Listening to the samovar, slowly the aroma, the fragrance of the tealeaves fills the temple. You have to be available to it also, as if it is divine grace. It is transforming everything small, smallest, negligible into the very significant, meaningful…giving it a religious color. And then the woman who is tending the tea will come to you. Her grace in pouring tea into your cups, and the silence, and the sound of the samovar, and the fragrance of fresh tea, creates a magic of its own.
Nobody speaks. Everybody starts sipping the tea, tasting as totally as possible, being in the moment as intensely as possible, as if the whole world has disappeared. Only the tea is there; you are there – and the silence.
Now a very mundane affair…all over the world people drink tea and coffee and everything, but nobody has been able to transform the character of the mundane into the sacred.
As the tea is finished, they bow down to the woman in respect. Slowly they go out of the temple without making any noise. In fact people all over the world don’t enter into temples with such silence; and in the temple all kinds of talking and gossips are going on. Women are inquiring about each other’s jewelry and clothes – in fact they go there only to show their jewelry and clothes; they don’t have any other place to exhibit their possessions. All the temples and churches are nothing but gossiping clubs where people go to gossip about all kinds of mundane things. They destroy the whole meaning.
And Zen has changed a very ordinary thing into an extraordinary experience. You will never forget drinking tea with a man of Zen. You will be fortunate if the master is present. Every gesture is filled with significance. This is called a tea ceremony, not tea drinking. It is not a teashop or a tea stall; it is a temple. Here, ceremonies happen.
This is only symbolic. In the whole of life, around the clock, you have to remember that wherever you are it is a holy land and whatever you are doing it is divine.
But just remembering will not be of much help. It is supported by meditation – otherwise it will remain a mind thing, it won’t go deep. That meditation is always there to give it depth. In a Zen monastery, the whole day – from the morning when people get up till the night when they go to sleep – is a long prayer. They are not praying – there is no God to pray to – but they are prayerful, they are thankful, they are grateful. And with meditation in the background, each small thing starts having new significances that you had never thought about.
Who would have thought that a cup of tea could have some spiritual significance? But in Zen it has. But if you see just the surface it may look like a ritual. If you are an outsider, it may look like a ritual. You have to be an insider to understand that it is not a ritual; they are really living it, enjoying it, because behind it is the world of meditation, silence.