How does the man of Zen take his tea?
For the man of Zen everything is sacred – even a cup of tea. Whatever he does, he does as if he is in a holy space.
There is a story about Moses. When he went on Mount Sinai to meet God and to receive the Ten Commandments, he saw a miracle happening – a green bush, lush green, and inside it a beautiful flame, fire. As he approached, somebody shouted from the bush, “Take your shoes off. This is holy ground.” The Judaic interpretation is that the flame was God itself. That’s why the bush was not burning, because his fire is cool. And Moses was entering the area which was like a temple or a synagogue unconsciously. The living God was there. He left his shoes and went in.
I don’t think there is something historical in it, but there is one thing significant: that wherever God is, the ground becomes holy.
Zen approaches from the very other extreme: wherever there is sacredness, God is. Wherever there is holiness, God is. Not vice versa – not that God’s presence makes any place holy, but if you make any place holy, the presence of the divine, of godliness, is immediately felt there. So they have tried to bring the sacred in everything No other religion has gone that far, that high, that deep. No other religion has even conceived of the idea.
In Zen there is no God. In Zen there is only you and your consciousness. Your consciousness is the highest flowering in existence up to now. It can go still higher, and the way to take it higher is to create your whole life in such a way that it becomes sacred.
A cup of tea is the most ordinary thing, but they make in every monastery a special temple for drinking tea, surrounded with beautiful trees, ponds…a small temple. You enter into the temple, taking leaving your shoes behind, and Zen believes, “Where you lose your shoes, lose yourself too.” So you enter into the temple absolutely pure, uncontaminated.
In the teahouse, the tea temple, nobody talks. Only silence deepens. Everybody sits in the Zen meditative posture. The samovar is preparing the hot water for the tea, and the sound of the samovar has to be listened to as carefully as you have listened to your master. It does not matter what you are listening to, what matters is how you are listening.
Zen changes everything and takes a far more significant posture: it is not a question of what you are listening to, it is a question of how you are listening. So it doesn’t matter whether the master is speaking or the sound of the samovar…. And everybody is sitting there silently while the tea is being prepared.