not a warrant for being ‘sloppy’ or ‘not serious’; otherwise, the standard of the tea gathering will go down. Participants will have to give it their all, and present the best possible tea infusion with their chosen brewing methods and styles. The ‘method’ is not confined, but it cannot be said for the ‘quality’.
The absence of confinement also refers to the discouragement of rigid ‘rules’ and ‘brewing rituals’. While rules are crucial for the existence of Sans Self Tea Gathering, and brewing rituals are the basis upon which one’s spirit in the Way of Tea is founded, mechanical and formalistic practices will easily turn the event into a stage performance.
It is certainly not our aspiration to have Sans Self Tea Gathering becoming a mere style of tea gathering, or a school of thought pertaining to the Way of Tea. The rules and spirit must be maintained, and the quality keeps improving. Freedom and confinement, for this matter, will complement and balance each other.