The Book of Tea
This eBook was prepared by:
Matthew and Gabrielle Harbowy
The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura
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
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 marvelous
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
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
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-equipage 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 marvelous 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
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
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
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 Yangtse-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 mathematicians,
writers on law and war, the mystics and alchemists and the later
nature-poets of the Yangtse-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
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 irresistibly 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
He who had 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
jewels 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 (Chaungtse),
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
incumbrance 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," calmly 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 Eastern 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 possessing equal
possibilities 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
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 accommodate 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 Kashiapa 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
"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
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
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 democratisation 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 lacquer. 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
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 corpse, 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.
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 one 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
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
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
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 Oda-
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."
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 Nagoya 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
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 Dharuma alike/ Thou hast cleft thy way."
With a smile upon his face Rikiu passed forth into the unknown.
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