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Fundamental Concepts in Nurturing the spirit pertaining to The Way of Tea/By :Hooi Yoke Lien

Fundamental Concepts in Nurturing the spirit pertaining to The Way of Tea

Hooi Yoke Lien

The Way of Tea Research Institute of Malaysia


Foreword:What is the spirit pertaining to The Way of Tea?

A. The difference between preaching and practising

B. Is it the same as the code of ethics?

  • The four dimensions of tea’s “pureness”
  • The basic principles in its pursuit

Conclusion:Nurturing a contemporary spirit pertaining to The Way of Tea

Keywords: the spirit pertaining to The Way of Tea    temperament     pureness    conviction    code of ethics      


What is the spirit pertaining to The Way of Tea? Tea enthusiasts embrace certain principles and uphold particular standards; as such, it is just natural that they apply these principles and standards to their daily lives, for example, using only good quality water for brewing, giving an unwavering attention to cleanliness and hygiene, handling teapots with utmost care, to name a few. Over time, this conviction would develop into a preferred attitude towards different aspects of life, be it basic necessities such as clothes, food, shelter and transportation, or the way we interact with other people. When a lot of us put what we believe into practice — making tea in particular and living in general — an ethos rooted in the ways tea enthusiasts brew, serve and take tea will emerge in the society. Such ethos may be described as the spirit pertaining to The Way of Tea.

A.The difference between preaching and practising

Can such spirit be made out of thin air? The answer is no. Experts pontificating about the Way of Tea in terms of secular values such as happiness, love and harmony do so for the purpose of public speaking. While a world of people living in harmony and love is a laudable vision, one should not arrive at the conclusion that the essence of it is happiness and love. There is a big difference between longing and practising. We believe that for an idea to contribute to the spirit pertaining to the Way of Tea, it must be reflected in every detail when a tea enthusiast brews, serves and takes tea. Without a day-to-day and hands-on experience, any preaching about this subject matter is nothing more than empty talk.

Are we to pursue such beliefs all the time, even when we are not brewing? The answer is yes. When a person first embarks on the experience with tea, he may think that it matters only when he is brewing a pot of tea in a tea presentation setting. However, as times goes by, the same tea enthusiast will be let down by his own inability in applying the principles of the Way of Tea to other aspects of life.

Some may say, “I am fully aware of the spirit pertaining to the Way of Tea, but I haven’t got time yet to implement it.” This is rather weak reasoning, given that its external manifestation comes from deep within us. When we persist in beliefs we truly embrace, we will put them into practice time and time again over the years until these beliefs and their manifestation becomes a part of us. No concerted effort is needed by then, and the impression is that it has been this way all along. 

Does it mean that the more experienced we are and the better our ability in brewing a good pot, the more likely we will be recognising the spirit pertaining to the Way of Tea? Well, there is no single right answer. The time devoted to brewing surely counts, and the technique is of much importance; but deep conviction comes straight from the heart.

B.Is it the same as the code of ethics?

Is the spirit pertaining to the Way of Tea the same as the code of ethics? No. It refers to the beliefs generated in the course of tea brewing, serving and taking. The code of ethics, meanwhile, refers to existing ethical principles pertaining to humanity.

Is it possible for just about everyone to capture the spirit pertaining to the Way of Tea by way of learning? Again, no. It is not a matter of “learning”, but rather is a form of “sacrificing”. It happens the time a person with certain temperament comes across tea. When he has gained much experience, steep after steep, sip after sip, he would have developed traits and characteristics reflecting the spirit pertaining to the Way of Tea, and it just follows that he would devote his life to upholding the spirit. This is what I meant by “sacrificing”.

It is fair to say that the tea we take determines the persons we are. It is impossible to talk about the Way of Tea as if it is separated from tea planting, processing, packing, trading, storing, brewing, serving and drinking. The Way of Tea demands a personal stance. Much like everything else, there is a process with many steps, from freshly picked leaves to dried tea leaves, the tea infusion and the residue of infused tea leaves. People handle them differently to achieve their respective goals. Such is the attitude towards tea. If tea leaves are regarded as something separate from the processing methods, skills and techniques, there would not be any “Way” at all, as the Way of Tea could only come from the way we think, work and live.

C.The four dimensions of teas pureness

Naturally, the spirit pertaining to the Way of Tea is born out of tea.  The life cycle of tea can be divided into four stages, namely, freshly picked raw leaves, dried tea leaves, the tea infusion and the residue of infused tea leaves. Appreciating the characteristics of these four different stages in the entire process, we have come to realise four dimensions of “pureness” that tea embodies. First, there are the raw leaves harvested from tea trees. All it needs is air, the right temperature and amount of sunlight, and time required for these fresh leaves to transform into pure tea leaves; no additional ingredients and extra handling are necessary.

Second, there are the dried tea leaves that require little more than clean tea ware and brewing utensils, clean water, clean hands as well as undivided attention and an undistracted mind of the person who brews to release their aromatic substances.

Third, there is the tea infusion, the consumption of which involves nothing but clean cups and good health of the person who takes it. We need neither special setup and attire, nor activities and flavours to enhance the enjoyment of the infusion. 

Fourth, there is the residue of infused tea leaves, which bear traces of the entire life cycle after they have unreservedly presented us the substances that have gone into our tea infusion. Tea is an experience at its purest; it does not need price tags, packaging and brands to speak for itself.

D.The basic principles in its pursuit

Tea enthusiasts stand up for what they belief by giving it their best shot. Growing quality, unpolluted fresh leaves; brewing a perfect pot of tea; taking tea the way it deserves; and appreciating the residue at the bottom of the cups are but some of the ways to reiterate their conviction. The pursuit will be nothing more than empty words if there is no personal commitment or hands-on experience. The four dimensions of “pureness” discussed above has shed light on three basic principles we need to follow in order to capture the spirit pertaining to the Way of Tea, namely, quality, cleanlinessandcharacter. In between sips, we should be contemplating the satisfaction and joy such principles bring, and the effort we have to make and the responsibilities we have to take. Whiling away the hours or delivering hollow rhetoric could not be further away from the true spirit pertaining to the Way of Tea.

We need to differentiate between good teas and good-looking or expensive teas; they are not the same. This is a key concept behind quality, the first principle. It takes fresh raw leaves properly processed to impart natural aroma and yield tea infusion that satisfy our needs. The same goes with tea ware. Aesthetic tea ware made of not-toxic, hazard-free materials is not only a joy to behold but also gives you peace of mind.

Consideration as to the duration, space and time, seasons and times must be made throughout the entire process, from planting to clearing of tea residue. For example, duration may refer to the length of time required for fermentation of the tea leaves, ageing of vintage teas, or steeping the perfect cup. There is no room for impulsive decisions when timing is concerned. 

Fresh leaves harvested from different locations of the same mountain at different times of the year vary noticeably in terms of quality. Space and time, therefore, is important to bring out the best of the harvest. Meanwhile, the place of origin should be transparent and clearly stated. 

With the natural phenomenon of the seasons comes periodic change of climates. Conditions such as the amount of sunlight, wind intensity, rainfall and relative humidity affect the growth and characteristics of tea.  As such, it is important to present the best possible quality of each season. 

 Times refers to a combination of traditional ways and new practices. Thanks to the effect of technological advancement, our lifestyle is changing from day to day. It is necessary to keep abreast of the development and move with the times by, for example, adapting tea making methods to suit modern interior setting.

Cleanliness is defined as sustaining a healthy, hygienic and coordinated state of existence for humans, objects and the environment throughout the entire process, from tea production to its use. This second principle goes beyond zero pesticide residue on tea leaves to prevent the intake of harmful substance, and covers an amicable coexistence between man and nature. Otherwise, depleting clean air and destroyed land ecosystem will be the prices to pay as we pursue the Way of Tea.

Neglecting such impact on the world around us is the very source of destruction inflicted upon Nature and human life. For example, a shift in marketing trends to smaller pack size has seen a large number of teas sold in 10g individual aluminum foil bags. This way, a kilogram of tea would mean 100 aluminum foil bags, not counting similar packaging used for snacks accompanying a cup of tea. The number aluminum foil bags disposed of is alarming. This “throwaway” culture incurs a high cost not only economically, but also environmentally. It certainly has a negative impact on the land, the people and the Way of Tea.

What do we mean by character? The third principle points to the support we should lend to people who insist on a rational approach to tea production and consumption; we need to do so regardless of the size of their operations, or the person’s background. They should not be exploited, and diversity needs to be respected.

We must reflect on the ways in which market control exercised by large corporations and standardisation of our industrial mechanism. The model of standardisation propels our economic growth; however, such development may not be as good as we would want it to be —  greater accessibility to tea does not automatically make us great tea connoisseurs.

In similar ways, some of our invaluable cultures are rapidly fading away. For example, the dark roast Tieguanyin and Lapsang Souchong we used to enjoy in the 1990s are hard to come by these days, which means that certain values have been abandoned. Which tea craftsman has made this wonderful tea? How did this tea collector manage to keep his rare fine for 30 years? Which tea enthusiast has brewed such a good pot? Indeed, tea is a lot more than its blend or technique; it is the embodiment of a tea enthusiast’s attitude, vitality and belief.

ConclusionNurturing a contemporary spirit pertaining to The Way of Tea

Only if we appreciate the ideas of “pureness” with regard to the people, utensils, time, land and tea, and stand by the basic principles of quality, cleanliness and character, can we embrace the Way of Tea and its contemporary spirit to its fullest.


Balancing ‘Freedom’ vs ‘Confinement’ at the Sans Self Tea Gathering -蔡荣章 Rong-tsang Tsai


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.





Balancing ‘Freedom’ vs ‘Confinement’ at the Sans Self Tea Gathering

蔡荣章 Rong-tsang Tsai 








The Question on Sans Self Tea Gathering with the most wrong Answer-蔡荣章 Rong-tsang Tsai


The Question on Sans Self Tea Gathering with the most wrong Answer

蔡荣章 Rong-tsang Tsai

One of the questions for the 10th screening test for instructors of Sans Self Tea Gathering has an exceptionally high rate of error, at 66%. The question is as follows:

Which of the following should not be specified in the Notification?

A) the method to make tea B) the way to take tea C) the way to be seated on the seating mat D) the tea ware to be used

Prior to a Sans Self Tea Gathering, the Organizer would distribute a ‘Notification’ , which specifies the name of the tea gathering, time, venue, the way tea is to be served, the event flow and the distribution of task. ‘The way tea is to be served’ refers to the number of teas to be brewed, the number of brewing for each tea, the number of cups for each brewing, the direction in which tea is to be served and to which participant (e.g. first, third and fifth, etc), and whether onlookers will be served; if so, in what ways. This enables participants to understand the way in which a certain Sans Self Tea Gathering will take place.

As a rule, the Notification should not name the types of tea for brewing. The exception will be a ‘Green Tea for spring’ Sans Self Tea Gathering, whereby participants are requested to make green tea.  But it should not specify the origin or brand of the green tea. On the same basis, a Sans Self Tea Gathering should not be organized in the name of a certain tea plantation or brand name.

No restriction should be imposed on brewing. Any method, style or school of brewing is acceptable. As such, tea ware is not to be standardized. The requirement is for participants to brew well and the tea to be safe for consumption. Beverages that are not ‘genuine tea’ are not allowed. Since there is no restriction on the way to make tea, there is also none on ‘the way to take tea’.

You may wonder, if the way of brewing, serving and drinking is not restricted, isn’t there nothing much to be standardized? The fact is, when an instructor conducts training on Sans Self Tea Gathering, students are asked to follow instruction. It is because the instructor has identified, in his opinion, the best way for participation in a Sans Self Tea Gathering. However, if you have found a way that better suits you when it comes to attending a Sans Self Tea Gathering, you may go for it. This is not a matter of right or wrong.

The answer to this question is: All items (A, B, C and D) should not be specified in the Notification.


無我茶會錯誤最多的地方-蔡荣章 Rong-tsang Tsai


The Question on Sans Self Tea Gathering with the most wrong Answers

蔡荣章 Rong-tsang Tsai


(A)泡茶的方法 (B)喝茶的方法 (C)坐上「坐墊」的方法 (D)使用的茶具







The artistic manifestation of the Way of Tea as expressed by Sans Self Tea Gathering -蔡荣章 Rong-tsang Tsai


The artistic manifestation of the Way of Tea as expressed by Sans Self Tea Gathering

 蔡荣章 Rong-tsang Tsai

 Student: ‘As far as the Way of Tea is concerned, what is the difference between Sans Self Tea Gathering and other ways of making tea?’

‘Sans Self Tea Gathering is a form of tea gathering. It differs from the ten brewing methods we talk about from time to time; those are ways in which we make tea. Besides Sans Self Tea Gathering, there are also tea gatherings in the form of tea presentation setting, banquet or free-flow. Meanwhile, as you all know, brewing methods may involve small teapots, big containers or extended steeping of tealeaves, to name a few.’

‘In the artistic manifestation of the Way of Tea, the method of brewing is an application. How about the different kinds of tea gathering? ’

‘They are both applications in the artistic manifestation of the Way of Tea. Tea gathering is the style, brewing method is the means.’

‘Is the format of tea gathering and tea presentation setting the same as the “environment for tea drinking”?’

‘These are different concepts. The artistic manifestation of the Way of Tea should not be too dependent on, or too mindful of, the environment for tea drinking; otherwise, we will forget that we are brewing tea. The format of tea gathering, however, has an immediate impact on the art itself – the way tea ware affects the tea infusion and the brewing method the enjoyment of tea. The format of tea gathering should not be viewed as an environment for tea drinking; but rather, a part of the artistic manifestation of the Way of Tea.

‘Where lies the beauty of Sans Self Tea Gathering, apart from its role in the artistic manifestation of the Way of Tea?’

‘Although there is no event director on site, a Sans Self Tea Gathering takes place like clockwork. Each participant brews tea, then rise to serve tea to fellow participants on their left or right. After taking the first brew, each prepares another brew and serve, until the agreed number of brewing has been attained. After staying at their places for a short music appreciation, the participants go forth to collect their cups and pack. That’s when the tea gathering comes to an end. Throughout the tea gathering, no one speaks or directs the event flow; everyone follows the pre-agreed procedure and method. Such is the collective rhythm of Sans Self Tea Gathering – when all the participants put their heart and soul into brewing, serving and enjoying tea, a kind of beauty unique to the Way of Tea prevails.’

 ‘Would it be possible to look upon the entire tea gathering, from tea setting through tea brewing and serving to taking the tea, as a piece of work?’

‘Experiencing, or rather enjoying, the art of the Way of Tea is certainly realized by the entire tea gathering. The only worry is over emphasizing the impact of the event at the expense of the tea infusion; and the worry is real. Because of this, we have proposed the concept of the ‘Quintessential Way of Tea’, which helps us re-focus on the tea infusion. Tea, after all, is at the core of the artistic manifestation of the Way of Tea. This way, it won’t be mistaken as the art of tea drinking environment, the art of tea brewing or the art of moral enlightenment. You may say: Well, ain’t I making tea just the same?  True, but the pre-requisite is the realization that tea, the infusion, is at the heart of the Way of Tea.


無我茶會表現的茶道藝術-蔡荣章 Rong-tsang Tsai


The artistic manifestation of the Way of Tea as expressed by Sans Self Tea Gathering

 蔡荣章 Rong-tsang Tsai












The true meaning of ‘setting aside personal preferences’-蔡荣章 Rong-tsang Tsai


The true meaning of ‘setting aside personal preferences’

蔡荣章 Rong-tsang Tsai

‘Setting aside personal preferences’ is important when it comes to appraising tealeaves – our preference for certain types of tea makes it hard for us to be objective and unbiased when we are assessing the quality of teas. The same can be said of Sans Self Tea Gathering. A participant may be served with four types of tea (if each person is served four cups) because there is no restriction on tealeaves. As such, we have to accept and appreciate the tea offered by others. Keep our mind and heart open, and ‘set aside personal preferences’.

Having said that, ‘setting aside personal preferences’ is different from ‘not being able to tell the good from the bad’. There are two sides to the idea – firstly, it refers to the absence of a very strong feeling towards what one likes and dislikes; secondly, it refers to the ability to rise above personal feelings when we look at, accept and even appreciate matters that are different from what we are accustomed to. In the world of tea, there are different varieties – green tea, pu’er, oolong, black tea, and a lot more. If you insist on drinking oolong and neglect green tea, you are depriving yourself of the beauty of green tea. Meanwhile, tealeaves come in different qualities, from unbelievably good to downright poor. Your may choose to take only tea of premium quality, but what if there is none? You will probably say, “Well, this is not my cup of tea.” Or think, “I would rather pass on it than corrupting my taste”. Some fellow tea drinkers declare, “I take only the first two brews (referring to small pot brewing)” just to tell the others that latter infusions are not good enough for them. This attitude has left much to be desired because it rules out possibilities. By putting themselves on a materialist high ground, they are imposing upon themselves a form of self-imprisonment – it is not uncommon to see some people bolstered by wealth, knowledge or moral authority staying in self-built prisons and act in stereotyped ways.

This will bring us to what Laozi said: Harmonize with all that is bright as daylight, and identify with all that is common as dust. By breaking down the barrier between the self and the world around – light and dust included – we will be able to feel genuinely free in this vast universe.

What we advocate is an open mind and an open heart. Appreciate different types of tea with objectivity. Accept tea of different grades. Take all infusions, first or latter, with pleasure. The study of tea may be about progress –better quality tealeaves, better brew and better tea-drinking environment. And yet, we should not rule out latter infusions of lesser quality tea (as allowed by circumstances) if these are made with one’s best effort. (1446)



The true meaning of ‘setting aside personal preferences’

蔡荣章 Rong-tsang Tsai







Feeling Free and Easy at the Tea Gathering-蔡荣章 Rong-tsang Tsai


Feeling Free and Easy at the Tea Gathering

蔡荣章 Rong-tsang Tsai

Sans Self Tea Gathering advocates simplicity.  Participants bring along their favourite travel tea ware, sit on the floor in a loop formation, brew tea, offer tea to fellow participants on the left (or right) while reserving a cup for own consumption.  Details are stated in the ‘Notification’ distributed before the event; these include the starting time, the number of cups and brews, ‘after- tea activities’ (e.g. music appreciation or a few minutes of meditation). After brewing, serving and taking tea, participants collect their cups, tidy up and the tea gathering comes to an end.

There is no restriction as to the choice of tea ware, brewing method and tealeaves. Brewing well is the only requirement; it is the means to express the Way of Tea as one sees it. As such, how could we feel free and easy at the tea gathering with such a format?

Here are some tips. Take the seat decided by random drawing without any attachment to outcomes. Brew well, and offer your tea to fellow participants on your left or right, be they someone you want to get acquainted with or not. You will feel relaxed when you offer tea if you know the format of the tea gathering by heart. Don’t be judgemental; a benevolent mind is preferred. Otherwise, you would wonder why you have to offer tea to people whom you don’t know or like.

Better still; imagine yourself taking a helicopter view of the Sans Self Tea Gathering in progress. You will see a large group of people brewing, serving and taking tea in an orderly manner without an event director. Participants on both ends may not even see each other; but this would not stop them from moving in collective rhythm. It is as natural as the way our universe works – just like putting on extra clothing in winter only to take it off when warmer climes return in spring.

In the myth of Peng (giant bird) and Kun (giant fish), Zhuangzi said we should open up our mind. Explore the world high up and deep down, the way Peng and Kun did. He also pointed out that ‘the perfect man cares for no self; the holy man cares for no merit; the sage cares for no name.’ This mindset will make us feel free and easy at the Sans Self Tea Gathering and beyond.





Feeling Free and Easy at the Tea Gathering

蔡荣章 Rong-tsang Tsai








San Self Tea Gathering requires full participation of all-蔡荣章-Rong-tsang Tsai


San Self Tea Gathering requires full participation of all

蔡荣章-Rong-tsang Tsai

There is a certain format to follow when we organize a San Self Tea Gathering. With simple tea ware for travelling, each participant is to be seated in a loop formation and serve tea in one direction for a pre-agreed number of brews, after which they will pack up. A key feature is participation of all – each participant will have to be fully involved throughout the tea gathering. This is why someone once concluded that a San Self Tea Gathering is an occasion when everyone brew, serve and enjoy tea.

When a fellow tea drinker wanted to organize a San Self Tea Gathering some time ago, he announced, “It is proposed that the occasion accommodates forty participants, among whom twenty will bring along their tea ware for brewing. The rest, who either have difficulty in bring their tea ware, or are not familiar with the procedure of a San Self Tea Gathering, will be treated as onlookers and served by their fellow participants.” We were dumbfounded upon hearing this, as it could not be further from the spirit of a San Self Tea Gathering. Firstly, such arrangement would have undermined the intention to do away with hierarchy – there are bound to be people who find it too troublesome to bring their own tea ware, and ‘privileged’ ones who think that they are to be served rather than to serve. As such, the Organizer need to remind participants individually to ensure there are enough participants bringing the required tea ware. The truth is if such activities are to adopt the name of San Self Tea Gathering, it is necessary for them to adopt the practice as well.

We may chance upon some friends while on the way to a San Self Tea Gathering. It is fine to ask the friends to come along. These non-brewing participants could draw lots for seating, and may be served tea by fellow participants. The only thing is the participants to their left (if this is the direction in which tea is served) would be served one cup less (since these are non-brewing participants). Meanwhile, for venues with a lot of people passing by, there may be ‘onlookers’ who are interested in the tea gathering. The Organizer may arrange for a presenter to explain the nature of the activity to these onlookers, and prepare some disposable cups for serving a couple of brews to them. Do note that this is different in implication from telling participants beforehand that some of them are exempted from bringing along their tea ware.

The organizers must be able to master the nature of the activities they are putting together; this cannot be truer than when we are organizing tea gatherings with clear ideology. A failure in presenting San Self Tea Gathering with integrity would make it very hard for newcomers to feel for it.





San Self Tea Gathering requires full participation of all

蔡荣章 Rong-tsang Tsai







Why is tea served in one direction at the Sans Self Tea Gathering? -蔡荣章-Rong-tsang Tsai


Why is tea served in one direction at the Sans Self Tea Gathering?

蔡荣章-Rong-tsang Tsai

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.




Why is tea served in one direction at the Sans Self Tea Gathering?

蔡荣章-Rong-tsang Tsai






(完稿20120829周三小方块WEDNESDAY TEA CORNER)