Traditional Culture of Japan - Traditional crafts and culture

The Way of Tea and Zen meditation


In Buddhism, unifying the spirit in a seated position is called “zazen” (Zen meditation). People habitually place themselves at the center when they think about things. The idea of Zen meditation is to discipline oneself to get rid of such egoism and look deeply into the soul.


Present-day society is full of stress. With so much stress, it's easy to lose concentration or become angry, and we tend to fall into a vicious cycle. But if we settle our breathing and calm our spirit, we become able to make calm decisions. Zen meditation is effective for this.


There is a deep connection between the Way of Tea and Zen meditation. Because the tea ceremony has deep links with Buddhism, it also has a deep relationship with Zen meditation.


  Regulating the body, the breath, and the mind

A tea ceremony is performed in silence. It has a friendly atmosphere in which some conversation may take place, but the basic mode of communication is silent.


The sitting posture is seiza: the legs are folded underneath and one sits on one's heels. The mind is calmed as much as possible, and the body is relaxed.


Elements such as silence, calming the mind, and regulating the breathing that are part of Zen meditation are incorporated in the tea ceremony. Many aspects of Japanese culture, such as ceramics and lacquer ware, hanging scrolls, waka poetry, and architecture are part of the Way of Tea. Zen meditation is another aspect of traditional Japanese culture that is a part of the Way of Tea.


In practicing Zen meditation, one needs to pay attention to three things: regulation of the body, regulation of the breath, and regulation of the mind.


  ・ Regulating the body
In order to calm the mind, it is first necessary to relax the body. The spirit can not be settled if there is tension in the body. Therefore, one should adopt a straight, upright posture. This is called chōshin (regulation of the body).


In practicing Zen meditation, it is generally considered easier to sit cross-legged. However, as we have seen, the basic posture in tea ceremony is seiza. So there is a difference in posture between Zen meditation and tea ceremony. However, what both disciplines have in common is the idea of relaxing the body.


  ・ Regulating the breath
If breathing is uneven, the emotions and the soul are unsettled. Therefore, we regulate our breathing, and take our time when exhaling. This is called chōsoku (regulation of breathing).


  ・ Regulating the mind
If you correct your posture and adjust your breathing, the various idle thoughts and distractions in your mind will fade away. When you have a calm state of mind, you will be able to reexamine your inner self. This is called chōshin (regulating the mind).


In Zen meditation, one proceeds by following these three steps. In tea ceremony too, one must sit and think of these same things. By regulating one’s feelings on the inside, one proceeds with the tea ceremony while coming face to face with oneself.


Apart from Zen meditation and tea ceremony, this technique of sitting while thinking of the things mentioned above is something that can be applied broadly. In everyday situations, try sitting up straight, settling the breath, and calming the mind while seated. You will feel serene and relaxed.


The things that we can learn from tea ceremony and Zen meditation can be applied outside those domains. It is because they can be useful in everyday life that these cultural forms have survived to the present day as disciplines within traditional Japanese culture.


There are Buddhist temples in Japan where you can experience Zen meditation. If you make arrangements with a temple to visit for this purpose, you may have the chance to see your inner self.

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