Tea and Chan are One

Tea Meditation - Buddha's Day & Multicultural Festival Melbourne

Zheng Banqiao wrote the following couplet during the Qing dynasty:

“Since the beginning, scholars can assess any water,

Through the ages, Chan masters loved tea-tasting contests.”

Chan masters do not simply drink tea, they use their tea time to speak of Chan and debate in an effort to awaken to the Way. This can be seen in the famous gongan “Zhaozhou’s Drinking Tea.”

When students came to Chan Master Zhaozhou asking him questions, he would usually provide simple answers such as, “go drink some tea,” “wash the dishes,” or “sweep the floor.” For example, if someone were to ask, “Master, what is the Way?” Chan Master Zhaozhou would answer, “You, go drink tea.” If someone were to ask again, “Master, how can I be awakened?” he would just shout, “Drink tea! Go!”

What is the Way? What is awakening? They are the same as drinking tea. The mind may tell you it is something different, but one should not depart from everyday life. It is within everyday life that one finds the Way.

The Sixth Patriarch says in the Platform Sutra, “The Dharma is within the world, apart from this world there is no awakening.” We approach Chan through our daily life with internal peace of mind and reflect on our true nature. We can attain peace of mind or a spiritual awakening through the most ordinary activities, such as drinking tea, eating, and putting on clothes. If we separate meditation from life, we lose touch with reality. That is why Chan Master Zhaozhou taught us that we cannot depart from the world. Because if we were to separate ourselves from our everyday lives we would be incapable of realizing the Way.

The gongan “Zhaozhou’s Drinking Tea” heavily influenced Japanese monks, who carried the practice of tea drinking back to Japan. Japanese Chan Master Murata Shuko, the first tea master and creator of the tea ceremony, was once a disciple of Chan Master Ikkyu. He was constantly falling asleep during daytime meditation, so he sought a doctor’s advice. The doctor advised that he drink tea. Chan Master Murata Shuko grew so fond of tea that he would s