Kakuzo Okakura – Tea Book

Kakuzo Okakura, born in Yokohama in 1862, was a writer, art critic, historian, researcher and, above all, a man of broad education, about whom the painter John La Farge wrote: “He is the most intelligent art critic – and, I can say, everything I know. … ”

The book on tea was created as an expression of love and respect for Japanese culture whose original values ​​faded under the pressure of modern Western culture. The work was written in English, during the author’s stay in America, in an attempt to bring the art, philosophy and customs of the Far East closer to the culture of a different worldview.

Why the name Tea Book? By choosing this title, the author leads us through the example of the simplicity of the tea ceremony towards the hidden meaning and beauty of the ordinary, which we often underestimate. This is perhaps best explained by the words of the Japanese poet Matsuo Basho: “It is important for your spirit to be high in the world of true understanding, without forgetting the value of what is ordinary. He is always looking for the truth of beauty, every time he returns to the world of ordinary experience. ”

Through participating in something seemingly simple, the tea ceremony allowed participants to immerse themselves in their own inner peace and experience a sense of oneness with the world. At the same time to be of a sublime spirit, but also to be present in your environment. Because of its action, tea was a symbol of vigilance, and yet calmness and meditation, which are necessary to make it easier for a person to turn to his inner self.

Through this book, the author conveys in a subtle and poetic way a part of the beauty and value of Japanese culture and, like the master of the tea ceremony, opened the reader’s mind to perceive the insufficiently known dimensions of the miraculous reality to which we belong. Here are some excerpts from that book:

A cup of humanity
book-of-tea Tea sprouted as a medicine, and grew into a beverage. In China, in VIII. century, entered the realm of poetry as one of the refined delights. The fifteenth century saw Japan elevate it to the religion of aestheticism — to theism. Theism is a rite based on the worship of what is beautiful among the filth of everyday life. He imposes purity and harmony, the secret of mutual love, the romance of the social order. (…)

The philosophy of tea is not mere aestheticism, in the usual sense of the word, for it expresses, with ethics and religion, our whole view of man and nature. It is hygiene because it imposes cleanliness; economics because it shows more enjoyment in the simple than in the intricate and expensive; moral geometry because it defines our sense of the scale of the universe. It expresses the true spirit of Eastern democracy as it turns all its followers into aristocrats of taste.

Japan’s long separation from the rest of the world, which thus contributes to introspection, has been remarkably conducive to the development of theism. Our house and habits, clothing and kitchen, porcelain, lacquer, painting — our literature itself — were all exposed to his influence. No scholar of Japanese culture could ignore his presence. It permeated the elegance of noble boudoirs and entered the dwellings of the poor. Our peasants learned to lay flowers, our lowest worker to greet the cliffs and the waters. In everyday expression, we speak of a “man without tea” when he is insensitive to the serious – comic things of personal drama. On the other hand, we brand an unbridled esthete who, regardless of the world tragedy, gives a wave of liberated feelings as if there is “too much tea” in him.

Anyone looking from the outside may be really surprised that there is, seemingly, a lot of noise about nothing. What a barrel in a cup of tea! – he will say. But when we consider how, after all, it is a small cup of human pleasure, how it often overflows with tears, how easily it drips, to the bottom, because of our insatiable thirst for infinity, we will not rebuke ourselves for so glorifying a tea cup.

Taoism and Zen
But the main contribution of Taoism to Asian life is in the field of aesthetics. Chinese historians have always spoken of Taoism as “the art of being in the world,” because it deals with the present – ourselves. It is in us that God meets Nature and separates yesterday from tomorrow. The present is the moving Infinity, the legitimate sphere of the Relative. Relativity is still Adaptation; Customization is Art. The art of living is in constantly adapting to our environment. Taoism accepts the earthly as it is and, unlike Confucians and Buddhists, seeks to discover beauty in our world of torment and misery. (…)

Taoists point out that the comedy of life could be made more interesting if everyone kept unity. Keeping the balance between things and giving place to others without losing one’s own position – that was the secret of earthly drama. We need to know the whole play in order to play our roles properly; the understanding of totality must never be lost in the individual. Lao Tzu illustrates this with his favorite metaphor of Emptiness. He argues that only in emptiness is true importance. The reality of the room, for example, must be found in the empty space surrounded by the roof and walls, and not in the roof and walls themselves. The usefulness of a jug for water lies in its void in which water can fit, not in the form of a jug nor in the substance from which it is made. Emptiness is omnipotent because it contains everything. Only in emptiness is movement possible. Whoever could make a void of himself into which others could freely enter would become the master of all situations. The whole can always rule the part.

Taoist ideas have greatly influenced all of our theories of action, even those of fencing and wrestling. Jiu-jitsu, the Japanese art of self-defense, owes its name to a passage from the Tao and the king. In jiu-jitsu, one tries to extract and exhaust the enemy’s strength by not resisting, emptiness, while one’s own strength is saved for victory in the final battle. In art, the value of the same principle is illustrated by the value of suggestion. Leaving something unsaid, we give the observer a chance to complete the idea, and so some great masterpiece irresistibly attracts your attention until it seems to you that you have become a part of it yourself. The void is there for you, to come in and fill your aesthetic emotion to the top.

He who would make himself an artist in the art of living was considered by the Taoists to be a Real Man. At birth, he enters the realm of dreams only to wake up to reality in death. He dims his own light to merge with the darkness of others. ()

Worship of art
A masterpiece is a symphony played on our most subtle feelings. The true art is Pai Ya, and we are the harp of Lung Men. At the magical touch of beauty, the secret strings of our being awaken, we tremble and vibrate in response to her call. The spirit speaks to the spirit. We listen unspeakably, we look invisibly. The master invokes sounds we do not know. All long-forgotten memories come back to us with a new meaning. Hopes muffled by fear, longings we dare not recognize emerge in new glory. Our spirit is a canvas on which artists apply their color; their pigments are our feelings; their chiaroscuro the light of joy, the shadow of sorrow. It is a masterpiece from us, and we are a masterpiece.

japanese-cup-for-teaThe compassionate communion of spirits, necessary for the worship of art, must be based on mutual confession. The observer must take the right stance to receive the message, just as the artist must know how to communicate it. Tea master Kobori Enshu, himself a daimyo, left us these unforgettable words: “Approach the great image as you would approach the Grand Duke.” To understand a masterpiece, you must humble yourself before it and, breathlessly, wait for its slightest expression. One renowned critic for the Sung dynasty made an enticing confession: “In my younger days, I praised the master whose paintings I loved, but the more mature my judgment, the more I praised myself because I love what the masters have chosen me to love.” It is unfortunate that so few of us really try to study the inclinations of the masters. (…) The master always has something to offer, while we go hungry, because of a mere lack of worship.

For the sympathetic, the masterpiece is a living reality, and we feel drawn to it by friendships. Masters are immortal because their loves and fears come to life in us over and over again. More souls than hands address us, more man than technique – the more human the call, the deeper our response. (…)

The great masters in both the East and the West never forgot the value of suggestion as a means of gaining the observer’s trust. Who can watch a masterpiece without feeling awe at the vast view of thought that is exposed to our insight? (…)

Nothing is more sublime than the unity of kindred spirits in art. At the time of the encounter, the art lover transcends himself. Suddenly he exists and does not exist. He observes Infinity for a moment, but words cannot express his joy, for the eye has no tongue. Without the shackles of matter, his spirit moves in the rhythm of things. That is why art is related to religion and ennobles humanity. This is exactly what makes a masterpiece something sacred.

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