The Book of Tea

I. The Cup of Humanity


Tea began as a medicine and grew into a beverage. In China, in the

eighth century, it entered the realm of poetry as one of the polite

amusements. The fifteenth century saw Japan ennoble it into a

religion of aestheticism–Teaism. Teaism is a cult founded on the

adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday

existence. It inculcates purity and harmony, the mystery of mutual

charity, the romanticism of the social order. It is essentially a

worship of the Imperfect, as it is a tender attempt to accomplish

something possible in this impossible thing we know as life.


The Philosophy of Tea is not mere aestheticism in the ordinary

acceptance of the term, for it expresses conjointly with ethics and

religion our whole point of view about man and nature. It is

hygiene, for it enforces cleanliness; it is economics, for it shows

comfort in simplicity rather than in the complex and costly; it is

moral geometry, inasmuch as it defines our sense of proportion

to the universe. It represents the true spirit of Eastern democracy

by making all its votaries aristocrats in taste.

The long isolation of Japan from the rest of the world, so conducive

to introspection, has been highly favourable to the development of

Teaism. Our home and habits, costume and cuisine, porcelain,

lacquer, painting–our very literature–all have been subject to its

influence. No student of Japanese culture could ever ignore its

presence. It has permeated the elegance of noble boudoirs, and

entered the abode of the humble. Our peasants have learned

to arrange flowers, our meanest labourer to offer his

salutation to the rocks and waters. In our common parlance

we speak of the man “with no tea” in him, when he is

insusceptible to the serio-comic interests of the personal

drama. Again we stigmatise the untamed aesthete who,

regardless of the mundane tragedy, runs riot in the springtide

of emancipated emotions, as one “with too much tea” in him.

The outsider may indeed wonder at this seeming much ado

about nothing. What a tempest in a tea-cup! he will say.

But when we consider how small after all the cup of human

enjoyment is, how soon overflowed with tears, how easily

drained to the dregs in our quenchless thirst for infinity, we

shall not blame ourselves for making so much of the tea-cup.

Mankind has done worse. In the worship of Bacchus, we

have sacrificed too freely; and we have even transfigured

the gory image of Mars. Why not consecrate ourselves to

the queen of the Camelias, and revel in the warm stream

of sympathy that flows from her altar? In the liquid amber

within the ivory-porcelain, the initiated may touch the sweet

reticence of Confucius, the piquancy of Laotse, and the

ethereal aroma of Sakyamuni himself.

Those who cannot feel the littleness of great things in

themselves are apt to overlook the greatness of little things

in others. The average Westerner, in his sleek complacency,

will see in the tea ceremony but another instance of the

thousand and one oddities which constitute the quaintness

and childishness of the East to him. He was wont to regard

Japan as barbarous while she indulged in the gentle arts of

peace: he calls her civilised since she began to commit

wholesale slaughter on Manchurian battlefields. Much

comment has been given lately to the Code of the Samurai,

–the Art of Death which makes our soldiers exult in self-

sacrifice; but scarcely any attention has been drawn to

Teaism, which represents so much of our Art of Life.

Fain would we remain barbarians, if our claim to civilisation

were to be based on the gruesome glory of war. Fain

would we await the time when due respect shall be paid to

our art and ideals.

When will the West understand, or try to understand, the

East? We Asiatics are often appalled by the curious web

of facts and fancies which has been woven concerning us.

We are pictured as living on the perfume of the lotus, if not

on mice and cockroaches. It is either impotent fanaticism or

else abject voluptuousness. Indian spirituality has been

derided as ignorance, Chinese sobriety as stupidity, Japanese

patriotism as the result of fatalism. It has been said that we

are less sensible to pain and wounds on account of the

callousness of our nervous organisation!

Why not amuse yourselves at our expense? Asia returns the

compliment. There would be further food for merriment if

you were to know all that we have imagined and written

about you. All the glamour of the perspective is there, all the

unconscious homage of wonder, all the silent resentment of

the new and undefined. You have been loaded with virtues

too refined to be envied, and accused of crimes too

picturesque to be condemned. Our writers in the past–the

wise men who knew–informed us that you had bushy tails

somewhere hidden in your garments, and often dined off a

fricassee of newborn babes! Nay, we had something worse

against you: we used to think you the most impracticable

people on the earth, for you were said to preach what you

never practiced.

Such misconceptions are fast vanishing amongst us.

Commerce has forced the European tongues on many an

Eastern port. Asiatic youths are flocking to Western colleges

for the equipment of modern education. Our insight does not

penetrate your culture deeply, but at least we are willing to

learn. Some of my compatriots have adopted too much of

your customs and too much of your etiquette, in the delusion

that the acquisition of stiff collars and tall silk hats comprised

the attainment of your civilisation. Pathetic and deplorable as

such affectations are, they evince our willingness to approach

the West on our knees. Unfortunately the Western attitude is

unfavourable to the understanding of the East. The Christian

missionary goes to impart, but not to receive. Your information

is based on the meagre translations of our immense literature,

if not on the unreliable anecdotes of passing travellers. It is

rarely that the chivalrous pen of a Lafcadio Hearn or that of

the author of “The Web of Indian Life” enlivens the Oriental

darkness with the torch of our own sentiments.

Perhaps I betray my own ignorance of the Tea Cult by being

so outspoken. Its very spirit of politeness exacts that you say

what you are expected to say, and no more. But I am not to

be a polite Teaist. So much harm has been done already by

the mutual misunderstanding of the New World and the Old,

that one need not apologise for contributing his tithe to the

furtherance of a better understanding. The beginning of the

twentieth century would have been spared the spectacle of

sanguinary warfare if Russia had condescended to know

Japan better. What dire consequences to humanity lie in the

contemptuous ignoring of Eastern problems! European

imperialism, which does not disdain to raise the absurd cry of

the Yellow Peril, fails to realise that Asia may also awaken

to the cruel sense of the White Disaster. You may laugh at

us for having “too much tea,” but may we not suspect that

you of the West have “no tea” in your constitution?

Let us stop the continents from hurling epigrams at each

other, and be sadder if not wiser by the mutual gain of half a

hemisphere. We have developed along different lines, but

there is no reason why one should not supplement the other.

You have gained expansion at the cost of restlessness; we

have created a harmony which is weak against aggression.

Will you believe it?–the East is better off in some respects

than the West!

Strangely enough humanity has so far met in the tea-cup.

It is the only Asiatic ceremonial which commands universal

esteem. The white man has scoffed at our religion and our

morals, but has accepted the brown beverage without

hesitation. The afternoon tea is now an important function

in Western society. In the delicate clatter of trays and

saucers, in the soft rustle of feminine hospitality, in the

common catechism about cream and sugar, we know that

the Worship of Tea is established beyond question. The

philosophic resignation of the guest to the fate awaiting him

in the dubious decoction proclaims that in this single instance

the Oriental spirit reigns supreme.

The earliest record of tea in European writing is said to be

found in the statement of an Arabian traveller, that after the

year 879 the main sources of revenue in Canton were the

duties on salt and tea. Marco Polo records the deposition of

a Chinese minister of finance in 1285 for his arbitrary

augmentation of the tea-taxes. It was at the period of the

great discoveries that the European people began to know

more about the extreme Orient. At the end of the sixteenth

century the Hollanders brought the news that a pleasant

drink was made in the East from the leaves of a bush. The

travellers Giovanni Batista Ramusio (1559), L. Almeida

(1576), Maffeno (1588), Tareira (1610), also mentioned

tea. In the last-named year ships of the Dutch East India

Company brought the first tea into Europe. It was known

in France in 1636, and reached Russia in 1638. England

welcomed it in 1650 and spoke of it as “That excellent and

by all physicians approved China drink, called by the

Chineans Tcha, and by other nations Tay, alias Tee.”

Like all good things of the world, the propaganda of Tea

met with opposition. Heretics like Henry Saville (1678)

denounced drinking it as a filthy custom. Jonas Hanway

(Essay on Tea, 1756) said that men seemed to lose their

stature and comeliness, women their beauty through the

use of tea. Its cost at the start (about fifteen or sixteen

shillings a pound) forbade popular consumption, and made

it “regalia for high treatments and entertainments, presents

being made thereof to princes and grandees.” Yet in spite

of such drawbacks tea-drinking spread with marvellous

rapidity. The coffee-houses of London in the early half of

the eighteenth century became, in fact, tea-houses, the

resort of wits like Addison and Steele, who beguiled

themselves over their “dish of tea.” The beverage soon

became a necessity of life–a taxable matter. We are

reminded in this connection what an important part it plays

in modern history. Colonial America resigned herself to

oppression until human endurance gave way before the

heavy duties laid on Tea. American independence dates

from the throwing of tea-chests into Boston harbour.

There is a subtle charm in the taste of tea which makes it

irresistible and capable of idealisation. Western humourists

were not slow to mingle the fragrance of their thought with

its aroma. It has not the arrogance of wine, the self-

consciousness of coffee, nor the simpering innocence of

cocoa. Already in 1711, says the Spectator: “I would therefore

in a particular manner recommend these my speculations to

all well-regulated families that set apart an hour every morning

for tea, bread and butter; and would earnestly advise them for

their good to order this paper to be punctually served up and

to be looked upon as a part of the tea-equipage.” Samuel

Johnson draws his own portrait as “a hardened and shameless

tea drinker, who for twenty years diluted his meals with only

the infusion of the fascinating plant; who with tea amused the

evening, with tea solaced the midnight, and with tea welcomed

the morning.”

Charles Lamb, a professed devotee, sounded the true note of Teaism

when he wrote that the greatest pleasure he knew was to do a

good action by stealth, and to have it found out by accident. For

Teaism is the art of concealing beauty that you may discover it,

of suggesting what you dare not reveal. It is the noble secret of

laughing at yourself, calmly yet thoroughly, and is thus humour

itself,–the smile of philosophy. All genuine humourists may in

this sense be called tea-philosophers,–Thackeray, for instance,

and of course, Shakespeare. The poets of the Decadence

(when was not the world in decadence?), in their protests against

materialism, have, to a certain extent, also opened the way

to Teaism. Perhaps nowadays it is our demure contemplation

of the Imperfect that the West and the East can meet in

mutual consolation.

The Taoists relate that at the great beginning of the No-Beginning,

Spirit and Matter met in mortal combat. At last the Yellow

Emperor, the Sun of Heaven, triumphed over Shuhyung, the

demon of darkness and earth. The Titan, in his death agony,

struck his head against the solar vault and shivered the blue dome

of jade into fragments. The stars lost their nests, the moon

wandered aimlessly among the wild chasms of the night. In

despair the Yellow Emperor sought far and wide for the repairer

of the Heavens. He had not to search in vain. Out of the

Eastern sea rose a queen, the divine Niuka, horn-crowned and

dragon-tailed, resplendent in her armor of fire. She welded the

five-coloured rainbow in her magic cauldron and rebuilt the

Chinese sky. But it is told that Niuka forgot to fill two tiny

crevices in the blue firmament. Thus began the dualism of

love–two souls rolling through space and never at rest until they

join together to complete the universe. Everyone has to build

anew his sky of hope and peace.

The heaven of modern humanity is indeed shattered in the

Cyclopean struggle for wealth and power. The world is

groping in the shadow of egotism and vulgarity. Knowledge is

bought through a bad conscience, benevolence practiced for

the sake of utility. The East and the West, like two dragons

tossed in a sea of ferment, in vain strive to regain the jewel of

life. We need a Niuka again to repair the grand devastation;

we await the great Avatar. Meanwhile, let us have a sip of tea.

The afternoon glow is brightening the bamboos, the fountains

are bubbling with delight, the soughing of the pines is heard in

our kettle. Let us dream of evanescence, and linger in the

beautiful foolishness of things.



II. The Schools of Tea.


Tea is a work of art and needs a master hand to bring out its

noblest qualities. We have good and bad tea, as we have good

and bad paintings–generally the latter. There is no single

recipe for making the perfect tea, as there are no rules for

producing a Titian or a Sesson. Each preparation of the leaves

has its individuality, its special affinity with water and heat,

its own method of telling a story. The truly beautiful must

always be in it. How much do we not suffer through the constant

failure of society to recognise this simple and fundamental

law of art and life; Lichilai, a Sung poet, has sadly remarked

that there were three most deplorable things in the world: the

spoiling of fine youths through false education, the degradation

of fine art through vulgar admiration, and the utter waste of

fine tea through incompetent manipulation.

Like Art, Tea has its periods and its schools. Its evolution

may be roughly divided into three main stages: the Boiled Tea,

the Whipped Tea, and the Steeped Tea. We moderns belong

to the last school. These several methods of appreciating

the beverage are indicative of the spirit of the age in which

they prevailed. For life is an expression, our unconscious

actions the constant betrayal of our innermost thought.

Confucius said that “man hideth not.” Perhaps we reveal ourselves

too much in small things because we have so little of the great

to conceal. The tiny incidents of daily routine are as much a

commentary of racial ideals as the highest flight of philosophy

or poetry. Even as the difference in favorite vintage marks

the separate idiosyncrasies of different periods and nationalities

of Europe, so the Tea-ideals characterise the various moods

of Oriental culture. The Cake-tea which was boiled, the

Powdered-tea which was whipped, the Leaf-tea which was

steeped, mark the distinct emotional impulses of the Tang,

the Sung, and the Ming dynasties of China. If we were

inclined to borrow the much-abused terminology of

art-classification, we might designate them respectively, the

Classic, the Romantic, and the Naturalistic schools of Tea.

The tea-plant, a native of southern China, was known from very

early times to Chinese botany and medicine. It is alluded to in

the classics under the various names of Tou, Tseh, Chung,

Kha, and Ming, and was highly prized for possessing the

virtues of relieving fatigue, delighting the soul, strengthening

the will, and repairing the eyesight. It was not only

administered as an internal dose, but often applied externally

in form of paste to alleviate rheumatic pains. The Taoists

claimed it as an important ingredient of the elixir of

immortality. The Buddhists used it extensively to prevent

drowsiness during their long hours of meditation.

By the fourth and fifth centuries Tea became a favourite

beverage among the inhabitants of the Yangtse-Kiang valley.

It was about this time that modern ideograph Cha was

coined, evidently a corruption of the classic Tou.

The poets of the southern dynasties have left some fragments

of their fervent adoration of the “froth of the liquid jade.”

Then emperors used to bestow some rare preparation of the

leaves on their high ministers as a reward for eminent services.

Yet the method of drinking tea at this stage was primitive

in the extreme. The leaves were steamed, crushed in a mortar,

made into a cake, and boiled together with rice, ginger, salt,

orange peel, spices, milk, and sometimes with onions!

The custom obtains at the present day among the Thibetans

and various Mongolian tribes, who make a curious syrup

of these ingredients. The use of lemon slices by the Russians,

who learned to take tea from the Chinese caravansaries,

points to the survival of the ancient method.

It needed the genius of the Tang dynasty to emancipate Tea

from its crude state and lead to its final idealization. With

Luwuh in the middle of the eighth century we have our first

apostle of tea. He was born in an age when Buddhism,

Taoism, and Confucianism were seeking mutual synthesis.

The pantheistic symbolism of the time was urging one to

mirror the Universal in the Particular. Luwuh, a poet, saw in

the Tea-service the same harmony and order which reigned

through all things. In his celebrated work, the “Chaking”

(The Holy Scripture of Tea) he formulated the Code of Tea.

He has since been worshipped as the tutelary god of the

Chinese tea merchants.

The “Chaking” consists of three volumes and ten chapters.

In the first chapter Luwuh treats of the nature of the tea-plant,

in the second of the implements for gathering the leaves, in the

third of the selection of the leaves. According to him the best

quality of the leaves must have “creases like the leathern boot of

Tartar horsemen, curl like the dewlap of a mighty bullock, unfold

like a mist rising out of a ravine, gleam like a lake touched by

a zephyr, and be wet and soft like fine earth newly swept by rain.”

The fourth chapter is devoted to the enumeration and description

of the twenty-four members of the tea-equipage, beginning

with the tripod brazier and ending with the bamboo cabinet for

containing all these utensils. Here we notice Luwuh’s

predilection for Taoist symbolism. Also it is interesting to

observe in this connection the influence of tea on Chinese

ceramics. The Celestial porcelain, as is well known, had its

origin in an attempt to reproduce the exquisite shade of jade,

resulting, in the Tang dynasty, in the blue glaze of the south,

and the white glaze of the north. Luwuh considered the blue

as the ideal colour for the tea-cup, as it lent additional greenness

to the beverage, whereas the white made it look pinkish and

distasteful. It was because he used cake-tea. Later on, when

the tea masters of Sung took to the powdered tea, they preferred

heavy bowls of blue-black and dark brown. The Mings, with

their steeped tea, rejoiced in light ware of white porcelain.

In the fifth chapter Luwuh describes the method of making tea.

He eliminates all ingredients except salt. He dwells also on the

much-discussed question of the choice of water and the degree

of boiling it. According to him, the mountain spring is the best,

the river water and the spring water come next in the order of

excellence. There are three stages of boiling: the first boil is

when the little bubbles like the eye of fishes swim on the surface;

the second boil is when the bubbles are like crystal beads rolling

in a fountain; the third boil is when the billows surge wildly in

the kettle. The Cake-tea is roasted before the fire until it becomes

soft like a baby’s arm and is shredded into powder between pieces

of fine paper. Salt is put in the first boil, the tea in the second.

At the third boil, a dipperful of cold water is poured into the

kettle to settle the tea and revive the “youth of the water.” Then

the beverage was poured into cups and drunk. O nectar! The

filmy leaflet hung like scaly clouds in a serene sky or floated like

waterlilies on emerald streams. It was of such a beverage that

Lotung, a Tang poet, wrote: “The first cup moistens my lips and

throat, the second cup breaks my loneliness, the third cup

searches my barren entrail but to find therein some five thousand

volumes of odd ideographs. The fourth cup raises a slight

perspiration,–all the wrong of life passes away through my

pores. At the fifth cup I am purified; the sixth cup calls me

to the realms of the immortals. The seventh cup–ah, but I

could take no more! I only feel the breath of cool wind that

rises in my sleeves. Where is Horaisan? Let me ride on this

sweet breeze and waft away thither.”

The remaining chapters of the “Chaking” treat of the vulgarity

of the ordinary methods of tea-drinking, a historical summary

of illustrious tea-drinkers, the famous tea plantations of

China, the possible variations of the tea-service and illustrations

of the tea-utensils. The last is unfortunately lost.

The appearance of the “Chaking” must have created

considerable sensation at the time. Luwuh was befriended

by the Emperor Taisung (763-779), and his fame attracted

many followers. Some exquisites were said to have been able

to detect the tea made by Luwuh from that of his disciples.

One mandarin has his name immortalised by his failure to

appreciate the tea of this great master.

In the Sung dynasty the whipped tea came into fashion and

created the second school of Tea. The leaves were ground

to fine powder in a small stone mill, and the preparation was

whipped in hot water by a delicate whisk made of split bamboo.

The new process led to some change in the tea-equippage of

Luwuh, as well as in the choice of leaves. Salt was discarded

forever. The enthusiasm of the Sung people for tea knew no

bounds. Epicures vied with each other in discovering new

varieties, and regular tournaments were held to decide their

superiority. The Emperor Kiasung (1101-1124), who was too

great an artist to be a well-behaved monarch, lavished his

treasures on the attainment of rare species. He himself wrote

a dissertation on the twenty kinds of tea, among which he prizes

the “white tea” as of the rarest and finest quality.

The tea-ideal of the Sungs differed from the Tangs even as their

notion of life differed. They sought to actualize what their

predecessors tried to symbolise. To the Neo-Confucian mind

the cosmic law was not reflected in the phenomenal world,

but the phenomenal world was the cosmic law itself. Aeons

were but moments–Nirvana always within grasp. The Taoist

conception that immortality lay in the eternal change permeated

all their modes of thought. It was the process, not the deed, which

was interesting. It was the completing, not the completion,

which was really vital. Man came thus at once face to face

with nature. A new meaning grew into the art of life. The

tea began to be not a poetical pastime, but one of the methods

of self-realisation. Wangyucheng eulogised tea as “flooding

his soul like a direct appeal, that its delicate bitterness reminded

him of the aftertaste of a good counsel.” Sotumpa wrote of

the strength of the immaculate purity in tea which defied

corruption as a truly virtuous man. Among the Buddhists,

the southern Zen sect, which incorporated so much of

Taoist doctrines, formulated an elaborate ritual of tea. The

monks gathered before the image of Bodhi Dharma and drank

tea out of a single bowl with the profound formality of a

holy sacrament. It was this Zen ritual which finally developed

into the Tea-ceremony of Japan in the fifteenth century.

Unfortunately the sudden outburst of the Mongol tribes in the

thirteenth century which resulted in the devastation and conquest

of China under the barbaric rule of the Yuen Emperors,

destroyed all the fruits of Sung culture. The native dynasty of

the Mings which attempted re-nationalisation in the middle

of the fifteenth century was harassed by internal troubles, and

China again fell under the alien rule of the Manchus in the

seventeenth century. Manners and customs changed to

leave no vestige of the former times. The powdered tea is

entirely forgotten. We find a Ming commentator at loss to

recall the shape of the tea whisk mentioned in one of the

Sung classics. Tea is now taken by steeping the leaves in

hot water in a bowl or cup. The reason why the Western

world is innocent of the older method of drinking tea is

explained by the fact that Europe knew it only at the close

of the Ming dynasty.

To the latter-day Chinese tea is a delicious beverage, but

not an ideal. The long woes of his country have robbed

him of the zest for the meaning of life. He has become

modern, that is to say, old and disenchanted. He has lost

that sublime faith in illusions which constitutes the eternal

youth and vigour of the poets and ancients. He is an

eclectic and politely accepts the traditions of the universe.

He toys with Nature, but does not condescend to conquer

or worship her. His Leaf-tea is often wonderful with its

flower-like aroma, but the romance of the Tang and Sung

ceremonials are not to be found in his cup.

Japan, which followed closely on the footsteps of Chinese

civilisation, has known the tea in all its three stages. As

early as the year 729 we read of the Emperor Shomu giving

tea to one hundred monks at his palace in Nara. The leaves

were probably imported by our ambassadors to the Tang Court

and prepared in the way then in fashion. In 801 the monk

Saicho brought back some seeds and planted them in Yeisan.

Many tea-gardens are heard of in succeeding centuries, as

well as the delight of the aristocracy and priesthood in the

beverage. The Sung tea reached us in 1191 with the return

of Yeisai-zenji, who went there to study the southern Zen

school. The new seeds which he carried home were successfully

planted in three places, one of which, the Uji district near

Kioto, bears still the name of producing the best tea in the

world. The southern Zen spread with marvellous rapidity, and

with it the tea-ritual and the tea-ideal of the Sung. By the

fifteenth century, under the patronage of the Shogun,

Ashikaga-Voshinasa, the tea ceremony is fully constituted

and made into an independent and secular performance.

Since then Teaism is fully established in Japan. The use

of the steeped tea of the later China is comparatively

recent among us, being only known since the middle of the

seventeenth century. It has replaced the powdered tea in

ordinary consumption, though the latter still continues to

hold its place as the tea of teas.

It is in the Japanese tea ceremony that we see the culmination

of tea-ideals. Our successful resistance of the Mongol

invasion in 1281 had enabled us to carry on the Sung movement

so disastrously cut off in China itself through the nomadic

inroad. Tea with us became more than an idealisation of

the form of drinking; it is a religion of the art of life. The

beverage grew to be an excuse for the worship of purity

and refinement, a sacred function at which the host and

guest joined to produce for that occasion the utmost

beatitude of the mundane. The tea-room was an oasis

in the dreary waste of existence where weary travellers

could meet to drink from the common spring of art-

appreciation. The ceremony was an improvised drama

whose plot was woven about the tea, the flowers, and

the paintings. Not a colour to disturb the tone of the

room, not a sound to mar the rhythm of things, not a

gesture to obtrude on the harmony, not a word to break

the unity of the surroundings, all movements to be performed

simply and naturally–such were the aims of the tea-

ceremony. And strangely enough it was often successful.

A subtle philosophy lay behind it all. Teaism was Taoism

in disguise.




III. Taoism and Zennism


The connection of Zennism with tea is proverbial. We

have already remarked that the tea-ceremony was a

development of the Zen ritual. The name of Laotse, the

founder of Taoism, is also intimately associated with the

history of tea. It is written in the Chinese school manual

concerning the origin of habits and customs that the

ceremony of offering tea to a guest began with Kwanyin,

a well-known disciple of Laotse, who first at the gate of

the Han Pass presented to the “Old Philosopher” a cup

of the golden elixir. We shall not stop to discuss the

authenticity of such tales, which are valuable, however,

as confirming the early use of the beverage by the Taoists.

Our interest in Taoism and Zennism here lies mainly in

those ideas regarding life and art which are so embodied

in what we call Teaism.

It is to be regretted that as yet there appears to be no

adequate presentation of the Taoists and Zen doctrines

in any foreign language, though we have had several

laudable attempts.

Translation is always a treason, and as a Ming author

observes, can at its best be only the reverse side of a

brocade,–all the threads are there, but not the subtlety of

colour or design. But, after all, what great doctrine is

there which is easy to expound? The ancient sages never

put their teachings in systematic form. They spoke in

paradoxes, for they were afraid of uttering half-truths.

They began by talking like fools and ended by making

their hearers wise. Laotse himself, with his quaint humour,

says, “If people of inferior intelligence hear of the Tao, they

laugh immensely. It would not be the Tao unless they laughed

at it.”

The Tao literally means a Path. It has been severally translated

as the Way, the Absolute, the Law, Nature, Supreme Reason,

the Mode. These renderings are not incorrect, for the use of

the term by the Taoists differs according to the subject-matter

of the inquiry. Laotse himself spoke of it thus: “There is a thing

which is all-containing, which was born before the existence

of Heaven and Earth. How silent! How solitary! It stands alone

and changes not. It revolves without danger to itself and is the

mother of the universe. I do not know its name and so call it

the Path. With reluctance I call it the Infinite. Infinity is the

Fleeting, the Fleeting is the Vanishing, the Vanishing is the

Reverting.” The Tao is in the Passage rather than the Path. It

is the spirit of Cosmic Change,–the eternal growth which returns

upon itself to produce new forms. It recoils upon itself like

the dragon, the beloved symbol of the Taoists. It folds and

unfolds as do the clouds. The Tao might be spoken of as the

Great Transition. Subjectively it is the Mood of the Universe.

Its Absolute is the Relative.

It should be remembered in the first place that Taoism, like its

legitimate successor Zennism, represents the individualistic

trend of the Southern Chinese mind in contra-distinction to the

communism of Northern China which expressed itself in

Confucianism. The Middle Kingdom is as vast as Europe and

has a differentiation of idiosyncrasies marked by the two great

river systems which traverse it. The Yangste-Kiang and Hoang-

Ho are respectively the Mediterranean and the Baltic. Even

to-day, in spite of centuries of unification, the Southern

Celestial differs in his thoughts and beliefs from his Northern

brother as a member of the Latin race differs from the Teuton.

In ancient days, when communication was even more difficult

than at present, and especially during the feudal period, this

difference in thought was most pronounced. The art and poetry

of the one breathes an atmosphere entirely distinct from that of

the other. In Laotse and his followers and in Kutsugen, the

forerunner of the Yangtse-Kiang nature-poets, we find an

idealism quite inconsistent with the prosaic ethical notions of

their contemporary northern writers. Laotse lived five centuries

before the Christian Era.

The germ of Taoist speculation may be found long before the

advent of Laotse, surnamed the Long-Eared. The archaic

records of China, especially the Book of Changes, foreshadow

his thought. But the great respect paid to the laws and customs

of that classic period of Chinese civilisation which culminated

with the establishment of the Chow dynasty in the sixteenth

century B.C., kept the development of individualism in check

for a long while, so that it was not until after the disintegration

of the Chow dynasty and the establishment of innumerable

independent kingdoms that it was able to blossom forth in the

luxuriance of free-thought. Laotse and Soshi (Chuangtse) were

both Southerners and the greatest exponents of the New School.

On the other hand, Confucius with his numerous disciples aimed

at retaining ancestral conventions. Taoism cannot be understood

without some knowledge of Confucianism and vice versa.

We have said that the Taoist Absolute was the Relative.

In ethics the Taoist railed at the laws and the moral codes

of society, for to them right and wrong were but relative

terms. Definition is always limitation–the “fixed” and

“unchangeless” are but terms expressive of a stoppage of

growth. Said Kuzugen,–“The Sages move the world.”

Our standards of morality are begotten of the past needs of

society, but is society to remain always the same? The observance

of communal traditions involves a constant sacrifice of the

individual to the state. Education, in order to keep up the

mighty delusion, encourages a species of ignorance. People

are not taught to be really virtuous, but to behave properly.

We are wicked because we are frightfully self-conscious.

We nurse a conscience because we are afraid to tell the truth

to others; we take refuge in pride because we are afraid to tell

the truth to ourselves. How can one be serious with the world

when the world itself is so ridiculous! The spirit of barter is

everywhere. Honour and Chastity! Behold the complacent

salesman retailing the Good and True. One can even buy a

so-called Religion, which is really but common morality

sanctified with flowers and music. Rob the Church of her

accessories and what remains behind? Yet the trusts thrive

marvelously, for the prices are absurdly cheap, –a prayer for

a ticket to heaven, a diploma for an honourable citizenship.

Hide yourself under a bushel quickly, for if your real

usefulness were known to the world you would soon be

knocked down to the highest bidder by the public auctioneer.

Why do men and women like to advertise themselves so much?

Is it not but an instinct derived from the days of slavery?

The virility of the idea lies not less in its power of breaking

through contemporary thought than in its capacity for dominating

subsequent movements. Taoism was an active power during the

Shin dynasty, that epoch of Chinese unification from which we

derive the name China. It would be interesting had we time to note

its influence on contemporary thinkers, the mathemeticians,

writers on law and war, the mystics and alchemists and the later

nature-poets of the Yangste-Kiang. We should not even ignore

those speculators on Reality who doubted whether a white

horse was real because he was white, or because he was solid,

nor the Conversationalists of the Six dynasties who, like the Zen

philosophers, revelled in discussions concerning the Pure and

the Abstract. Above all we should pay homage to Taoism for

what it has done toward the formation of the Celestial character,

giving to it a certain capacity for reserve and refinement as

“warm as jade.” Chinese history is full of instances in which the

votaries of Taoism, princes and hermits alike, followed with

varied and interesting results the teachings of their creed.

The tale will not be without its quota of instruction and amusement.

It will be rich in anecdotes, allegories, and aphorisms. We would

fain be on speaking terms with the delightful emperor who never

died because he had never lived. We may ride the wind with

Liehtse and find it absolutely quiet because we ourselves are

the wind, or dwell in mid-air with the Aged one of the Hoang-Ho,

who lived betwixt Heaven and Earth because he was subject

to neither the one nor the other. Even in that grotesque apology

for Taoism which we find in China at the present day, we can revel

in a wealth of imagery impossible to find in any other cult.

But the chief contribution of Taoism to Asiatic life has been in the

realm of aesthetics. Chinese historians have always spoken of

Taoism as the “art of being in the world,” for it deals with the

present–ourselves. It is in us that God meets with Nature, and

yesterday parts from to-morrow. The Present is the moving

Infinity, the legitimate sphere of the Relative. Relativity seeks

Adjustment; Adjustment is Art. The art of life lies in a constant

readjustment to our surroundings. Taoism accepts the mundane

as it is and, unlike the Confucians or the Buddhists, tries to find

beauty in our world of woe and worry. The Sung allegory of the

Three Vinegar Tasters explains admirably the trend of the three

doctrines. Sakyamuni, Confucius, and Laotse once stood before

a jar of vinegar–the emblem of life–and each dipped in his finger

to taste the brew. The matter-of-fact Confucius found it sour,

the Buddha called it bitter, and Laotse pronounced it sweet.

The Taoists claimed that the comedy of life could be made more

interesting if everyone would preserve the unities. To keep the

proportion of things and give place to others without losing

one’s own position was the secret of success in the mundane

drama. We must know the whole play in order to properly act

our parts; the conception of totality must never be lost in that of

the individual. This Laotse illustrates by his favourite metaphor

of the Vacuum. He claimed that only in vacuum lay the truly

essential. The reality of a room, for instance, was to be found

in the vacant space enclosed by the roof and the walls, not in the

roof and walls themselves. The usefulness of a water pitcher

dwelt in the emptiness where water might be put, not in the

form of the pitcher or the material of which it was made.

Vacuum is all potent because all containing. In vacuum alone

motion becomes possible. One who could make of himself a

vacuum into which others might freely enter would become

master of all situations. The whole can always dominate

the part.

These Taoists’ ideas have greatly influenced all our theories

of action, even to those of fencing and wrestling. Jiu-jitsu,

the Japanese art of self-defence, owes its name to a passage

in the Tao-teking. In jiu-jitsu one seeks to draw out and

exhaust the enemy’s strength by non-resistance, vacuum,

while conserving one’s own strength for victory in the final

struggle. In art the importance of the same principle is

illustrated by the value of suggestion. In leaving something

unsaid the beholder is given a chance to complete the idea

and thus a great masterpiece irresistably rivets your attention

until you seem to become actually a part of it. A vacuum

is there for you to enter and fill up the full measure of your

aesthetic emotion.

He whohad made himself master of the art of living was the

Real man of the Taoist. At birth he enters the realm of dreams

only to awaken to reality at death. He tempers his own

brightness in order to merge himself into the obscurity of

others. He is “reluctant, as one who crosses a stream in

winter; hesitating as one who fears the neighbourhood;

respectful, like a guest; trembling, like ice that is about to melt;

unassuming, like a piece of wood not yet carved; vacant,

like a valley; formless, like troubled waters.” To him the three

jewls of life were Pity, Economy, and Modesty.

If now we turn our attention to Zennism we shall find that

it emphasises the teachings of Taoism. Zen is a name

derived from the Sanscrit word Dhyana, which signifies

meditation. It claims that through consecrated meditation

may be attained supreme self-realisation. Meditation is one

of the six ways through which Buddhahood may be reached,

and the Zen sectarians affirm that Sakyamuni laid special stress

on this method in his later teachings, handing down the rules to

his chief disciple Kashiapa. According to their tradition Kashiapa,

the first Zen patriarch, imparted the secret to Ananda, who in

turn passed it on to successive patriarchs until it reached

Bodhi-Dharma, the twenty-eighth. Bodhi-Dharma came to

Northern China in the early half of the sixth century and was the

first patriarch of Chinese Zen. There is much uncertainty about

the history of these patriarchs and their doctrines. In its

philosophical aspect early Zennism seems to have affinity on

one hand to the Indian Negativism of Nagarjuna and on the

other to the Gnan philosophy formulated by Sancharacharya.

The first teaching of Zen as we know it at the present day must be

attributed to the sixth Chinese patriarch Yeno(637-713), founder

of Southern Zen, so-called from the fact of its predominance

in Southern China. He is closely followed by the great

Baso(died 788) who made of Zen a living influence in Celestial

life. Hiakujo(719-814) the pupil of Baso, first instituted the Zen

monastery and established a ritual and regulations for its

government. In the discussions of the Zen school after the

time of Baso we find the play of the Yangtse-Kiang mind

causing an accession of native modes of thought in contrast

to the former Indian idealism. Whatever sectarian pride may

assert to the contrary one cannot help being impressed by the

similarity of Southern Zen to the teachings of Laotse and the

Taoist Conversationalists. In the Tao-teking we already find

allusions to the importance of self-concentration and the

need of properly regulating the breath–essential points in the

practice of Zen meditation. Some of the best commentaries

on the Book of Laotse have been written by Zen scholars.

Zennism, like Taoism, is the worship of Relativity. One

master defines Zen as the art of feeling the polar star in the

southern sky. Truth can be reached only through the

comprehension of opposites. Again, Zennism, like Taoism,

is a strong advocate of individualism. Nothing is real except

that which concerns the working of our own minds. Yeno,

the sixth patriarch, once saw two monks watching the flag

of a pagoda fluttering in the wind. One said “It is the wind

that moves,” the other said “It is the flag that moves”; but

Yeno explained to them that the real movement was neither

of the wind nor the flag, but of something within their own

minds. Hiakujo was walking in the forest with a disciple when

a hare scurried off at their approach. “Why does the hare fly

from you?” asked Hiakujo. “Because he is afraid of me,” was

the answer. “No,” said the master, “it is because you have

murderous instinct.” The dialogue recalls that of Soshi (Chauntse),

the Taoist. One day Soshi was walking on the bank of a river

with a friend. “How delightfully the fishes are enjoying themselves

in the water!” exclaimed Soshi. His friend spake to him thus:

“You are not a fish; how do you know that the fishes are enjoying

themselves?” “You are not myself,” returned Soshi; “how do you

know that I do not know that the fishes are enjoying themselves?”

Zen was often opposed to the precepts of orthodox Buddhism

even as Taoism was opposed to Confucianism. To the

transcendental insight of the Zen, words were but an

incumberance to thought; the whole sway of Buddhist scriptures

only commentaries on personal speculation. The followers of

Zen aimed at direct communion with the inner nature of things,

regarding their outward accessories only as impediments to a

clear perception of Truth. It was this love of the Abstract that

led the Zen to prefer black and white sketches to the elaborately

coloured paintings of the classic Buddhist School. Some of the

Zen even became iconoclastic as a result of their endeavor to

recognise the Buddha in themselves rather than through images

and symbolism. We find Tankawosho breaking up a wooden

statue of Buddha on a wintry day to make a fire. “What

sacrilege!” said the horror-stricken bystander. “I wish to

get the Shali out of the ashes,” camply rejoined the Zen.

“But you certainly will not get Shali from this image!” was the

angry retort, to which Tanka replied, “If I do not, this is

certainly not a Buddha and I am committing no sacrilege.”

Then he turned to warm himself over the kindling fire.

A special contribution of Zen to Easthern thought was its

recognition of the mundane as of equal importance with the

spiritual. It held that in the great relation of things there was

no distinction of small and great, an atom posessing equal

possibilites with the universe. The seeker for perfection must

discover in his own life the reflection of the inner light. The

organisation of the Zen monastery was very significant of this

point of view. To every member, except the abbot, was assigned

some special work in the caretaking of the monastery, and

curiously enough, to the novices was committed the lighter

duties, while to the most respected and advanced monks were

given the more irksome and menial tasks. Such services formed

a part of the Zen discipline and every least action must be done

absolutely perfectly. Thus many a weighty discussion ensued

while weeding the garden, paring a turnip, or serving tea.

The whole ideal of Teaism is a result of this Zen conception of

greatness in the smallest incidents of life. Taoism furnished the

basis for aesthetic ideals, Zennism made them practical.



IV. The Tea-Room


To European architects brought up on the traditions of stone and

brick construction, our Japanese method of building with wood

and bamboo seems scarcely worthy to be ranked as architecture.

It is but quite recently that a competent student of Western

architecture has recognised and paid tribute to the remarkable

perfection of our great temples. Such being the case as regards

our classic architecture, we could hardly expect the outsider to

appreciate the subtle beauty of the tea-room, its principles of

construction and decoration being entirely different from those

of the West.

The tea-room (the Sukiya) does not pretend to be other than a

mere cottage–a straw hut, as we call it. The original ideographs

for Sukiya mean the Abode of Fancy. Latterly the various

tea-masters substituted various Chinese characters according to

their conception of the tea-room, and the term Sukiya may

signify the Abode of Vacancy or the Abode of the Unsymmetrical.

It is an Abode of Fancy inasmuch as it is an ephemeral structure

built to house a poetic impulse. It is an Abode of Vacancy

inasmuch as it is devoid of ornamentation except for what may

be placed in it to satisfy some aesthetic need of the moment.

It is an Abode of the Unsymmetrical inasmuch as it is consecrated

to the worship of the Imperfect, purposely leaving some thing

unfinished for the play of the imagination to complete. The

ideals of Teaism have since the sixteenth century influenced our

architecture to such degree that the ordinary Japanese interior of

the present day, on account of the extreme simplicity and

chasteness of its scheme of decoration, appears to foreigners

almost barren.

The first independent tea-room was the creation of Senno-Soyeki,

commonly known by his later name of Rikiu, the greatest of all

tea-masters, who, in the sixteenth century, under the patronage

of Taiko-Hideyoshi, instituted and brought to a high state of

perfection the formalities of the Tea-ceremony. The proportions

of the tea-room had been previously determined by Jowo–a

famous tea-master of the fifteenth century. The early tea-room

consisted merely of a portion of the ordinary drawing-room

partitioned off by screens for the purpose of the tea-gathering.

The portion partitioned off was called the Kakoi (enclosure), a

name still applied to those tea-rooms which are built into a house

and are not independent constructions. The Sukiya consists of the

tea-room proper, designed to accomodate not more than five

persons, a number suggestive of the saying “more than the Graces

and less than the Muses,” an anteroom (midsuya) where the tea

utensils are washed and arranged before being brought in, a

portico (machiai) in which the guests wait until they receive the

summons to enter the tea-room, and a garden path (the roji) which

connects the machiai with the tea-room. The tea-room is

unimpressive in appearance. It is smaller than the smallest

of Japanese houses, while the materials used in its construction

are intended to give the suggestion of refined poverty. Yet we

must remember that all this is the result of profound artistic

forethought, and that the details have been worked out with care

perhaps even greater than that expended on the building of the

richest palaces and temples. A good tea-room is more costly than

an ordinary mansion, for the selection of its materials, as well as its

workmanship, requires immense care and precision. Indeed, the

carpenters employed by the tea-masters form a distinct and

highly honoured class among artisans, their work being no

less delicate than that of the makers of lacquer cabinets.

The tea-room is not only different from any production of

Western architecture, but also contrasts strongly with the

classical architecture of Japan itself. Our ancient noble

edifices, whether secular or ecclesiastical, were not to be

despised even as regards their mere size. The few that have

been spared in the disastrous conflagrations of centuries

are still capable of aweing us by the grandeur and richness

of their decoration. Huge pillars of wood from two to three

feet in diameter and from thirty to forty feet high, supported,

by a complicated network of brackets, the enormous beams

which groaned under the weight of the tile-covered roofs.

The material and mode of construction, though weak against

fire, proved itself strong against earthquakes, and was well

suited to the climatic conditions of the country. In the Golden

Hall of Horiuji and the Pagoda of Yakushiji, we have noteworthy

examples of the durability of our wooden architecture. These

buildings have practically stood intact for nearly twelve

centuries. The interior of the old temples and palaces was

profusely decorated. In the Hoodo temple at Uji, dating from

the tenth century, we can still see the elaborate canopy and

gilded baldachinos, many-coloured and inlaid with mirrors and

mother-of-pearl, as well as remains of the paintings and

sculpture which formerly covered the walls. Later, at Nikko

and in the Nijo castle in Kyoto, we see structural beauty sacrificed

to a wealth of ornamentation which in colour and exquisite detail

equals the utmost gorgeousness of Arabian or Moorish effort.

The simplicity and purism of the tea-room resulted from

emulation of the Zen monastery. A Zen monastery differs from

those of other Buddhist sects inasmuch as it is meant only to be a

dwelling place for the monks. Its chapel is not a place of worship

or pilgrimage, but a college room where the students congregate

for discussion and the practice of meditation. The room is bare

except for a central alcove in which, behind the altar, is a statue

of Bodhi Dharma, the founder of the sect, or of Sakyamuni

attended by Kaphiapa and Ananda, the two earliest Zen patriarchs.

On the altar, flowers and incense are offered up in the memory of

the great contributions which these sages made to Zen. We have

already said that it was the ritual instituted by the Zen monks of

successively drinking tea out of a bowl before the image of

Bodhi Dharma, which laid the foundations of the tea-ceremony.

We might add here that the altar of the Zen chapel was the

prototype of the Tokonoma,–the place of honour in a Japanese

room where paintings and flowers are placed for the edification

of the guests.

All our great tea-masters were students of Zen and attempted

to introduce the spirit of Zennism into the actualities of life.

Thus the room, like the other equipments of the tea-ceremony,

reflects many of the Zen doctrines. The size of the orthodox

tea-room, which is four mats and a half, or ten feet square,

is determined by a passage in the Sutra of Vikramadytia.

In that interesting work, Vikramadytia welcomes the Saint

Manjushiri and eighty-four thousand disciples of Buddha in

a room of this size,–an allegory based on the theory of the

non-existence of space to the truly enlightened. Again the

roji, the garden path which leads from the machiai to the

tea-room, signified the first stage of meditation,–the passage

into self-illumination. The roji was intended to break

connection with the outside world, and produce a fresh

sensation conducive to the full enjoyment of aestheticism in

the tea-room itself. One who has trodden this garden path

cannot fail to remember how his spirit, as he walked in the

twilight of evergreens over the regular irregularities of the

stepping stones, beneath which lay dried pine needles, and passed

beside the moss-covered granite lanterns, became uplifted above

ordinary thoughts. One may be in the midst of a city, and yet feel

as if he were in the forest far away from the dust and din of

civilisation. Great was the ingenuity displayed by the tea-masters

in producing these effects of serenity and purity. The nature of

the sensations to be aroused in passing through the roji differed

with different tea-masters. Some, like Rikiu, aimed at utter

loneliness, and claimed the secret of making a roji was contained

in the ancient ditty:

“I look beyond;/Flowers are not,/Nor tinted leaves./On the sea beach/

A solitary cottage stands/In the waning light/Of an autumn eve.”

Others, like Kobori-Enshiu, sought for a different effect.

Enshiu said the idea of the garden path was to be found in the

following verses:

“A cluster of summer trees,/A bit of the sea,/A pale evening moon.”

It is not difficult to gather his meaning. He wished to create the

attitude of a newly awakened soul still lingering amid shadowy

dreams of the past, yet bathing in the sweet unconsciousness of

a mellow spiritual light, and yearning for the freedom that lay

in the expanse beyond.

Thus prepared the guest will silently approach the sanctuary,

and, if a samurai, will leave his sword on the rack beneath

the eaves, the tea-room being preeminently the house of peace.

Then he will bend low and creep into the room through a

small door not more than three feet in height. This proceeding

was incumbent on all guests,–high and low alike,–and was

intended to inculcate humility. The order of precedence

having been mutually agreed upon while resting in the machiai,

the guests one by one will enter noiselessly and take their seats,

first making obeisance to the picture or flower arrangement on

the tokonoma. The host will not enter the room until all the

guests have seated themselves and quiet reigns with nothing

to break the silence save the note of the boiling water in the

iron kettle. The kettle sings well, for pieces of iron are so

arranged in the bottom as to produce a peculiar melody in

which one may hear the echoes of a cataract muffled by clouds,

of a distant sea breaking among the rocks, a rainstorm sweeping

through a bamboo forest, or of the soughing of pines on some

faraway hill.

Even in the daytime the light in the room is subdued, for the low

eaves of the slanting roof admit but few of the sun’s rays.

Everything is sober in tint from the ceiling to the floor; the guests

themselves have carefully chosen garments of unobtrusive colors.

The mellowness of age is over all, everything suggestive of

recent acquirement being tabooed save only the one note of

contrast furnished by the bamboo dipper and the linen napkin,

both immaculately white and new. However faded the tea-room

and the tea-equipage may seem, everything is absolutely clean.

Not a particle of dust will be found in the darkest corner, for if

any exists the host is not a tea-master. One of the first requisites

of a tea-master is the knowledge of how to sweep, clean, and

wash, for there is an art in cleaning and dusting. A piece of

antique metal work must not be attacked with the unscrupulous

zeal of the Dutch housewife. Dripping water from a flower

vase need not be wiped away, for it may be suggestive of dew

and coolness.

In this connection there is a story of Rikiu which well illustrates

the ideas of cleanliness entertained by the tea-masters. Rikiu was

watching his son Shoan as he swept and watered the garden path.

“Not clean enough,” said Rikiu, when Shoan had finished his task,

and bade him try again. After a weary hour the son turned to

Rikiu: “Father, there is nothing more to be done. The steps have

been washed for the third time, the stone lanterns and the trees are

well sprinkled with water, moss and lichens are shining with a fresh

verdure; not a twig, not a leaf have I left on the ground.” “Young

fool,” chided the tea-master, “that is not the way a garden path

should be swept.” Saying this, Rikiu stepped into the garden,

shook a tree and scattered over the garden gold and crimson leaves,

scraps of the brocade of autumn! What Rikiu demanded was not

cleanliness alone, but the beautiful and the natural also.

The name, Abode of Fancy, implies a structure created to meet

some individual artistic requirement. The tea-room is made for

the tea master, not the tea-master for the tea-room. It is not

intended for posterity and is therefore ephemeral. The idea that

everyone should have a house of his own is based on an ancient

custom of the Japanese race, Shinto superstition ordaining that

every dwelling should be evacuated on the death of its chief

occupant. Perhaps there may have been some unrealized sanitary

reason for this practice. Another early custom was that a newly

built house should be provided for each couple that married.

It is on account of such customs that we find the Imperial capitals

so frequently removed from one site to another in ancient days.

The rebuilding, every twenty years, of Ise Temple, the supreme

shrine of the Sun-Goddess, is an example of one of these ancient

rites which still obtain at the present day. The observance of

these customs was only possible with some form of construction

as that furnished by our system of wooden architecture, easily

pulled down, easily built up. A more lasting style, employing

brick and stone, would have rendered migrations impracticable,

as indeed they became when the more stable and massive wooden

construction of China was adopted by us after the Nara period.

With the predominance of Zen individualism in the fifteenth

century, however, the old idea became imbued with a deeper

significance as conceived in connection with the tea-room.

Zennism, with the Buddhist theory of evanescence and its

demands for the mastery of spirit over matter, recognized the

house only as a temporary refuge for the body. The body

itself was but as a hut in the wilderness, a flimsy shelter made

by tying together the grasses that grew around,–when these

ceased to be bound together they again became resolved into

the original waste. In the tea-room fugitiveness is suggested

in the thatched roof, frailty in the slender pillars, lightness in

the bamboo support, apparent carelessness in the use of

commonplace materials. The eternal is to be found only in the

spirit which, embodied in these simple surroundings, beautifies

them with the subtle light of its refinement.

That the tea-room should be built to suit some individual taste

is an enforcement of the principle of vitality in art. Art, to be

fully appreciated, must be true to contemporaneous life. It is

not that we should ignore the claims of posterity, but that we

should seek to enjoy the present more. It is not that we should

disregard the creations of the past, but that we should try to

assimilate them into our consciousness. Slavish conformity to

traditions and formulas fetters the expression of individuality

in architecture. We can but weep over the senseless imitations

of European buildings which one beholds in modern Japan.

We marvel why, among the most progressive Western nations,

architecture should be so devoid of originality, so replete with

repetitions of obsolete styles. Perhaps we are passing through an

age of democritisation in art, while awaiting the rise of some

princely master who shall establish a new dynasty. Would that we

loved the ancients more and copied them less! It has been said that

the Greeks were great because they never drew from the antique.

The term, Abode of Vacancy, besides conveying the Taoist theory

of the all-containing, involves the conception of a continued need

of change in decorative motives. The tea-room is absolutely empty,

except for what may be placed there temporarily to satisfy some

aesthetic mood. Some special art object is brought in for the

occasion, and everything else is selected and arranged to enhance

the beauty of the principal theme. One cannot listen to different

pieces of music at the same time, a real comprehension of the

beautiful being possible only through concentration upon some

central motive. Thus it will be seen that the system of decoration

in our tea-rooms is opposed to that which obtains in the West,

where the interior of a house is often converted into a museum.

To a Japanese, accustomed to simplicity of ornamentation and

frequent change of decorative method, a Western interior

permanently filled with a vast array of pictures, statuary, and

bric-a-brac gives the impression of mere vulgar display of riches.

It calls for a mighty wealth of appreciation to enjoy the constant

sight of even a masterpiece, and limitless indeed must be the

capacity for artistic feeling in those who can exist day after day

in the midst of such confusion of color and form as is to be

often seen in the homes of Europe and America.

The “Abode of the Unsymmetrical” suggests another phase of

our decorative scheme. The absence of symmetry in Japanese

art objects has been often commented on by Western critics.

This, also, is a result of a working out through Zennism of

Taoist ideals. Confucianism, with its deep-seated idea of dualism,

and Northern Buddhism with its worship of a trinity, were in no

way opposed to the expression of symmetry. As a matter of fact,

if we study the ancient bronzes of China or the religious arts of

the Tang dynasty and the Nara period, we shall recognize a

constant striving after symmetry. The decoration of our classical

interiors was decidedly regular in its arrangement. The Taoist and

Zen conception of perfection, however, was different. The dynamic

nature of their philosophy laid more stress upon the process through

which perfection was sought than upon perfection itself. True

beauty could be discovered only by one who mentally completed

the incomplete. The virility of life and art lay in its possibilities

for growth. In the tea-room it is left for each guest in imagination

to complete the total effect in relation to himself. Since Zennism

has become the prevailing mode of thought, the art of the extreme

Orient has purposefully avoided the symmetrical as expressing not

only completion, but repetition. Uniformity of design was considered

fatal to the freshness of imagination. Thus, landscapes, birds, and

flowers became the favorite subjects for depiction rather than the

human figure, the latter being present in the person of the beholder

himself. We are often too much in evidence as it is, and in spite

of our vanity even self-regard is apt to become monotonous.

In the tea-room the fear of repetition is a constant presence.

The various objects for the decoration of a room should be so

selected that no colour or design shall be repeated. If you have

a living flower, a painting of flowers is not allowable. If you

are using a round kettle, the water pitcher should be angular.

A cup with a black glaze should not be associated with a tea-caddy

of black laquer. In placing a vase of an incense burner on the

tokonoma, care should be taken not to put it in the exact centre,

lest it divide the space into equal halves. The pillar of the tokonoma

should be of a different kind of wood from the other pillars, in order

to break any suggestion of monotony in the room.

Here again the Japanese method of interior decoration differs from

that of the Occident, where we see objects arrayed symmetrically

on mantelpieces and elsewhere. In Western houses we are often

confronted with what appears to us useless reiteration. We find

it trying to talk to a man while his full-length portrait stares at us

from behind his back. We wonder which is real, he of the picture

or he who talks, and feel a curious conviction that one of them must

be fraud. Many a time have we sat at a festive board contemplating,

with a secret shock to our digestion, the representation of abundance

on the dining-room walls. Why these pictured victims of chase and

sport, the elaborate carvings of fishes and fruit? Why the display

of family plates, reminding us of those who have dined and are dead?

The simplicity of the tea-room and its freedom from vulgarity

make it truly a sanctuary from the vexations of the outer world.

There and there alone one can consecrate himself to undisturbed

adoration of the beautiful. In the sixteenth century the tea-room

afforded a welcome respite from labour to the fierce warriors and

statesmen engaged in the unification and reconstruction of Japan.

In the seventeenth century, after the strict formalism of the

Tokugawa rule had been developed, it offered the only opportunity

possible for the free communion of artistic spirits. Before a great

work of art there was no distinction between daimyo, samurai, and

commoner. Nowadays industrialism is making true refinement more

and more difficult all the world over. Do we not need the tea-room

more than ever?



V. Art Appreciation


Have you heard the Taoist tale of the Taming of the Harp?

Once in the hoary ages in the Ravine of Lungmen stood a

Kiri tree, a veritable king of the forest. It reared its head to

talk to the stars; its roots struck deep into the earth,

mingling their bronzed coils with those of the silver

dragon that slept beneath. And it came to pass that a

mighty wizard made of this tree a wondrous harp, whose

stubborn spirit should be tamed but by the greatest of

musicians. For long the instrument was treasured by the

Emperor of China, but all in vain were the efforts of those

who in turn tried to draw melody from its strings. In

response to their utmost strivings there came from the harp

but harsh notes of disdain, ill-according with the songs they

fain would sing. The harp refused to recognise a master.

At last came Peiwoh, the prince of harpists. With tender

hand he caressed the harp as one might seek to soothe an

unruly horse, and softly touched the chords. He sang of

nature and the seasons, of high mountains and flowing waters,

and all the memories of the tree awoke! Once more the sweet

breath of spring played amidst its branches. The young

cataracts, as they danced down the ravine, laughed to the

budding flowers. Anon were heard the dreamy voices of

summer with its myriad insects, the gentle pattering of rain,

the wail of the cuckoo. Hark! a tiger roars,–the valley

answers again. It is autumn; in the desert night, sharp like

a sword gleams the moon upon the frosted grass. Now

winter reigns, and through the snow-filled air swirl flocks

of swans and rattling hailstones beat upon the boughs with

fierce delight.

Then Peiwoh changed the key and sang of love. The forest

swayed like an ardent swain deep lost in thought. On high,

like a haughty maiden, swept a cloud bright and fair; but

passing, trailed long shadows on the ground, black like

despair. Again the mode was changed; Peiwoh sang of

war, of clashing steel and trampling steeds. And in the

harp arose the tempest of Lungmen, the dragon rode the

lightning, the thundering avalanche crashed through the

hills. In ecstasy the Celestial monarch asked Peiwoh wherein

lay the secret of his victory. “Sire,” he replied, “others have

failed because they sang but of themselves. I left the harp to

choose its theme, and knew not truly whether the harp had

been Peiwoh or Peiwoh were the harp.”

This story well illustrates the mystery of art appreciation.

The masterpiece is a symphony played upon our finest

feelings. True art is Peiwoh, and we the harp of Lungmen.

At the magic touch of the beautiful the secret chords of

our being are awakened, we vibrate and thrill in response

to its call. Mind speaks to mind. We listen to the unspoken,

we gaze upon the unseen. The master calls forth notes we

know not of. Memories long forgotten all come back to us

with a new significance. Hopes stifled by fear, yearnings

that we dare not recognise, stand forth in new glory. Our

mind is the canvas on which the artists lay their colour; their

pigments are our emotions; their chiaroscuro the light of joy,

the shadow of sadness. The masterpiece is of ourselves, as

we are of the masterpiece.

The sympathetic communion of minds necessary for art

appreciation must be based on mutual concession. The

spectator must cultivate the proper attitude for receiving

the message, as the artist must know how to impart it. The

tea-master, Kobori-Enshiu, himself a daimyo, has left to us

these memorable words: “Approach a great painting as thou

wouldst approach a great prince.” In order to understand a

masterpiece, you must lay yourself low before it and await

with bated breath its least utterance. An eminent Sung critic

once made a charming confession. Said he: “In my young

days I praised the master whose pictures I liked, but as my

judgement matured I praised myself for liking what the masters

had chosen to have me like.” It is to be deplored that so few of

us really take pains to study the moods of the masters. In our

stubborn ignorance we refuse to render them this simple

courtesy, and thus often miss the rich repast of beauty spread

before our very eyes. A master has always something to offer,

while we go hungry solely because of our own lack of


To the sympathetic a masterpiece becomes a living reality

towards which we feel drawn in bonds of comradeship. The

masters are immortal, for their loves and fears live in us over

and over again. It is rather the soul than the hand, the man than

the technique, which appeals to us,–the more human the call

the deeper is our response. It is because of this secret

understanding between the master and ourselves that in poetry

or romance we suffer and rejoice with the hero and heroine.

Chikamatsu, our Japanese Shakespeare, has laid down as one of

the first principles of dramatic composition the importance

of taking the audience into the confidence of the author.

Several of his pupils submitted plays for his approval, but

only one of the pieces appealed to him. It was a play

somewhat resembling the Comedy of Errors, in which

twin brethren suffer through mistaken identity. “This,” said

Chikamatsu, “has the proper spirit of the drama, for it

takes the audience into consideration. The public is permitted

to know more than the actors. It knows where the mistake

lies, and pities the poor figures on the board who innocently

rush to their fate.”

The great masters both of the East and the West never forgot

the value of suggestion as a means for taking the spectator into

their confidence. Who can contemplate a masterpiece without

being awed by the immense vista of thought presented to our

consideration? How familiar and sympathetic are they all;

how cold in contrast the modern commonplaces! In the former

we feel the warm outpouring of a man’s heart; in the latter

only a formal salute. Engrossed in his technique, the

modern rarely rises above himself. Like the musicians who

vainly invoked the Lungmen harp, he sings only of himself.

His works may be nearer science, but are further from

humanity. We have an old saying in Japan that a woman

cannot love a man who is truly vain, for their is no crevice

in his heart for love to enter and fill up. In art vanity is equally

fatal to sympathetic feeling, whether on the part of the artist

or the public.

Nothing is more hallowing than the union of kindred spirits in

art. At the moment of meeting, the art lover transcends himself.

At once he is and is not. He catches a glimpse of Infinity, but

words cannot voice his delight, for the eye has no tongue.

Freed from the fetters of matter, his spirit moves in the rhythm

of things. It is thus that art becomes akin to religion and

ennobles mankind. It is this which makes a masterpiece

something sacred. In the old days the veneration in which the

Japanese held the work of the great artist was intense. The

tea-masters guarded their treasures with religious secrecy,

and it was often necessary to open a whole series of boxes,

one within another, before reaching the shrine itself–the silken

wrapping within whose soft folds lay the holy of holies. Rarely

was the object exposed to view, and then only to the initiated.

At the time when Teaism was in the ascendency the Taiko’s

generals would be better satisfied with the present of a

rare work of art than a large grant of territory as a reward

of victory. Many of our favourite dramas are based on the

loss and recovery of a noted masterpiece. For instance,

in one play the palace of Lord Hosokawa, in which was

preserved the celebrated painting of Dharuma by Sesson,

suddenly takes fire through the negligence of the samurai

in charge. Resolved at all hazards to rescue the precious

painting, he rushes into the burning building and seizes the

kakemono, only to find all means of exit cut off by the flames.

Thinking only of the picture, he slashes open his body with

his sword, wraps his torn sleeve about the Sesson and

plunges it into the gaping wound. The fire is at last

extinguished. Among the smoking embers is found a half-

consumed corps, within which reposes the treasure uninjured

by the fire. Horrible as such tales are, they illustrate the great

value that we set upon a masterpiece, as well as the devotion

of a trusted samurai.

We must remember, however, that art is of value only to the

extent that it speaks to us. It might be a universal language

if we ourselves were universal in our sympathies. Our

finite nature, the power of tradition and conventionality, as

well as our hereditary instincts, restrict the scope of our

capacity for artistic enjoyment. Our very individuality

establishes in one sense a limit to our understanding; and our

aesthetic personality seeks its own affinities in the creations of

the past. It is true that with cultivation our sense of art

appreciation broadens, and we become able to enjoy many

hitherto unrecognised expressions of beauty. But, after all, we

see only our own image in the universe,–our particular

idiosyncracies dictate the mode of our perceptions. The tea-

masters collected only objects which fell strictly within the

measure of their individual appreciation.

One is reminded in this connection of a story concerning

Kobori-Enshiu. Enshiu was complimented by his disciples

on the admirable taste he had displayed in the choice of his

collection. Said they, “Each piece is such that no one could

help admiring. It shows that you had better taste than had

Rikiu, for his collection could only be appreciated by one

beholder in a thousand.” Sorrowfully Enshiu replied: “This

only proves how commonplace I am. The great Rikiu dared

to love only those objects which personally appealed to him,

whereas I unconsciously cater to the taste of the majority.

Verily, Rikiu was one in a thousand among tea-masters.”

It is much to be regretted that so much of the apparent

enthusiasm for art at the present day has no foundation in

real feeling. In this democratic age of ours men clamour

for what is popularly considered the best, regardless of their

feelings. They want the costly, not the refined; the fashionable,

not the beautiful. To the masses, contemplation of illustrated

periodicals, the worthy product of their own industrialism,

would give more digestible food for artistic enjoyment than

the early Italians or the Ashikaga masters, whom they pretend

to admire. The name of the artist is more important to them

than the quality of the work. As a Chinese critic complained

many centuries ago, “People criticise a picture by their ear.”

It is this lack of genuine appreciation that is responsible for

the pseudo-classic horrors that to-day greet us wherever we


Another common mistake is that of confusing art with

archaeology. The veneration born of antiquity is one of the

best traits in the human character, and fain would we have

it cultivated to a greater extent. The old masters are rightly

to be honoured for opening the path to future enlightenment.

The mere fact that they have passed unscathed through

centuries of criticism and come down to us still covered

with glory commands our respect. But we should be foolish

indeed if we valued their achievement simply on the score of

age. Yet we allow our historical sympathy to override our

aesthetic discrimination. We offer flowers of approbation when

the artist is safely laid in his grave. The nineteenth century,

pregnant with the theory of evolution, has moreover created

in us the habit of losing sight of the individual in the species.

A collector is anxious to acquire specimens to illustrate a period

or a school, and forgets that a single masterpiece can teach us

more than any number of the mediocre products of a given

period or school. We classify too much and enjoy too little.

The sacrifice of the aesthetic to the so-called scientific method

of exhibition has been the bane of many museums.

The claims of contemporary art cannot be ignored in any

vital scheme of life. The art of to-day is that which really

belongs to us: it is our own reflection. In condemning it we

but condemn ourselves. We say that the present age possesses

no art:–who is responsible for this? It is indeed a shame that

despite all our rhapsodies about the ancients we pay so little

attention to our own possibilities. Struggling artists, weary

souls lingering in the shadow of cold disdain! In our self-

centered century, what inspiration do we offer them? The

past may well look with pity at the poverty of our civilisation;

the future will laugh at the barrenness of our art. We are

destroying the beautiful in life. Would that some great wizard

might from the stem of society shape a mighty harp whose

strings would resound to the touch of genius.




VI. Flowers

In the trembling grey of a spring dawn, when the birds were

whispering in mysterious cadence among the trees, have you

not felt that they were talking to their mates about the flowers?

Surely with mankind the appreciation of flowers must have

been coeval with the poetry of love. Where better than in a

flower, sweet in its unconsciousness, fragrant because of its

silence, can we image the unfolding of a virgin soul? The primeval

man in offering the first garland to his maiden thereby transcended

the brute. He became human in thus rising above the crude

necessities of nature. He entered the realm of art when he

perceived the subtle use of the useless.

In joy or sadness, flowers are our constant friends. We eat, drink,

sing, dance, and flirt with them. We wed and christen with flowers.

We dare not die without them. We have worshipped with the lily,

we have meditated with the lotus, we have charged in battle array

with the rose and the chrysanthemum. We have even attempted to

speak in the language of flowers. How could we live without them?

It frightens on to conceive of a world bereft of their presence.

What solace do they not bring to the bedside of the sick, what a

light of bliss to the darkness of weary spirits? Their serene tenderness

restores to us our waning confidence in the universe even as the

intent gaze of a beautiful child recalls our lost hopes. When we are

laid low in the dust it is they who linger in sorrow over our graves.

Sad as it is, we cannot conceal the fact that in spite of our

companionship with flowers we have not risen very far above

the brute. Scratch the sheepskin and the wolf within us will soon

show his teeth. It has been said that a man at ten is an animal,

at twenty a lunatic, at thirty a failure, at forty a fraud, and at fifty

a criminal. Perhaps he becomes a criminal because he has never

ceased to be an animal. Nothing is real to us but hunger, nothing

sacred except our own desires. Shrine after shrine has crumbled

before our eyes; but one altar is forever preserved, that whereon

we burn incense to the supreme idol,–ourselves. Our god is

great, and money is his Prophet! We devastate nature in order to

make sacrifice to him. We boast that we have conquered Matter

and forget that it is Matter that has enslaved us. What atrocities

do we not perpetrate in the name of culture and refinement!

Tell me, gentle flowers, teardrops of the stars, standing in the

garden, nodding your heads to the bees as they sing of the dews

and the sunbeams, are you aware of the fearful doom that

awaits you? Dream on, sway and frolic while you may in the

gentle breezes of summer. To-morrow a ruthless hand will close

around your throats. You will be wrenched, torn asunder limb

by limb, and borne away from your quiet homes. The wretch,

she may be passing fair. She may say how lovely you are while

her fingers are still moist with your blood. Tell me, will this be

kindness? It may be your fate to be imprisoned in the hair of

one whom you know to be heartless or to be thrust into the

buttonhole of one who would not dare to look you in the face

were you a man. It may even be your lot to be confined in

some narrow vessel with only stagnant water to quench the

maddening thirst that warns of ebbing life.

Flowers, if you were in the land of the Mikado, you might some

time meet a dread personage armed with scissors and a tiny saw.

He would call himself a Master of Flowers. He would claim the

rights of a doctor and you would instinctively hate him, for you

know a doctor always seeks to prolong the troubles of his victims.

He would cut, bend, and twist you into those impossible positions

which he thinks it proper that you should assume. He would

contort your muscles and dislocate your bones like any osteopath.

He would burn you with red-hot coals to stop your bleeding, and

thrust wires into you to assist your circulation. He would diet you

with salt, vinegar, alum, and sometimes, vitriol. Boiling water

would be poured on your feet when you seemed ready to faint.

It would be his boast that he could keep life within you for two

or more weeks longer than would have been possible without his

treatment. Would you not have preferred to have been killed at once

when you were first captured? What were the crimes you must have

committed during your past incarnation to warrant such punishment

in this?

The wanton waste of flowers among Western communities is even more

appalling than the way they are treated by Eastern Flower

Masters. The number of flowers cut daily to adorn the

ballrooms and banquet-tables of Europe and America, to be

thrown away on the morrow, must be something enormous;

if strung together they might garland a continent. Beside this

utter carelessness of life, the guilt of the Flower-Master becomes

insignificant. He, at least, respects the economy of nature,

selects his victims with careful foresight, and after death does

honour to their remains. In the West the display of flowers seems

to be a part of the pageantry of wealth,–the fancy of a moment.

Whither do they all go, these flowers, when the revelry is over?

Nothing is more pitiful than to see a faded flower remorselessly

flung upon a dung heap.

Why were the flowers born so beautiful and yet so hapless?

Insects can sting, and even the meekest of beasts will fight when

brought to bay. The birds whose plumage is sought to deck some

bonnet can fly from its pursuer, the furred animal whose coat you

covet for your own may hide at your approach. Alas! The only

flower known to have wings is the butterfly; all others stand

helpless before the destroyer. If they shriek in their death agony

their cry never reaches our hardened ears. We are ever brutal to

those who love and serve us in silence, but the time may come when,

for our cruelty, we shall be deserted by these best friends of ours.

Have you not noticed that the wild flowers are becoming scarcer

every year? It may be that their wise men have told them to

depart till man becomes more human. Perhaps they have migrated

to heaven.

Much may be said in favor of him who cultivates plants. The man

of the pot is far more humane than he of the scissors. We watch

with delight his concern about water and sunshine, his feuds with

parasites, his horror of frosts, his anxiety when the buds come

slowly, his rapture when the leaves attain their lustre. In the East

the art of floriculture is a very ancient one, and the loves of a poet

and his favorite plant have often been recorded in story and song.

With the development of ceramics during the Tang and Sung

dynasties we hear of wonderful receptacles made to hold plants,

not pots, but jewelled palaces. A special attendant was detailed

to wait upon each flower and to wash its leaves with soft brushes

made of rabbit hair. It has been written [“Pingtse”, by Yuenchunlang]

that the peony should be bathed by a handsome maiden in full

costume, that a winter-plum should be watered by a pale, slender

monk. In Japan, one of the most popular of the No-dances, the

Hachinoki, composed during the Ashikaga period, is based upon

the story of an impoverished knight, who, on a freezing night,

in lack of fuel for a fire, cuts his cherished plants in order to

entertain a wandering friar. The friar is in reality no other than

Hojo-Tokiyori, the Haroun-Al-Raschid of our tales, and the

sacrifice is not without its reward. This opera never fails to

draw tears from a Tokio audience even to-day.

Great precautions were taken for the preservation of delicate

blossoms. Emperor Huensung, of the Tang Dynasty, hung

tiny golden bells on the branches in his garden to keep off

the birds. He it was who went off in the springtime with his

court musicians to gladden the flowers with soft music.

A quaint tablet, which tradition ascribes to Yoshitsune,

the hero of our Arthurian legends, is still extant in one of

the Japanese monasteries [Sumadera, near Kobe]. It

is a notice put up for the protection of a certain wonderful

plum-tree, and appeals to us with the grim humour of

a warlike age. After referring to the beauty of the blossoms,

the inscription says: “Whoever cuts a single branch of

this tree shall forfeit a finger therefor.” Would that such

laws could be enforced nowadays against those who

wantonly destroy flowers and mutilate objects of art!

Yet even in the case of pot flowers we are inclined to suspect

the selfishness of man. Why take the plants from their homes

and ask them to bloom mid strange surroundings? Is it not

like asking the birds to sing and mate cooped up in cages?

Who knows but that the orchids feel stifled by the artificial

heat in your conservatories and hopelessly long for a glimpse

of their own Southern skies?

The ideal lover of flowers is he who visits them in their native

haunts, like Taoyuenming [all celebrated Chinese poets and

philosophers], who sat before a broken bamboo fence in

converse with the wild chrysanthemum, or Linwosing, losing

himself amid mysterious fragrance as he wandered in the

twilight among the plum-blossoms of the Western Lake.

‘Tis said that Chowmushih slept in a boat so that his dreams

might mingle with those of the lotus. It was the same spirit

which moved the Empress Komio, one of our most renowned

Nara sovereigns, as she sang: “If I pluck thee, my hand will

defile thee, O flower! Standing in the meadows as thou art,

I offer thee to the Buddhas of the past, of the present, of

the future.”

However, let us not be too sentimental. Let us be less luxurious

but more magnificent. Said Laotse: “Heaven and earth are

pitiless.” Said Kobodaishi: “Flow, flow, flow, flow, the current

of life is ever onward. Die, die, die, die, death comes to all.”

Destruction faces us wherever we turn. Destruction below and

above, destruction behind and before. Change is the only

Eternal,–why not as welcome Death as Life? They are but

counterparts one of the other,–The Night and Day of Brahma.

Through the disintegration of the old, re-creation becomes

possible. We have worshipped Death, the relentless goddess

of mercy, under many different names. It was the shadow of

the All-devouring that the Gheburs greeted in the fire. It is the

icy purism of the sword-soul before which Shinto-Japan prostrates

herself even to-day. The mystic fire consumes our weakness, the

sacred sword cleaves the bondage of desire. From our ashes

springs the phoenix of celestial hope, out of the freedom comes a

higher realisation of manhood.

Why not destroy flowers if thereby we can evolve new forms

ennobling the world idea? We only ask them to join in our

sacrifice to the beautiful. We shall atone for the deed by

consecrating ourselves to Purity and Simplicity. Thus reasoned

the tea-masters when they established the Cult of Flowers.

Anyone acquainted with the ways of our tea- and flower-masters

must have noticed the religious veneration with which they

regard flowers. They do not cull at random, but carefully select

each branch or spray with an eye to the artistic composition

they have in mind. They would be ashamed should they chance

to cut more than were absolutely necessary. It may be remarked

in this connection that they always associate the leaves, if there

be any, with the flower, for the object is to present the whole

beauty of plant life. In this respect, as in many others, their

method differs from that pursued in Western countries. Here we

are apt to see only the flower stems, heads as it were, without

body, stuck promiscuously into a vase.

When a tea-master has arranged a flower to his satisfaction he

will place it on the tokonoma, the place of honour in a Japanese

room. Nothing else will be placed near it which might interfere

with its effect, not even a painting, unless there be some special

aesthetic reason for the combination. It rests there like an

enthroned prince, and the guests or disciples on entering the

room will salute it with a profound bow before making their

addresses to the host. Drawings from masterpieces are made

and published for the edification of amateurs. The amount of

literature on the subject is quite voluminous. When the flower

fades, the master tenderly consigns it to the river or carefully

buries it in the ground. Monuments are sometimes erected

to their memory.

The birth of the Art of Flower Arrangement seems to be

simultaneous with that of Teaism in the fifteenth century.

Our legends ascribe the first flower arrangement to those

early Buddhist saints who gathered the flowers strewn by

the storm and, in their infinite solicitude for all living things,

placed them in vessels of water. It is said that Soami, the

great painter and connoisseur of the court of Ashikaga-

Yoshimasa, was one of the earliest adepts at it. Juko, the

tea-master, was one of his pupils, as was also Senno, the

founder of the house of Ikenobo, a family as illustrious in

the annals of flowers as was that of the Kanos in painting.

With the perfecting of the tea-ritual under Rikiu, in the latter

part of the sixteenth century, flower arrangement also attains

its full growth. Rikiu and his successors, the celebrated Ota-

wuraka, Furuka-Oribe, Koyetsu, Kobori-Enshiu, Katagiri-

Sekishiu, vied with each other in forming new combinations.

We must remember, however, that the flower-worship of the

tea-masters formed only a part of their aesthetic ritual, and

was not a distinct religion by itself. A flower arrangement,

like the other works of art in the tea-room, was subordinated

to the total scheme of decoration. Thus Sekishiu ordained

that white plum blossoms should not be made use of when

snow lay in the garden. “Noisy” flowers were relentlessly

banished from the tea-room. A flower arrangement by a

tea-master loses its significance if removed from the place for

which it was originally intended, for its lines and proportions

have been specially worked out with a view to its surroundings.

The adoration of the flower for its own sake begins with the

rise of “Flower-Masters,” toward the middle of the seventeenth

century. It now becomes independent of the tea-room and

knows no law save that the vase imposes on it. New conceptions

and methods of execution now become possible, and many were

the principles and schools resulting therefrom. A writer in the

middle of the last century said he could count over one hundred

different schools of flower arrangement. Broadly speaking,

these divide themselves into two main branches, the Formalistic

and the Naturalesque. The Formalistic schools, led by the

Ikenobos, aimed at a classic idealism corresponding to that of the

Kano-academicians. We possess records of arrangements by the

early masters of the school which almost reproduce the flower

paintings of Sansetsu and Tsunenobu. The Naturalesque school,

on the other hand, accepted nature as its model, only imposing

such modifications of form as conduced to the expression of

artistic unity. Thus we recognise in its works the same impulses

which formed the Ukiyoe and Shijo schools of painting.

It would be interesting, had we time, to enter more fully than it

is now possible into the laws of composition and detail formulated

by the various flower-masters of this period, showing, as they would,

the fundamental theories which governed Tokugawa decoration.

We find them referring to the Leading Principle (Heaven), the

Subordinate Principle (Earth), the Reconciling Principle (Man),

and any flower arrangement which did not embody these principles

was considered barren and dead. They also dwelt much on the

importance of treating a flower in its three different aspects,

the Formal, the Semi-Formal, and the Informal. The first might be

said to represent flowers in the stately costume of the ballroom,

the second in the easy elegance of afternoon dress, the third in the

charming deshabille of the boudoir.

Our personal sympathies are with the flower-arrangements of the

tea-master rather than with those of the flower-master. The former

is art in its proper setting and appeals to us on account of its true

intimacy with life. We should like to call this school the Natural

in contradistinction to the Naturalesque and Formalistic schools.

The tea-master deems his duty ended with the selection of the

flowers, and leaves them to tell their own story. Entering a tea-room

in late winter, you may see a slender spray of wild cherries in

combination with a budding camellia; it is an echo of departing

winter coupled with the prophecy of spring. Again, if you go into

a noon-tea on some irritatingly hot summer day, you may discover

in the darkened coolness of the tokonoma a single lily in a hanging

vase; dripping with dew, it seems to smile at the foolishness of life.

A solo of flowers is interesting, but in a concerto with painting and

sculpture the combination becomes entrancing. Sekishiu once

placed some water-plants in a flat receptacle to suggest the

vegetation of lakes and marshes, and on the wall above he hung

a painting by Soami of wild ducks flying in the air. Shoha, another

tea-master, combined a poem on the Beauty of Solitude by the Sea

with a bronze incense burner in the form of a fisherman’s hut and

some wild flowers of the beach. One of the guests has recorded that

he felt in the whole composition the breath of waning autumn.

Flower stories are endless. We shall recount but one more.

In the sixteenth century the morning-glory was as yet a rare

plant with us. Rikiu had an entire garden planted with it, which

he cultivated with assiduous care. The fame of his convulvuli

reached the ear of the Taiko, and he expressed a desire to see

them, in consequence of which Rikiu invited him to a morning

tea at his house. On the appointed day Taiko walked through the

garden, but nowhere could he see any vestige of the convulvus.

The ground had been leveled and strewn with fine pebbles and sand.

With sullen anger the despot entered the tea-room, but a sight

waited him there which completely restored his humour. On the

tokonoma, in a rare bronze of Sung workmanship, lay a single

morning-glory–the queen of the whole garden!

In such instances we see the full significance of the Flower Sacrifice.

Perhaps the flowers appreciate the full significance of it. They are

not cowards, like men. Some flowers glory in death–certainly the

Japanese cherry blossoms do, as they freely surrender themselves

to the winds. Anyone who has stood before the fragrant avalanche

at Yoshino or Arashiyama must have realized this. For a moment

they hover like bejewelled clouds and dance above the crystal streams;

then, as they sail away on the laughing waters, they seem to say:

“Farewell, O Spring! We are on to eternity.”



VII. Tea-Masters


In religion the Future is behind us. In art the present is the eternal.

The tea-masters held that real appreciation of art is only possible

to those who make of it a living influence. Thus they sought to

regulate their daily life by the high standard of refinement which

obtained in the tea-room. In all circumstances serenity of mind

should be maintained, and conversation should be conducted as

never to mar the harmony of the surroundings. The cut and

color of the dress, the poise of the body, and the manner of

walking could all be made expressions of artistic personality.

These were matters not to be lightly ignored, for until one has

made himself beautiful he has no right to approach beauty.

Thus the tea-master strove to be something more than the

artist,–art itself. It was the Zen of aestheticism. Perfection is

everywhere if we only choose to recognise it. Rikiu loved to

quote an old poem which says: “To those who long only for

flowers, fain would I show the full-blown spring which abides

in the toiling buds of snow-covered hills.”

Manifold indeed have been the contributions of the tea-masters

to art. They completely revolutionised the classical architecture

and interior decorations, and established the new style which we

have described in the chapter of the tea-room, a style to whose

influence even the palaces and monasteries built after the sixteenth

century have all been subject. The many-sided Kobori-Enshiu has

left notable examples of his genius in the Imperial villa of Katsura,

the castles of Najoya and Nijo, and the monastery of Kohoan.

All the celebrated gardens of Japan were laid out by the tea-masters.

Our pottery would probably never have attained its high quality

of excellence if the tea-masters had not lent it to their inspiration,

the manufacture of the utensils used in the tea-ceremony

calling forth the utmost expenditure of ingenuity on the parts of

our ceramists. The Seven Kilns of Enshiu are well known to all

students of Japanese pottery. many of our textile fabrics bear the

names of tea-masters who conceived their color or design. It is

impossible, indeed, to find any department of art in which the

tea-masters have not left marks of their genius. In painting and

lacquer it seems almost superfluous to mention the immense

services they have rendered. One of the greatest schools of painting

owes its origin to the tea-master Honnami-Koyetsu, famed also as

a lacquer artist and potter. Beside his works, the splendid creation

of his grandson, Koho, and of his grand-nephews, Korin and Kenzan,

almost fall into the shade. The whole Korin school, as it is generally

designated, is an expression of Teaism. In the broad lines of this

school we seem to find the vitality of nature herself.

Great as has been the influence of the tea-masters in the field of art,

it is as nothing compared to that which they have exerted on the

conduct of life. Not only in the usages of polite society, but also

in the arrangement of all our domestic details, do we feel the

presence of the tea-masters. Many of our delicate dishes, as well

as our way of serving food, are their inventions. They have

taught us to dress only in garments of sober colors. They have

instructed us in the proper spirit in which to approach flowers.

They have given emphasis to our natural love of simplicity, and

shown us the beauty of humility. In fact, through their teachings

tea has entered the life of the people.

Those of us who know not the secret of properly regulating our

own existence on this tumultuous sea of foolish troubles which

we call life are constantly in a state of misery while vainly trying

to appear happy and contented. We stagger in the attempt to

keep our moral equilibrium, and see forerunners of the tempest

in every cloud that floats on the horizon. Yet there is joy and

beauty in the roll of billows as they sweep outward toward

eternity. Why not enter into their spirit, or, like Liehtse, ride

upon the hurricane itself?

He only who has lived with the beautiful can die beautifully.

The last moments of the great tea-masters were as full of

exquisite refinement as had been their lives. Seeking always

to be in harmony with the great rhythm of the universe, they

were ever prepared to enter the unknown. The “Last Tea of

Rikiu” will stand forth forever as the acme of tragic grandeur.

Long had been the friendship between Rikiu and the Taiko-

Hideyoshi, and high the estimation in which the great warrior

held the tea-master. But the friendship of a despot is ever a

dangerous honour. It was an age rife with treachery, and men

trusted not even their nearest kin. Rikiu was no servile courtier,

and had often dared to differ in argument with his fierce patron.

Taking advantage of the coldness which had for some time existed

between the Taiko and Rikiu, the enemies of the latter accused

him of being implicated in a conspiracy to poison the despot.

It was whispered to Hideyoshi that the fatal potion was to be

administered to him with a cup of the green beverage prepared

by the tea-master. With Hideyoshi suspicion was sufficient ground

for instant execution, and there was no appeal from the will of the

angry ruler. One privilege alone was granted to the condemned–

the honor of dying by his own hand.

On the day destined for his self-immolation, Rikiu invited his chief

disciples to a last tea-ceremony. Mournfully at the appointed time

the guests met at the portico. As they look into the garden path the

trees seem to shudder, and in the rustling of their leaves are heard

the whispers of homeless ghosts. Like solemn sentinels before the

gates of Hades stand the grey stone lanterns. A wave of rare incense

is wafted from the tea-room; it is the summons which bids the guests

to enter. One by one they advance and take their places. In the

tokonoma hangs a kakemon,–a wonderful writing by an ancient

monk dealing with the evanescence of all earthly things. The singing

kettle, as it boils over the brazier, sounds like some cicada pouring

forth his woes to departing summer. Soon the host enters the room.

Each in turn is served with tea, and each in turn silently drains his cup,

the host last of all. according to established etiquette, the chief guest

now asks permission to examine the tea-equipage. Rikiu places the

various articles before them, with the kakemono. After all have

expressed admiration of their beauty, Rikiu presents one of them

to each of the assembled company as a souvenir. The bowl alone

he keeps. “Never again shall this cup, polluted by the lips of

misfortune, be used by man.” He speaks, and breaks the vessel

into fragments.

The ceremony is over; the guests with difficulty restraining their

tears, take their last farewell and leave the room. One only, the

nearest and dearest, is requested to remain and witness the end.

Rikiu then removes his tea-gown and carefully folds it upon the

mat, thereby disclosing the immaculate white death robe which

it had hitherto concealed. Tenderly he gazes on the shining blade

of the fatal dagger, and in exquisite verse thus addresses it:

“Welcome to thee,/ O sword of eternity!/ Through Buddha/

And through Daruma alike/ Thou hast cleft thy way.”

With a smile upon his face Rikiu passed forth into the unknown.









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