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
The long isolation of Japan from the rest of the world, so
conducive to introspection, has been highly favourable to the
development of Teaism. Our home and habits, costume and cuisine,
porcelain, lacquer, painting--our very literature--all have been
subject to its influence. No student of Japanese culture could
ever ignore its presence. It has permeated the elegance of noble
boudoirs, and entered the abode of the humble. Our peasants have
learned to arrange flowers, our meanest labourer to offer his
salutation to the rocks and waters. In our common parlance we
speak of the man "with no tea" in him, when he is insusceptible
to the serio-comic interests of the personal drama. Again we
stigmatise the untamed aesthete who, regardless of the mundane
tragedy, runs riot in the springtide of emancipated emotions,
as one "with too much tea" in him.
The outsider may indeed wonder at this seeming much ado about
nothing. What a tempest in a tea-cup! he will say. But when we
consider how small after all the cup of human enjoyment is, how
soon overflowed with tears, how easily drained to the dregs in
our quenchless thirst for infinity, we shall not blame ourselves
for making so much of the tea-cup. Mankind has done worse. In
the worship of Bacchus, we have sacrificed too freely; and we
have even transfigured the gory image of Mars. Why not consecrate
ourselves to the queen of the Camelias, and revel in the warm
stream of sympathy that flows from her altar? In the liquid amber
within the ivory-porcelain, the initiated may touch the sweet
reticence of Confucius, the piquancy of Laotse, and the ethereal
aroma of Sakyamuni himself.
Those who cannot feel the littleness of great things in themselves
are apt to overlook the greatness of little things in others.
The average Westerner, in his sleek complacency, will see in
the tea ceremony but another instance of the thousand and one
oddities which constitute the quaintness and childishness of
the East to him. He was wont to regard Japan as barbarous while
she indulged in the gentle arts of peace: he calls her civilised
since she began to commit wholesale slaughter on Manchurian battlefields.
Much comment has been given lately to the Code of the Samurai,
--the Art of Death which makes our soldiers exult in self- sacrifice;
but scarcely any attention has been drawn to Teaism, which represents
so much of our Art of Life. Fain would we remain barbarians,
if our claim to civilisation were to be based on the gruesome
glory of war. Fain would we await the time when due respect shall
be paid to our art and ideals.
When will the West understand, or try to understand, the East?
We Asiatics are often appalled by the curious web of facts and
fancies which has been woven concerning us. We are pictured as
living on the perfume of the lotus, if not on mice and cockroaches.
It is either impotent fanaticism or else abject voluptuousness.
Indian spirituality has been derided as ignorance, Chinese sobriety
as stupidity, Japanese patriotism as the result of fatalism.
It has been said that we are less sensible to pain and wounds
on account of the callousness of our nervous organisation!
Why not amuse yourselves at our expense? Asia returns the
compliment. There would be further food for merriment if you
were to know all that we have imagined and written about you.
All the glamour of the perspective is there, all the unconscious
homage of wonder, all the silent resentment of the new and undefined.
You have been loaded with virtues too refined to be envied, and
accused of crimes too picturesque to be condemned. Our writers
in the past--the wise men who knew--informed us that you had
bushy tails somewhere hidden in your garments, and often dined
off a fricassee of newborn babes! Nay, we had something worse
against you: we used to think you the most impracticable people
on the earth, for you were said to preach what you never practiced.
Such misconceptions are fast vanishing amongst us. Commerce
has forced the European tongues on many an Eastern port. Asiatic
youths are flocking to Western colleges for the equipment of
modern education. Our insight does not penetrate your culture
deeply, but at least we are willing to learn. Some of my compatriots
have adopted too much of your customs and too much of your etiquette,
in the delusion that the acquisition of stiff collars and tall
silk hats comprised the attainment of your civilisation. Pathetic
and deplorable as such affectations are, they evince our willingness
to approach the West on our knees. Unfortunately the Western
attitude is unfavourable to the understanding of the East. The
Christian missionary goes to impart, but not to receive. Your
information is based on the meagre translations of our immense
literature, if not on the unreliable anecdotes of passing travellers.
It is rarely that the chivalrous pen of a Lafcadio Hearn or that
of the author of "The Web of Indian Life" enlivens
the Oriental darkness with the torch of our own sentiments.
Perhaps I betray my own ignorance of the Tea Cult by being
so outspoken. Its very spirit of politeness exacts that you say
what you are expected to say, and no more. But I am not to be
a polite Teaist. So much harm has been done already by the mutual
misunderstanding of the New World and the Old, that one need
not apologise for contributing his tithe to the furtherance of
a better understanding. The beginning of the twentieth century
would have been spared the spectacle of sanguinary warfare if
Russia had condescended to know Japan better. What dire consequences
to humanity lie in the contemptuous ignoring of Eastern problems!
European imperialism, which does not disdain to raise the absurd
cry of the Yellow Peril, fails to realise that Asia may also
awaken to the cruel sense of the White Disaster. You may laugh
at us for having "too much tea," but may we not suspect
that you of the West have "no tea" in your constitution?
Let us stop the continents from hurling epigrams at each other,
and be sadder if not wiser by the mutual gain of half a hemisphere.
We have developed along different lines, but there is no reason
why one should not supplement the other. You have gained expansion
at the cost of restlessness; we have created a harmony which
is weak against aggression. Will you believe it?--the East is
better off in some respects than the West!
Strangely enough humanity has so far met in the tea-cup. It
is the only Asiatic ceremonial which commands universal esteem.
The white man has scoffed at our religion and our morals, but
has accepted the brown beverage without hesitation. The afternoon
tea is now an important function in Western society. In the delicate
clatter of trays and saucers, in the soft rustle of feminine
hospitality, in the common catechism about cream and sugar, we
know that the Worship of Tea is established beyond question.
The philosophic resignation of the guest to the fate awaiting
him in the dubious decoction proclaims that in this single instance
the Oriental spirit reigns supreme.
The earliest record of tea in European writing is said to
be found in the statement of an Arabian traveller, that after
the year 879 the main sources of revenue in Canton were the duties
on salt and tea. Marco Polo records the deposition of a Chinese
minister of finance in 1285 for his arbitrary augmentation of
the tea-taxes. It was at the period of the great discoveries
that the European people began to know more about the extreme
Orient. At the end of the sixteenth century the Hollanders brought
the news that a pleasant drink was made in the East from the
leaves of a bush. The travellers Giovanni Batista Ramusio (1559),
L. Almeida (1576), Maffeno (1588), Tareira (1610), also mentioned
tea. In the last-named year ships of the Dutch East India Company
brought the first tea into Europe. It was known in France in
1636, and reached Russia in 1638. England welcomed it in 1650
and spoke of it as "That excellent and by all physicians
approved China drink, called by the Chineans Tcha, and by other
nations Tay, alias Tee."
Like all good things of the world, the propaganda of Tea met
with opposition. Heretics like Henry Saville (1678) denounced
drinking it as a filthy custom. Jonas Hanway (Essay on Tea, 1756)
said that men seemed to lose their stature and comeliness, women
their beauty through the use of tea. Its cost at the start (about
fifteen or sixteen shillings a pound) forbade popular consumption,
and made it "regalia for high treatments and entertainments,
presents being made thereof to princes and grandees." Yet
in spite of such drawbacks tea-drinking spread with marvellous
rapidity. The coffee-houses of London in the early half of the
eighteenth century became, in fact, tea-houses, the resort of
wits like Addison and Steele, who beguiled themselves over their
"dish of tea." The beverage soon became a necessity
of life--a taxable matter. We are reminded in this connection
what an important part it plays in modern history. Colonial America
resigned herself to oppression until human endurance gave way
before the heavy duties laid on Tea. American independence dates
from the throwing of tea-chests into Boston harbour.
There is a subtle charm in the taste of tea which makes it
irresistible and capable of idealisation. Western humourists
were not slow to mingle the fragrance of their thought with its
aroma. It has not the arrogance of wine, the self- consciousness
of coffee, nor the simpering innocence of cocoa. Already in 1711,
says the Spectator: "I would therefore in a particular manner
recommend these my speculations to all well-regulated families
that set apart an hour every morning for tea, bread and butter;
and would earnestly advise them for their good to order this
paper to be punctually served up and to be looked upon as a part
of the tea-equipage." Samuel Johnson draws his own portrait
as "a hardened and shameless tea drinker, who for twenty
years diluted his meals with only the infusion of the fascinating
plant; who with tea amused the evening, with tea solaced the
midnight, and with tea welcomed the morning."
Charles Lamb, a professed devotee, sounded the true note of
Teaism when he wrote that the greatest pleasure he knew was to
do a good action by stealth, and to have it found out by accident.
For Teaism is the art of concealing beauty that you may discover
it, of suggesting what you dare not reveal. It is the noble secret
of laughing at yourself, calmly yet thoroughly, and is thus humour
itself,--the smile of philosophy. All genuine humourists may
in this sense be called tea-philosophers,--Thackeray, for instance,
and of course, Shakespeare. The poets of the Decadence (when
was not the world in decadence?), in their protests against materialism,
have, to a certain extent, also opened the way to Teaism. Perhaps
nowadays it is our demure contemplation of the Imperfect that
the West and the East can meet in mutual consolation.
The Taoists relate that at the great beginning of the No-Beginning,
Spirit and Matter met in mortal combat. At last the Yellow Emperor,
the Sun of Heaven, triumphed over Shuhyung, the demon of darkness
and earth. The Titan, in his death agony, struck his head against
the solar vault and shivered the blue dome of jade into fragments.
The stars lost their nests, the moon wandered aimlessly among
the wild chasms of the night. In despair the Yellow Emperor sought
far and wide for the repairer of the Heavens. He had not to search
in vain. Out of the Eastern sea rose a queen, the divine Niuka,
horn-crowned and dragon-tailed, resplendent in her armor of fire.
She welded the five-coloured rainbow in her magic cauldron and
rebuilt the Chinese sky. But it is told that Niuka forgot to
fill two tiny crevices in the blue firmament. Thus began the
dualism of love--two souls rolling through space and never at
rest until they join together to complete the universe. Everyone
has to build anew his sky of hope and peace.
The heaven of modern humanity is indeed shattered in the Cyclopean
struggle for wealth and power. The world is groping in the shadow
of egotism and vulgarity. Knowledge is bought through a bad conscience,
benevolence practiced for the sake of utility. The East and the
West, like two dragons tossed in a sea of ferment, in vain strive
to regain the jewel of life. We need a Niuka again to repair
the grand devastation; we await the great Avatar. Meanwhile,
let us have a sip of tea. The afternoon glow is brightening the
bamboos, the fountains are bubbling with delight, the soughing
of the pines is heard in our kettle. Let us dream of evanescence,
and linger in the beautiful foolishness of things.
II. The Schools of Tea.
Tea is a work of art and needs a master hand to bring out
its noblest qualities. We have good and bad tea, as we have good
and bad paintings--generally the latter. There is no single recipe
for making the perfect tea, as there are no rules for producing
a Titian or a Sesson. Each preparation of the leaves has its
individuality, its special affinity with water and heat, its
own method of telling a story. The truly beautiful must always
be in it. How much do we not suffer through the constant failure
of society to recognise this simple and fundamental law of art
and life; Lichilai, a Sung poet, has sadly remarked that there
were three most deplorable things in the world: the spoiling
of fine youths through false education, the degradation of fine
art through vulgar admiration, and the utter waste of fine tea
through incompetent manipulation.
Like Art, Tea has its periods and its schools. Its evolution
may be roughly divided into three main stages: the Boiled Tea,
the Whipped Tea, and the Steeped Tea. We moderns belong to the
last school. These several methods of appreciating the beverage
are indicative of the spirit of the age in which they prevailed.
For life is an expression, our unconscious actions the constant
betrayal of our innermost thought. Confucius said that "man
hideth not." Perhaps we reveal ourselves too much in small
things because we have so little of the great to conceal. The
tiny incidents of daily routine are as much a commentary of racial
ideals as the highest flight of philosophy or poetry. Even as
the difference in favorite vintage marks the separate idiosyncrasies
of different periods and nationalities of Europe, so the Tea-ideals
characterise the various moods of Oriental culture. The Cake-tea
which was boiled, the Powdered-tea which was whipped, the Leaf-tea
which was steeped, mark the distinct emotional impulses of the
Tang, the Sung, and the Ming dynasties of China. If we were inclined
to borrow the much-abused terminology of art-classification,
we might designate them respectively, the Classic, the Romantic,
and the Naturalistic schools of Tea.
The tea-plant, a native of southern China, was known from
very early times to Chinese botany and medicine. It is alluded
to in the classics under the various names of Tou, Tseh, Chung,
Kha, and Ming, and was highly prized for possessing the virtues
of relieving fatigue, delighting the soul, strengthening the
will, and repairing the eyesight. It was not only administered
as an internal dose, but often applied externally in form of
paste to alleviate rheumatic pains. The Taoists claimed it as
an important ingredient of the elixir of immortality. The Buddhists
used it extensively to prevent drowsiness during their long hours
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
In the Sung dynasty the whipped tea came into fashion and
created the second school of Tea. The leaves were ground to fine
powder in a small stone mill, and the preparation was whipped
in hot water by a delicate whisk made of split bamboo. The new
process led to some change in the tea-equippage of Luwuh, as
well as in the choice of leaves. Salt was discarded forever.
The enthusiasm of the Sung people for tea knew no bounds. Epicures
vied with each other in discovering new varieties, and regular
tournaments were held to decide their superiority. The Emperor
Kiasung (1101-1124), who was too great an artist to be a well-behaved
monarch, lavished his treasures on the attainment of rare species.
He himself wrote a dissertation on the twenty kinds of tea, among
which he prizes the "white tea" as of the rarest and
The tea-ideal of the Sungs differed from the Tangs even as
their notion of life differed. They sought to actualize what
their predecessors tried to symbolise. To the Neo-Confucian mind
the cosmic law was not reflected in the phenomenal world, but
the phenomenal world was the cosmic law itself. Aeons were but
moments--Nirvana always within grasp. The Taoist conception that
immortality lay in the eternal change permeated all their modes
of thought. It was the process, not the deed, which was interesting.
It was the completing, not the completion, which was really vital.
Man came thus at once face to face with nature. A new meaning
grew into the art of life. The tea began to be not a poetical
pastime, but one of the methods of self-realisation. Wangyucheng
eulogised tea as "flooding his soul like a direct appeal,
that its delicate bitterness reminded him of the aftertaste of
a good counsel." Sotumpa wrote of the strength of the immaculate
purity in tea which defied corruption as a truly virtuous man.
Among the Buddhists, the southern Zen sect, which incorporated
so much of Taoist doctrines, formulated an elaborate ritual of
tea. The monks gathered before the image of Bodhi Dharma and
drank tea out of a single bowl with the profound formality of
a holy sacrament. It was this Zen ritual which finally developed
into the Tea-ceremony of Japan in the fifteenth century.
Unfortunately the sudden outburst of the Mongol tribes in
the thirteenth century which resulted in the devastation and
conquest of China under the barbaric rule of the Yuen Emperors,
destroyed all the fruits of Sung culture. The native dynasty
of the Mings which attempted re-nationalisation in the middle
of the fifteenth century was harassed by internal troubles, and
China again fell under the alien rule of the Manchus in the seventeenth
century. Manners and customs changed to leave no vestige of the
former times. The powdered tea is entirely forgotten. We find
a Ming commentator at loss to recall the shape of the tea whisk
mentioned in one of the Sung classics. Tea is now taken by steeping
the leaves in hot water in a bowl or cup. The reason why the
Western world is innocent of the older method of drinking tea
is explained by the fact that Europe knew it only at the close
of the Ming dynasty.
To the latter-day Chinese tea is a delicious beverage, but
not an ideal. The long woes of his country have robbed him of
the zest for the meaning of life. He has become modern, that
is to say, old and disenchanted. He has lost that sublime faith
in illusions which constitutes the eternal youth and vigour of
the poets and ancients. He is an eclectic and politely accepts
the traditions of the universe. He toys with Nature, but does
not condescend to conquer or worship her. His Leaf-tea is often
wonderful with its flower-like aroma, but the romance of the
Tang and Sung ceremonials are not to be found in his cup.
Japan, which followed closely on the footsteps of Chinese
civilisation, has known the tea in all its three stages. As early
as the year 729 we read of the Emperor Shomu giving tea to one
hundred monks at his palace in Nara. The leaves were probably
imported by our ambassadors to the Tang Court and prepared in
the way then in fashion. In 801 the monk Saicho brought back
some seeds and planted them in Yeisan. Many tea-gardens are heard
of in succeeding centuries, as well as the delight of the aristocracy
and priesthood in the beverage. The Sung tea reached us in 1191
with the return of Yeisai-zenji, who went there to study the
southern Zen school. The new seeds which he carried home were
successfully planted in three places, one of which, the Uji district
near Kioto, bears still the name of producing the best tea in
the world. The southern Zen spread with marvellous rapidity,
and with it the tea-ritual and the tea-ideal of the Sung. By
the fifteenth century, under the patronage of the Shogun, Ashikaga-Voshinasa,
the tea ceremony is fully constituted and made into an independent
and secular performance. Since then Teaism is fully established
in Japan. The use of the steeped tea of the later China is comparatively
recent among us, being only known since the middle of the seventeenth
century. It has replaced the powdered tea in ordinary consumption,
though the latter still continues to hold its place as the tea
It is in the Japanese tea ceremony that we see the culmination
of tea-ideals. Our successful resistance of the Mongol invasion
in 1281 had enabled us to carry on the Sung movement so disastrously
cut off in China itself through the nomadic inroad. Tea with
us became more than an idealisation of the form of drinking;
it is a religion of the art of life. The beverage grew to be
an excuse for the worship of purity and refinement, a sacred
function at which the host and guest joined to produce for that
occasion the utmost beatitude of the mundane. The tea-room was
an oasis in the dreary waste of existence where weary travellers
could meet to drink from the common spring of art- appreciation.
The ceremony was an improvised drama whose plot was woven about
the tea, the flowers, and the paintings. Not a colour to disturb
the tone of the room, not a sound to mar the rhythm of things,
not a gesture to obtrude on the harmony, not a word to break
the unity of the surroundings, all movements to be performed
simply and naturally--such were the aims of the tea- ceremony.
And strangely enough it was often successful. A subtle philosophy
lay behind it all. Teaism was Taoism in disguise.
III. Taoism and Zennism
The connection of Zennism with tea is proverbial. We have
already remarked that the tea-ceremony was a development of the
Zen ritual. The name of Laotse, the founder of Taoism, is also
intimately associated with the history of tea. It is written
in the Chinese school manual concerning the origin of habits
and customs that the ceremony of offering tea to a guest began
with Kwanyin, a well-known disciple of Laotse, who first at the
gate of the Han Pass presented to the "Old Philosopher"
a cup of the golden elixir. We shall not stop to discuss the
authenticity of such tales, which are valuable, however, as confirming
the early use of the beverage by the Taoists. Our interest in
Taoism and Zennism here lies mainly in those ideas regarding
life and art which are so embodied in what we call Teaism.
It is to be regretted that as yet there appears to be no adequate
presentation of the Taoists and Zen doctrines in any foreign
language, though we have had several laudable attempts.
Translation is always a treason, and as a Ming author observes,
can at its best be only the reverse side of a brocade,--all the
threads are there, but not the subtlety of colour or design.
But, after all, what great doctrine is there which is easy to
expound? The ancient sages never put their teachings in systematic
form. They spoke in paradoxes, for they were afraid of uttering
half-truths. They began by talking like fools and ended by making
their hearers wise. Laotse himself, with his quaint humour, says,
"If people of inferior intelligence hear of the Tao, they
laugh immensely. It would not be the Tao unless they laughed
The Tao literally means a Path. It has been severally translated
as the Way, the Absolute, the Law, Nature, Supreme Reason, the
Mode. These renderings are not incorrect, for the use of the
term by the Taoists differs according to the subject-matter of
the inquiry. Laotse himself spoke of it thus: "There is
a thing which is all-containing, which was born before the existence
of Heaven and Earth. How silent! How solitary! It stands alone
and changes not. It revolves without danger to itself and is
the mother of the universe. I do not know its name and so call
it the Path. With reluctance I call it the Infinite. Infinity
is the Fleeting, the Fleeting is the Vanishing, the Vanishing
is the Reverting." The Tao is in the Passage rather than
the Path. It is the spirit of Cosmic Change,--the eternal growth
which returns upon itself to produce new forms. It recoils upon
itself like the dragon, the beloved symbol of the Taoists. It
folds and unfolds as do the clouds. The Tao might be spoken of
as the Great Transition. Subjectively it is the Mood of the Universe.
Its Absolute is the Relative.
It should be remembered in the first place that Taoism, like
its legitimate successor Zennism, represents the individualistic
trend of the Southern Chinese mind in contra-distinction to the
communism of Northern China which expressed itself in Confucianism.
The Middle Kingdom is as vast as Europe and has a differentiation
of idiosyncrasies marked by the two great river systems which
traverse it. The Yangste-Kiang and Hoang- Ho are respectively
the Mediterranean and the Baltic. Even to-day, in spite of centuries
of unification, the Southern Celestial differs in his thoughts
and beliefs from his Northern brother as a member of the Latin
race differs from the Teuton. In ancient days, when communication
was even more difficult than at present, and especially during
the feudal period, this difference in thought was most pronounced.
The art and poetry of the one breathes an atmosphere entirely
distinct from that of the other. In Laotse and his followers
and in Kutsugen, the forerunner of the Yangtse-Kiang nature-poets,
we find an idealism quite inconsistent with the prosaic ethical
notions of their contemporary northern writers. Laotse lived
five centuries before the Christian Era.
The germ of Taoist speculation may be found long before the
advent of Laotse, surnamed the Long-Eared. The archaic records
of China, especially the Book of Changes, foreshadow his thought.
But the great respect paid to the laws and customs of that classic
period of Chinese civilisation which culminated with the establishment
of the Chow dynasty in the sixteenth century B.C., kept the development
of individualism in check for a long while, so that it was not
until after the disintegration of the Chow dynasty and the establishment
of innumerable independent kingdoms that it was able to blossom
forth in the luxuriance of free-thought. Laotse and Soshi (Chuangtse)
were both Southerners and the greatest exponents of the New School.
On the other hand, Confucius with his numerous disciples aimed
at retaining ancestral conventions. Taoism cannot be understood
without some knowledge of Confucianism and vice versa.
We have said that the Taoist Absolute was the Relative. In
ethics the Taoist railed at the laws and the moral codes of society,
for to them right and wrong were but relative terms. Definition
is always limitation--the "fixed" and "unchangeless"
are but terms expressive of a stoppage of growth. Said Kuzugen,--"The
Sages move the world." Our standards of morality are begotten
of the past needs of society, but is society to remain always
the same? The observance of communal traditions involves a constant
sacrifice of the individual to the state. Education, in order
to keep up the mighty delusion, encourages a species of ignorance.
People are not taught to be really virtuous, but to behave properly.
We are wicked because we are frightfully self-conscious. We nurse
a conscience because we are afraid to tell the truth to others;
we take refuge in pride because we are afraid to tell the truth
to ourselves. How can one be serious with the world when the
world itself is so ridiculous! The spirit of barter is everywhere.
Honour and Chastity! Behold the complacent salesman retailing
the Good and True. One can even buy a so-called Religion, which
is really but common morality sanctified with flowers and music.
Rob the Church of her accessories and what remains behind? Yet
the trusts thrive marvelously, for the prices are absurdly cheap,
--a prayer for a ticket to heaven, a diploma for an honourable
citizenship. Hide yourself under a bushel quickly, for if your
real usefulness were known to the world you would soon be knocked
down to the highest bidder by the public auctioneer. Why do men
and women like to advertise themselves so much? Is it not but
an instinct derived from the days of slavery?
The virility of the idea lies not less in its power of breaking
through contemporary thought than in its capacity for dominating
subsequent movements. Taoism was an active power during the Shin
dynasty, that epoch of Chinese unification from which we derive
the name China. It would be interesting had we time to note its
influence on contemporary thinkers, the mathemeticians, writers
on law and war, the mystics and alchemists and the later nature-poets
of the Yangste-Kiang. We should not even ignore those speculators
on Reality who doubted whether a white horse was real because
he was white, or because he was solid, nor the Conversationalists
of the Six dynasties who, like the Zen philosophers, revelled
in discussions concerning the Pure and the Abstract. Above all
we should pay homage to Taoism for what it has done toward the
formation of the Celestial character, giving to it a certain
capacity for reserve and refinement as "warm as jade."
Chinese history is full of instances in which the votaries of
Taoism, princes and hermits alike, followed with varied and interesting
results the teachings of their creed. The tale will not be without
its quota of instruction and amusement. It will be rich in anecdotes,
allegories, and aphorisms. We would fain be on speaking terms
with the delightful emperor who never died because he had never
lived. We may ride the wind with Liehtse and find it absolutely
quiet because we ourselves are the wind, or dwell in mid-air
with the Aged one of the Hoang-Ho, who lived betwixt Heaven and
Earth because he was subject to neither the one nor the other.
Even in that grotesque apology for Taoism which we find in China
at the present day, we can revel in a wealth of imagery impossible
to find in any other cult.
But the chief contribution of Taoism to Asiatic life has been
in the realm of aesthetics. Chinese historians have always spoken
of Taoism as the "art of being in the world," for it
deals with the present--ourselves. It is in us that God meets
with Nature, and yesterday parts from to-morrow. The Present
is the moving Infinity, the legitimate sphere of the Relative.
Relativity seeks Adjustment; Adjustment is Art. The art of life
lies in a constant readjustment to our surroundings. Taoism accepts
the mundane as it is and, unlike the Confucians or the Buddhists,
tries to find beauty in our world of woe and worry. The Sung
allegory of the Three Vinegar Tasters explains admirably the
trend of the three doctrines. Sakyamuni, Confucius, and Laotse
once stood before a jar of vinegar--the emblem of life--and each
dipped in his finger to taste the brew. The matter-of-fact Confucius
found it sour, the Buddha called it bitter, and Laotse pronounced
The Taoists claimed that the comedy of life could be made
more interesting if everyone would preserve the unities. To keep
the proportion of things and give place to others without losing
one's own position was the secret of success in the mundane drama.
We must know the whole play in order to properly act our parts;
the conception of totality must never be lost in that of the
individual. This Laotse illustrates by his favourite metaphor
of the Vacuum. He claimed that only in vacuum lay the truly essential.
The reality of a room, for instance, was to be found in the vacant
space enclosed by the roof and the walls, not in the roof and
walls themselves. The usefulness of a water pitcher dwelt in
the emptiness where water might be put, not in the form of the
pitcher or the material of which it was made. Vacuum is all potent
because all containing. In vacuum alone motion becomes possible.
One who could make of himself a vacuum into which others might
freely enter would become master of all situations. The whole
can always dominate the part.
These Taoists' ideas have greatly influenced all our theories
of action, even to those of fencing and wrestling. Jiu-jitsu,
the Japanese art of self-defence, owes its name to a passage
in the Tao-teking. In jiu-jitsu one seeks to draw out and exhaust
the enemy's strength by non-resistance, vacuum, while conserving
one's own strength for victory in the final struggle. In art
the importance of the same principle is illustrated by the value
of suggestion. In leaving something unsaid the beholder is given
a chance to complete the idea and thus a great masterpiece irresistably
rivets your attention until you seem to become actually a part
of it. A vacuum is there for you to enter and fill up the full
measure of your aesthetic emotion.
He whohad made himself master of the art of living was the
Real man of the Taoist. At birth he enters the realm of dreams
only to awaken to reality at death. He tempers his own brightness
in order to merge himself into the obscurity of others. He is
"reluctant, as one who crosses a stream in winter; hesitating
as one who fears the neighbourhood; respectful, like a guest;
trembling, like ice that is about to melt; unassuming, like a
piece of wood not yet carved; vacant, like a valley; formless,
like troubled waters." To him the three jewls of life were
Pity, Economy, and Modesty.
If now we turn our attention to Zennism we shall find that
it emphasises the teachings of Taoism. Zen is a name derived
from the Sanscrit word Dhyana, which signifies meditation. It
claims that through consecrated meditation may be attained supreme
self-realisation. Meditation is one of the six ways through which
Buddhahood may be reached, and the Zen sectarians affirm that
Sakyamuni laid special stress on this method in his later teachings,
handing down the rules to his chief disciple Kashiapa. According
to their tradition Kashiapa, the first Zen patriarch, imparted
the secret to Ananda, who in turn passed it on to successive
patriarchs until it reached Bodhi-Dharma, the twenty-eighth.
Bodhi-Dharma came to Northern China in the early half of the
sixth century and was the first patriarch of Chinese Zen. There
is much uncertainty about the history of these patriarchs and
their doctrines. In its philosophical aspect early Zennism seems
to have affinity on one hand to the Indian Negativism of Nagarjuna
and on the other to the Gnan philosophy formulated by Sancharacharya.
The first teaching of Zen as we know it at the present day must
be attributed to the sixth Chinese patriarch Yeno(637-713), founder
of Southern Zen, so-called from the fact of its predominance
in Southern China. He is closely followed by the great Baso(died
788) who made of Zen a living influence in Celestial life. Hiakujo(719-814)
the pupil of Baso, first instituted the Zen monastery and established
a ritual and regulations for its government. In the discussions
of the Zen school after the time of Baso we find the play of
the Yangtse-Kiang mind causing an accession of native modes of
thought in contrast to the former Indian idealism. Whatever sectarian
pride may assert to the contrary one cannot help being impressed
by the similarity of Southern Zen to the teachings of Laotse
and the Taoist Conversationalists. In the Tao-teking we already
find allusions to the importance of self-concentration and the
need of properly regulating the breath--essential points in the
practice of Zen meditation. Some of the best commentaries on
the Book of Laotse have been written by Zen scholars.
Zennism, like Taoism, is the worship of Relativity. One master
defines Zen as the art of feeling the polar star in the southern
sky. Truth can be reached only through the comprehension of opposites.
Again, Zennism, like Taoism, is a strong advocate of individualism.
Nothing is real except that which concerns the working of our
own minds. Yeno, the sixth patriarch, once saw two monks watching
the flag of a pagoda fluttering in the wind. One said "It
is the wind that moves," the other said "It is the
flag that moves"; but Yeno explained to them that the real
movement was neither of the wind nor the flag, but of something
within their own minds. Hiakujo was walking in the forest with
a disciple when a hare scurried off at their approach. "Why
does the hare fly from you?" asked Hiakujo. "Because
he is afraid of me," was the answer. "No," said
the master, "it is because you have murderous instinct."
The dialogue recalls that of Soshi (Chauntse), the Taoist. One
day Soshi was walking on the bank of a river with a friend. "How
delightfully the fishes are enjoying themselves in the water!"
exclaimed Soshi. His friend spake to him thus: "You are
not a fish; how do you know that the fishes are enjoying themselves?"
"You are not myself," returned Soshi; "how do
you know that I do not know that the fishes are enjoying themselves?"
Zen was often opposed to the precepts of orthodox Buddhism
even as Taoism was opposed to Confucianism. To the transcendental
insight of the Zen, words were but an incumberance to thought;
the whole sway of Buddhist scriptures only commentaries on personal
speculation. The followers of Zen aimed at direct communion with
the inner nature of things, regarding their outward accessories
only as impediments to a clear perception of Truth. It was this
love of the Abstract that led the Zen to prefer black and white
sketches to the elaborately coloured paintings of the classic
Buddhist School. Some of the Zen even became iconoclastic as
a result of their endeavor to recognise the Buddha in themselves
rather than through images and symbolism. We find Tankawosho
breaking up a wooden statue of Buddha on a wintry day to make
a fire. "What sacrilege!" said the horror-stricken
bystander. "I wish to get the Shali out of the ashes,"
camply rejoined the Zen. "But you certainly will not get
Shali from this image!" was the angry retort, to which Tanka
replied, "If I do not, this is certainly not a Buddha and
I am committing no sacrilege." Then he turned to warm himself
over the kindling fire.
A special contribution of Zen to Easthern thought was its
recognition of the mundane as of equal importance with the spiritual.
It held that in the great relation of things there was no distinction
of small and great, an atom posessing equal possibilites with
the universe. The seeker for perfection must discover in his
own life the reflection of the inner light. The organisation
of the Zen monastery was very significant of this point of view.
To every member, except the abbot, was assigned some special
work in the caretaking of the monastery, and curiously enough,
to the novices was committed the lighter duties, while to the
most respected and advanced monks were given the more irksome
and menial tasks. Such services formed a part of the Zen discipline
and every least action must be done absolutely perfectly. Thus
many a weighty discussion ensued while weeding the garden, paring
a turnip, or serving tea. The whole ideal of Teaism is a result
of this Zen conception of greatness in the smallest incidents
of life. Taoism furnished the basis for aesthetic ideals, Zennism
made them practical.
IV. The Tea-Room
To European architects brought up on the traditions of stone
and brick construction, our Japanese method of building with
wood and bamboo seems scarcely worthy to be ranked as architecture.
It is but quite recently that a competent student of Western
architecture has recognised and paid tribute to the remarkable
perfection of our great temples. Such being the case as regards
our classic architecture, we could hardly expect the outsider
to appreciate the subtle beauty of the tea-room, its principles
of construction and decoration being entirely different from
those of the West.
The tea-room (the Sukiya) does not pretend to be other than
a mere cottage--a straw hut, as we call it. The original ideographs
for Sukiya mean the Abode of Fancy. Latterly the various tea-masters
substituted various Chinese characters according to their conception
of the tea-room, and the term Sukiya may signify the Abode of
Vacancy or the Abode of the Unsymmetrical. It is an Abode of
Fancy inasmuch as it is an ephemeral structure built to house
a poetic impulse. It is an Abode of Vacancy inasmuch as it is
devoid of ornamentation except for what may be placed in it to
satisfy some aesthetic need of the moment. It is an Abode of
the Unsymmetrical inasmuch as it is consecrated to the worship
of the Imperfect, purposely leaving some thing unfinished for
the play of the imagination to complete. The ideals of Teaism
have since the sixteenth century influenced our architecture
to such degree that the ordinary Japanese interior of the present
day, on account of the extreme simplicity and chasteness of its
scheme of decoration, appears to foreigners almost barren.
The first independent tea-room was the creation of Senno-Soyeki,
commonly known by his later name of Rikiu, the greatest of all
tea-masters, who, in the sixteenth century, under the patronage
of Taiko-Hideyoshi, instituted and brought to a high state of
perfection the formalities of the Tea-ceremony. The proportions
of the tea-room had been previously determined by Jowo--a famous
tea-master of the fifteenth century. The early tea-room consisted
merely of a portion of the ordinary drawing-room partitioned
off by screens for the purpose of the tea-gathering. The portion
partitioned off was called the Kakoi (enclosure), a name still
applied to those tea-rooms which are built into a house and are
not independent constructions. The Sukiya consists of the tea-room
proper, designed to accomodate not more than five persons, a
number suggestive of the saying "more than the Graces and
less than the Muses," an anteroom (midsuya) where the tea
utensils are washed and arranged before being brought in, a portico
(machiai) in which the guests wait until they receive the summons
to enter the tea-room, and a garden path (the roji) which connects
the machiai with the tea-room. The tea-room is unimpressive in
appearance. It is smaller than the smallest of Japanese houses,
while the materials used in its construction are intended to
give the suggestion of refined poverty. Yet we must remember
that all this is the result of profound artistic forethought,
and that the details have been worked out with care perhaps even
greater than that expended on the building of the richest palaces
and temples. A good tea-room is more costly than an ordinary
mansion, for the selection of its materials, as well as its workmanship,
requires immense care and precision. Indeed, the carpenters employed
by the tea-masters form a distinct and highly honoured class
among artisans, their work being no less delicate than that of
the makers of lacquer cabinets.
The tea-room is not only different from any production of
Western architecture, but also contrasts strongly with the classical
architecture of Japan itself. Our ancient noble edifices, whether
secular or ecclesiastical, were not to be despised even as regards
their mere size. The few that have been spared in the disastrous
conflagrations of centuries are still capable of aweing us by
the grandeur and richness of their decoration. Huge pillars of
wood from two to three feet in diameter and from thirty to forty
feet high, supported, by a complicated network of brackets, the
enormous beams which groaned under the weight of the tile-covered
roofs. The material and mode of construction, though weak against
fire, proved itself strong against earthquakes, and was well
suited to the climatic conditions of the country. In the Golden
Hall of Horiuji and the Pagoda of Yakushiji, we have noteworthy
examples of the durability of our wooden architecture. These
buildings have practically stood intact for nearly twelve centuries.
The interior of the old temples and palaces was profusely decorated.
In the Hoodo temple at Uji, dating from the tenth century, we
can still see the elaborate canopy and gilded baldachinos, many-coloured
and inlaid with mirrors and mother-of-pearl, as well as remains
of the paintings and sculpture which formerly covered the walls.
Later, at Nikko and in the Nijo castle in Kyoto, we see structural
beauty sacrificed to a wealth of ornamentation which in colour
and exquisite detail equals the utmost gorgeousness of Arabian
or Moorish effort.
The simplicity and purism of the tea-room resulted from emulation
of the Zen monastery. A Zen monastery differs from those of other
Buddhist sects inasmuch as it is meant only to be a dwelling
place for the monks. Its chapel is not a place of worship or
pilgrimage, but a college room where the students congregate
for discussion and the practice of meditation. The room is bare
except for a central alcove in which, behind the altar, is a
statue of Bodhi Dharma, the founder of the sect, or of Sakyamuni
attended by Kaphiapa and Ananda, the two earliest Zen patriarchs.
On the altar, flowers and incense are offered up in the memory
of the great contributions which these sages made to Zen. We
have already said that it was the ritual instituted by the Zen
monks of successively drinking tea out of a bowl before the image
of Bodhi Dharma, which laid the foundations of the tea-ceremony.
We might add here that the altar of the Zen chapel was the prototype
of the Tokonoma,--the place of honour in a Japanese room where
paintings and flowers are placed for the edification of the guests.
All our great tea-masters were students of Zen and attempted
to introduce the spirit of Zennism into the actualities of life.
Thus the room, like the other equipments of the tea-ceremony,
reflects many of the Zen doctrines. The size of the orthodox
tea-room, which is four mats and a half, or ten feet square,
is determined by a passage in the Sutra of Vikramadytia. In that
interesting work, Vikramadytia welcomes the Saint Manjushiri
and eighty-four thousand disciples of Buddha in a room of this
size,--an allegory based on the theory of the non-existence of
space to the truly enlightened. Again the roji, the garden path
which leads from the machiai to the tea-room, signified the first
stage of meditation,--the passage into self-illumination. The
roji was intended to break connection with the outside world,
and produce a fresh sensation conducive to the full enjoyment
of aestheticism in the tea-room itself. One who has trodden this
garden path cannot fail to remember how his spirit, as he walked
in the twilight of evergreens over the regular irregularities
of the stepping stones, beneath which lay dried pine needles,
and passed beside the moss-covered granite lanterns, became uplifted
above ordinary thoughts. One may be in the midst of a city, and
yet feel as if he were in the forest far away from the dust and
din of civilisation. Great was the ingenuity displayed by the
tea-masters in producing these effects of serenity and purity.
The nature of the sensations to be aroused in passing through
the roji differed with different tea-masters. Some, like Rikiu,
aimed at utter loneliness, and claimed the secret of making a
roji was contained in the ancient ditty: "I look beyond;/Flowers
are not,/Nor tinted leaves./On the sea beach/ A solitary cottage
stands/In the waning light/Of an autumn eve."
Others, like Kobori-Enshiu, sought for a different effect.
Enshiu said the idea of the garden path was to be found in the
following verses: "A cluster of summer trees,/A bit of the
sea,/A pale evening moon." It is not difficult to gather
his meaning. He wished to create the attitude of a newly awakened
soul still lingering amid shadowy dreams of the past, yet bathing
in the sweet unconsciousness of a mellow spiritual light, and
yearning for the freedom that lay in the expanse beyond.
Thus prepared the guest will silently approach the sanctuary,
and, if a samurai, will leave his sword on the rack beneath the
eaves, the tea-room being preeminently the house of peace. Then
he will bend low and creep into the room through a small door
not more than three feet in height. This proceeding was incumbent
on all guests,--high and low alike,--and was intended to inculcate
humility. The order of precedence having been mutually agreed
upon while resting in the machiai, the guests one by one will
enter noiselessly and take their seats, first making obeisance
to the picture or flower arrangement on the tokonoma. The host
will not enter the room until all the guests have seated themselves
and quiet reigns with nothing to break the silence save the note
of the boiling water in the iron kettle. The kettle sings well,
for pieces of iron are so arranged in the bottom as to produce
a peculiar melody in which one may hear the echoes of a cataract
muffled by clouds, of a distant sea breaking among the rocks,
a rainstorm sweeping through a bamboo forest, or of the soughing
of pines on some faraway hill.
Even in the daytime the light in the room is subdued, for
the low eaves of the slanting roof admit but few of the sun's
rays. Everything is sober in tint from the ceiling to the floor;
the guests themselves have carefully chosen garments of unobtrusive
colors. The mellowness of age is over all, everything suggestive
of recent acquirement being tabooed save only the one note of
contrast furnished by the bamboo dipper and the linen napkin,
both immaculately white and new. However faded the tea-room and
the tea-equipage may seem, everything is absolutely clean. Not
a particle of dust will be found in the darkest corner, for if
any exists the host is not a tea-master. One of the first requisites
of a tea-master is the knowledge of how to sweep, clean, and
wash, for there is an art in cleaning and dusting. A piece of
antique metal work must not be attacked with the unscrupulous
zeal of the Dutch housewife. Dripping water from a flower vase
need not be wiped away, for it may be suggestive of dew and coolness.
In this connection there is a story of Rikiu which well illustrates
the ideas of cleanliness entertained by the tea-masters. Rikiu
was watching his son Shoan as he swept and watered the garden
path. "Not clean enough," said Rikiu, when Shoan had
finished his task, and bade him try again. After a weary hour
the son turned to Rikiu: "Father, there is nothing more
to be done. The steps have been washed for the third time, the
stone lanterns and the trees are well sprinkled with water, moss
and lichens are shining with a fresh verdure; not a twig, not
a leaf have I left on the ground." "Young fool,"
chided the tea-master, "that is not the way a garden path
should be swept." Saying this, Rikiu stepped into the garden,
shook a tree and scattered over the garden gold and crimson leaves,
scraps of the brocade of autumn! What Rikiu demanded was not
cleanliness alone, but the beautiful and the natural also.
The name, Abode of Fancy, implies a structure created to meet
some individual artistic requirement. The tea-room is made for
the tea master, not the tea-master for the tea-room. It is not
intended for posterity and is therefore ephemeral. The idea that
everyone should have a house of his own is based on an ancient
custom of the Japanese race, Shinto superstition ordaining that
every dwelling should be evacuated on the death of its chief
occupant. Perhaps there may have been some unrealized sanitary
reason for this practice. Another early custom was that a newly
built house should be provided for each couple that married.
It is on account of such customs that we find the Imperial capitals
so frequently removed from one site to another in ancient days.
The rebuilding, every twenty years, of Ise Temple, the supreme
shrine of the Sun-Goddess, is an example of one of these ancient
rites which still obtain at the present day. The observance of
these customs was only possible with some form of construction
as that furnished by our system of wooden architecture, easily
pulled down, easily built up. A more lasting style, employing
brick and stone, would have rendered migrations impracticable,
as indeed they became when the more stable and massive wooden
construction of China was adopted by us after the Nara period.
With the predominance of Zen individualism in the fifteenth
century, however, the old idea became imbued with a deeper significance
as conceived in connection with the tea-room. Zennism, with the
Buddhist theory of evanescence and its demands for the mastery
of spirit over matter, recognized the house only as a temporary
refuge for the body. The body itself was but as a hut in the
wilderness, a flimsy shelter made by tying together the grasses
that grew around,--when these ceased to be bound together they
again became resolved into the original waste. In the tea-room
fugitiveness is suggested in the thatched roof, frailty in the
slender pillars, lightness in the bamboo support, apparent carelessness
in the use of commonplace materials. The eternal is to be found
only in the spirit which, embodied in these simple surroundings,
beautifies them with the subtle light of its refinement.
That the tea-room should be built to suit some individual
taste is an enforcement of the principle of vitality in art.
Art, to be fully appreciated, must be true to contemporaneous
life. It is not that we should ignore the claims of posterity,
but that we should seek to enjoy the present more. It is not
that we should disregard the creations of the past, but that
we should try to assimilate them into our consciousness. Slavish
conformity to traditions and formulas fetters the expression
of individuality in architecture. We can but weep over the senseless
imitations of European buildings which one beholds in modern
Japan. We marvel why, among the most progressive Western nations,
architecture should be so devoid of originality, so replete with
repetitions of obsolete styles. Perhaps we are passing through
an age of democritisation in art, while awaiting the rise of
some princely master who shall establish a new dynasty. Would
that we loved the ancients more and copied them less! It has
been said that the Greeks were great because they never drew
from the antique.
The term, Abode of Vacancy, besides conveying the Taoist theory
of the all-containing, involves the conception of a continued
need of change in decorative motives. The tea-room is absolutely
empty, except for what may be placed there temporarily to satisfy
some aesthetic mood. Some special art object is brought in for
the occasion, and everything else is selected and arranged to
enhance the beauty of the principal theme. One cannot listen
to different pieces of music at the same time, a real comprehension
of the beautiful being possible only through concentration upon
some central motive. Thus it will be seen that the system of
decoration in our tea-rooms is opposed to that which obtains
in the West, where the interior of a house is often converted
into a museum. To a Japanese, accustomed to simplicity of ornamentation
and frequent change of decorative method, a Western interior
permanently filled with a vast array of pictures, statuary, and
bric-a-brac gives the impression of mere vulgar display of riches.
It calls for a mighty wealth of appreciation to enjoy the constant
sight of even a masterpiece, and limitless indeed must be the
capacity for artistic feeling in those who can exist day after
day in the midst of such confusion of color and form as is to
be often seen in the homes of Europe and America.
The "Abode of the Unsymmetrical" suggests another
phase of our decorative scheme. The absence of symmetry in Japanese
art objects has been often commented on by Western critics. This,
also, is a result of a working out through Zennism of Taoist
ideals. Confucianism, with its deep-seated idea of dualism, and
Northern Buddhism with its worship of a trinity, were in no way
opposed to the expression of symmetry. As a matter of fact, if
we study the ancient bronzes of China or the religious arts of
the Tang dynasty and the Nara period, we shall recognize a constant
striving after symmetry. The decoration of our classical interiors
was decidedly regular in its arrangement. The Taoist and Zen
conception of perfection, however, was different. The dynamic
nature of their philosophy laid more stress upon the process
through which perfection was sought than upon perfection itself.
True beauty could be discovered only by one who mentally completed
the incomplete. The virility of life and art lay in its possibilities
for growth. In the tea-room it is left for each guest in imagination
to complete the total effect in relation to himself. Since Zennism
has become the prevailing mode of thought, the art of the extreme
Orient has purposefully avoided the symmetrical as expressing
not only completion, but repetition. Uniformity of design was
considered fatal to the freshness of imagination. Thus, landscapes,
birds, and flowers became the favorite subjects for depiction
rather than the human figure, the latter being present in the
person of the beholder himself. We are often too much in evidence
as it is, and in spite of our vanity even self-regard is apt
to become monotonous.
In the tea-room the fear of repetition is a constant presence.
The various objects for the decoration of a room should be so
selected that no colour or design shall be repeated. If you have
a living flower, a painting of flowers is not allowable. If you
are using a round kettle, the water pitcher should be angular.
A cup with a black glaze should not be associated with a tea-caddy
of black laquer. In placing a vase of an incense burner on the
tokonoma, care should be taken not to put it in the exact centre,
lest it divide the space into equal halves. The pillar of the
tokonoma should be of a different kind of wood from the other
pillars, in order to break any suggestion of monotony in the
Here again the Japanese method of interior decoration differs
from that of the Occident, where we see objects arrayed symmetrically
on mantelpieces and elsewhere. In Western houses we are often
confronted with what appears to us useless reiteration. We find
it trying to talk to a man while his full-length portrait stares
at us from behind his back. We wonder which is real, he of the
picture or he who talks, and feel a curious conviction that one
of them must be fraud. Many a time have we sat at a festive board
contemplating, with a secret shock to our digestion, the representation
of abundance on the dining-room walls. Why these pictured victims
of chase and sport, the elaborate carvings of fishes and fruit?
Why the display of family plates, reminding us of those who have
dined and are dead?
The simplicity of the tea-room and its freedom from vulgarity
make it truly a sanctuary from the vexations of the outer world.
There and there alone one can consecrate himself to undisturbed
adoration of the beautiful. In the sixteenth century the tea-room
afforded a welcome respite from labour to the fierce warriors
and statesmen engaged in the unification and reconstruction of
Japan. In the seventeenth century, after the strict formalism
of the Tokugawa rule had been developed, it offered the only
opportunity possible for the free communion of artistic spirits.
Before a great work of art there was no distinction between daimyo,
samurai, and commoner. Nowadays industrialism is making true
refinement more and more difficult all the world over. Do we
not need the tea-room more than ever?
V. Art Appreciation
Have you heard the Taoist tale of the Taming of the Harp?
Once in the hoary ages in the Ravine of Lungmen stood a Kiri
tree, a veritable king of the forest. It reared its head to talk
to the stars; its roots struck deep into the earth, mingling
their bronzed coils with those of the silver dragon that slept
beneath. And it came to pass that a mighty wizard made of this
tree a wondrous harp, whose stubborn spirit should be tamed but
by the greatest of musicians. For long the instrument was treasured
by the Emperor of China, but all in vain were the efforts of
those who in turn tried to draw melody from its strings. In response
to their utmost strivings there came from the harp but harsh
notes of disdain, ill-according with the songs they fain would
sing. The harp refused to recognise a master.
At last came Peiwoh, the prince of harpists. With tender hand
he caressed the harp as one might seek to soothe an unruly horse,
and softly touched the chords. He sang of nature and the seasons,
of high mountains and flowing waters, and all the memories of
the tree awoke! Once more the sweet breath of spring played amidst
its branches. The young cataracts, as they danced down the ravine,
laughed to the budding flowers. Anon were heard the dreamy voices
of summer with its myriad insects, the gentle pattering of rain,
the wail of the cuckoo. Hark! a tiger roars,--the valley answers
again. It is autumn; in the desert night, sharp like a sword
gleams the moon upon the frosted grass. Now winter reigns, and
through the snow-filled air swirl flocks of swans and rattling
hailstones beat upon the boughs with fierce delight.
Then Peiwoh changed the key and sang of love. The forest swayed
like an ardent swain deep lost in thought. On high, like a haughty
maiden, swept a cloud bright and fair; but passing, trailed long
shadows on the ground, black like despair. Again the mode was
changed; Peiwoh sang of war, of clashing steel and trampling
steeds. And in the harp arose the tempest of Lungmen, the dragon
rode the lightning, the thundering avalanche crashed through
the hills. In ecstasy the Celestial monarch asked Peiwoh wherein
lay the secret of his victory. "Sire," he replied,
"others have failed because they sang but of themselves.
I left the harp to choose its theme, and knew not truly whether
the harp had been Peiwoh or Peiwoh were the harp."
This story well illustrates the mystery of art appreciation.
The masterpiece is a symphony played upon our finest feelings.
True art is Peiwoh, and we the harp of Lungmen. At the magic
touch of the beautiful the secret chords of our being are awakened,
we vibrate and thrill in response to its call. Mind speaks to
mind. We listen to the unspoken, we gaze upon the unseen. The
master calls forth notes we know not of. Memories long forgotten
all come back to us with a new significance. Hopes stifled by
fear, yearnings that we dare not recognise, stand forth in new
glory. Our mind is the canvas on which the artists lay their
colour; their pigments are our emotions; their chiaroscuro the
light of joy, the shadow of sadness. The masterpiece is of ourselves,
as we are of the masterpiece.
The sympathetic communion of minds necessary for art appreciation
must be based on mutual concession. The spectator must cultivate
the proper attitude for receiving the message, as the artist
must know how to impart it. The tea-master, Kobori-Enshiu, himself
a daimyo, has left to us these memorable words: "Approach
a great painting as thou wouldst approach a great prince."
In order to understand a masterpiece, you must lay yourself low
before it and await with bated breath its least utterance. An
eminent Sung critic once made a charming confession. Said he:
"In my young days I praised the master whose pictures I
liked, but as my judgement matured I praised myself for liking
what the masters had chosen to have me like." It is to be
deplored that so few of us really take pains to study the moods
of the masters. In our stubborn ignorance we refuse to render
them this simple courtesy, and thus often miss the rich repast
of beauty spread before our very eyes. A master has always something
to offer, while we go hungry solely because of our own lack of
To the sympathetic a masterpiece becomes a living reality
towards which we feel drawn in bonds of comradeship. The masters
are immortal, for their loves and fears live in us over and over
again. It is rather the soul than the hand, the man than the
technique, which appeals to us,--the more human the call the
deeper is our response. It is because of this secret understanding
between the master and ourselves that in poetry or romance we
suffer and rejoice with the hero and heroine. Chikamatsu, our
Japanese Shakespeare, has laid down as one of the first principles
of dramatic composition the importance of taking the audience
into the confidence of the author. Several of his pupils submitted
plays for his approval, but only one of the pieces appealed to
him. It was a play somewhat resembling the Comedy of Errors,
in which twin brethren suffer through mistaken identity. "This,"
said Chikamatsu, "has the proper spirit of the drama, for
it takes the audience into consideration. The public is permitted
to know more than the actors. It knows where the mistake lies,
and pities the poor figures on the board who innocently rush
to their fate."
The great masters both of the East and the West never forgot
the value of suggestion as a means for taking the spectator into
their confidence. Who can contemplate a masterpiece without being
awed by the immense vista of thought presented to our consideration?
How familiar and sympathetic are they all; how cold in contrast
the modern commonplaces! In the former we feel the warm outpouring
of a man's heart; in the latter only a formal salute. Engrossed
in his technique, the modern rarely rises above himself. Like
the musicians who vainly invoked the Lungmen harp, he sings only
of himself. His works may be nearer science, but are further
from humanity. We have an old saying in Japan that a woman cannot
love a man who is truly vain, for their is no crevice in his
heart for love to enter and fill up. In art vanity is equally
fatal to sympathetic feeling, whether on the part of the artist
or the public.
Nothing is more hallowing than the union of kindred spirits
in art. At the moment of meeting, the art lover transcends himself.
At once he is and is not. He catches a glimpse of Infinity, but
words cannot voice his delight, for the eye has no tongue. Freed
from the fetters of matter, his spirit moves in the rhythm of
things. It is thus that art becomes akin to religion and ennobles
mankind. It is this which makes a masterpiece something sacred.
In the old days the veneration in which the Japanese held the
work of the great artist was intense. The tea-masters guarded
their treasures with religious secrecy, and it was often necessary
to open a whole series of boxes, one within another, before reaching
the shrine itself--the silken wrapping within whose soft folds
lay the holy of holies. Rarely was the object exposed to view,
and then only to the initiated.
At the time when Teaism was in the ascendency the Taiko's
generals would be better satisfied with the present of a rare
work of art than a large grant of territory as a reward of victory.
Many of our favourite dramas are based on the loss and recovery
of a noted masterpiece. For instance, in one play the palace
of Lord Hosokawa, in which was preserved the celebrated painting
of Dharuma by Sesson, suddenly takes fire through the negligence
of the samurai in charge. Resolved at all hazards to rescue the
precious painting, he rushes into the burning building and seizes
the kakemono, only to find all means of exit cut off by the flames.
Thinking only of the picture, he slashes open his body with his
sword, wraps his torn sleeve about the Sesson and plunges it
into the gaping wound. The fire is at last extinguished. Among
the smoking embers is found a half- consumed corps, within which
reposes the treasure uninjured by the fire. Horrible as such
tales are, they illustrate the great value that we set upon a
masterpiece, as well as the devotion of a trusted samurai.
We must remember, however, that art is of value only to the
extent that it speaks to us. It might be a universal language
if we ourselves were universal in our sympathies. Our finite
nature, the power of tradition and conventionality, as well as
our hereditary instincts, restrict the scope of our capacity
for artistic enjoyment. Our very individuality establishes in
one sense a limit to our understanding; and our aesthetic personality
seeks its own affinities in the creations of the past. It is
true that with cultivation our sense of art appreciation broadens,
and we become able to enjoy many hitherto unrecognised expressions
of beauty. But, after all, we see only our own image in the universe,--our
particular idiosyncracies dictate the mode of our perceptions.
The tea- masters collected only objects which fell strictly within
the measure of their individual appreciation.
One is reminded in this connection of a story concerning Kobori-Enshiu.
Enshiu was complimented by his disciples on the admirable taste
he had displayed in the choice of his collection. Said they,
"Each piece is such that no one could help admiring. It
shows that you had better taste than had Rikiu, for his collection
could only be appreciated by one beholder in a thousand."
Sorrowfully Enshiu replied: "This only proves how commonplace
I am. The great Rikiu dared to love only those objects which
personally appealed to him, whereas I unconsciously cater to
the taste of the majority. Verily, Rikiu was one in a thousand
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 turn.
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 on to conceive of a world
bereft of their presence. What solace do they not bring to the
bedside of the sick, what a light of bliss to the darkness of
weary spirits? Their serene tenderness restores to us our waning
confidence in the universe even as the intent gaze of a beautiful
child recalls our lost hopes. When we are laid low in the dust
it is they who linger in sorrow over our graves.
Sad as it is, we cannot conceal the fact that in spite of
our companionship with flowers we have not risen very far above
the brute. Scratch the sheepskin and the wolf within us will
soon show his teeth. It has been said that a man at ten is an
animal, at twenty a lunatic, at thirty a failure, at forty a
fraud, and at fifty a criminal. Perhaps he becomes a criminal
because he has never ceased to be an animal. Nothing is real
to us but hunger, nothing sacred except our own desires. Shrine
after shrine has crumbled before our eyes; but one altar is forever
preserved, that whereon we burn incense to the supreme idol,--ourselves.
Our god is great, and money is his Prophet! We devastate nature
in order to make sacrifice to him. We boast that we have conquered
Matter and forget that it is Matter that has enslaved us. What
atrocities do we not perpetrate in the name of culture and refinement!
Tell me, gentle flowers, teardrops of the stars, standing
in the garden, nodding your heads to the bees as they sing of
the dews and the sunbeams, are you aware of the fearful doom
that awaits you? Dream on, sway and frolic while you may in the
gentle breezes of summer. To-morrow a ruthless hand will close
around your throats. You will be wrenched, torn asunder limb
by limb, and borne away from your quiet homes. The wretch, she
may be passing fair. She may say how lovely you are while her
fingers are still moist with your blood. Tell me, will this be
kindness? It may be your fate to be imprisoned in the hair of
one whom you know to be heartless or to be thrust into the buttonhole
of one who would not dare to look you in the face were you a
man. It may even be your lot to be confined in some narrow vessel
with only stagnant water to quench the maddening thirst that
warns of ebbing life.
Flowers, if you were in the land of the Mikado, you might
some time meet a dread personage armed with scissors and a tiny
saw. He would call himself a Master of Flowers. He would claim
the rights of a doctor and you would instinctively hate him,
for you know a doctor always seeks to prolong the troubles of
his victims. He would cut, bend, and twist you into those impossible
positions which he thinks it proper that you should assume. He
would contort your muscles and dislocate your bones like any
osteopath. He would burn you with red-hot coals to stop your
bleeding, and thrust wires into you to assist your circulation.
He would diet you with salt, vinegar, alum, and sometimes, vitriol.
Boiling water would be poured on your feet when you seemed ready
to faint. It would be his boast that he could keep life within
you for two or more weeks longer than would have been possible
without his treatment. Would you not have preferred to have been
killed at once when you were first captured? What were the crimes
you must have committed during your past incarnation to warrant
such punishment in this?
The wanton waste of flowers among Western communities is even
more appalling than the way they are treated by Eastern Flower
Masters. The number of flowers cut daily to adorn the ballrooms
and banquet-tables of Europe and America, to be thrown away on
the morrow, must be something enormous; if strung together they
might garland a continent. Beside this utter carelessness of
life, the guilt of the Flower-Master becomes insignificant. He,
at least, respects the economy of nature, selects his victims
with careful foresight, and after death does honour to their
remains. In the West the display of flowers seems to be a part
of the pageantry of wealth,--the fancy of a moment. Whither do
they all go, these flowers, when the revelry is over? Nothing
is more pitiful than to see a faded flower remorselessly flung
upon a dung heap.
Why were the flowers born so beautiful and yet so hapless?
Insects can sting, and even the meekest of beasts will fight
when brought to bay. The birds whose plumage is sought to deck
some bonnet can fly from its pursuer, the furred animal whose
coat you covet for your own may hide at your approach. Alas!
The only flower known to have wings is the butterfly; all others
stand helpless before the destroyer. If they shriek in their
death agony their cry never reaches our hardened ears. We are
ever brutal to those who love and serve us in silence, but the
time may come when, for our cruelty, we shall be deserted by
these best friends of ours. Have you not noticed that the wild
flowers are becoming scarcer every year? It may be that their
wise men have told them to depart till man becomes more human.
Perhaps they have migrated to heaven.
Much may be said in favor of him who cultivates plants. The
man of the pot is far more humane than he of the scissors. We
watch with delight his concern about water and sunshine, his
feuds with parasites, his horror of frosts, his anxiety when
the buds come slowly, his rapture when the leaves attain their
lustre. In the East the art of floriculture is a very ancient
one, and the loves of a poet and his favorite plant have often
been recorded in story and song. With the development of ceramics
during the Tang and Sung dynasties we hear of wonderful receptacles
made to hold plants, not pots, but jewelled palaces. A special
attendant was detailed to wait upon each flower and to wash its
leaves with soft brushes made of rabbit hair. It has been written
["Pingtse", by Yuenchunlang] that the peony should
be bathed by a handsome maiden in full costume, that a winter-plum
should be watered by a pale, slender monk. In Japan, one of the
most popular of the No-dances, the Hachinoki, composed during
the Ashikaga period, is based upon the story of an impoverished
knight, who, on a freezing night, in lack of fuel for a fire,
cuts his cherished plants in order to entertain a wandering friar.
The friar is in reality no other than Hojo-Tokiyori, the Haroun-Al-Raschid
of our tales, and the sacrifice is not without its reward. This
opera never fails to draw tears from a Tokio audience even to-day.
Great precautions were taken for the preservation of delicate
blossoms. Emperor Huensung, of the Tang Dynasty, hung tiny golden
bells on the branches in his garden to keep off the birds. He
it was who went off in the springtime with his court musicians
to gladden the flowers with soft music. A quaint tablet, which
tradition ascribes to Yoshitsune, the hero of our Arthurian legends,
is still extant in one of the Japanese monasteries [Sumadera,
near Kobe]. It is a notice put up for the protection of a certain
wonderful plum-tree, and appeals to us with the grim humour of
a warlike age. After referring to the beauty of the blossoms,
the inscription says: "Whoever cuts a single branch of this
tree shall forfeit a finger therefor." Would that such laws
could be enforced nowadays against those who wantonly destroy
flowers and mutilate objects of art!
Yet even in the case of pot flowers we are inclined to suspect
the selfishness of man. Why take the plants from their homes
and ask them to bloom mid strange surroundings? Is it not like
asking the birds to sing and mate cooped up in cages? Who knows
but that the orchids feel stifled by the artificial heat in your
conservatories and hopelessly long for a glimpse of their own
The ideal lover of flowers is he who visits them in their
native haunts, like Taoyuenming [all celebrated Chinese poets
and philosophers], who sat before a broken bamboo fence in converse
with the wild chrysanthemum, or Linwosing, losing himself amid
mysterious fragrance as he wandered in the twilight among the
plum-blossoms of the Western Lake. 'Tis said that Chowmushih
slept in a boat so that his dreams might mingle with those of
the lotus. It was the same spirit which moved the Empress Komio,
one of our most renowned Nara sovereigns, as she sang: "If
I pluck thee, my hand will defile thee, O flower! Standing in
the meadows as thou art, I offer thee to the Buddhas of the past,
of the present, of the future."
However, let us not be too sentimental. Let us be less luxurious
but more magnificent. Said Laotse: "Heaven and earth are
pitiless." Said Kobodaishi: "Flow, flow, flow, flow,
the current of life is ever onward. Die, die, die, die, death
comes to all." Destruction faces us wherever we turn. Destruction
below and above, destruction behind and before. Change is the
only Eternal,--why not as welcome Death as Life? They are but
counterparts one of the other,--The Night and Day of Brahma.
Through the disintegration of the old, re-creation becomes possible.
We have worshipped Death, the relentless goddess of mercy, under
many different names. It was the shadow of the All-devouring
that the Gheburs greeted in the fire. It is the icy purism of
the sword-soul before which Shinto-Japan prostrates herself even
to-day. The mystic fire consumes our weakness, the sacred sword
cleaves the bondage of desire. From our ashes springs the phoenix
of celestial hope, out of the freedom comes a higher realisation
Why not destroy flowers if thereby we can evolve new forms
ennobling the world idea? We only ask them to join in our sacrifice
to the beautiful. We shall atone for the deed by consecrating
ourselves to Purity and Simplicity. Thus reasoned the tea-masters
when they established the Cult of Flowers.
Anyone acquainted with the ways of our tea- and flower-masters
must have noticed the religious veneration with which they regard
flowers. They do not cull at random, but carefully select each
branch or spray with an eye to the artistic composition they
have in mind. They would be ashamed should they chance to cut
more than were absolutely necessary. It may be remarked in this
connection that they always associate the leaves, if there be
any, with the flower, for the object is to present the whole
beauty of plant life. In this respect, as in many others, their
method differs from that pursued in Western countries. Here we
are apt to see only the flower stems, heads as it were, without
body, stuck promiscuously into a vase.
When a tea-master has arranged a flower to his satisfaction
he will place it on the tokonoma, the place of honour in a Japanese
room. Nothing else will be placed near it which might interfere
with its effect, not even a painting, unless there be some special
aesthetic reason for the combination. It rests there like an
enthroned prince, and the guests or disciples on entering the
room will salute it with a profound bow before making their addresses
to the host. Drawings from masterpieces are made and published
for the edification of amateurs. The amount of literature on
the subject is quite voluminous. When the flower fades, the master
tenderly consigns it to the river or carefully buries it in the
ground. Monuments are sometimes erected to their memory.
The birth of the Art of Flower Arrangement seems to be simultaneous
with that of Teaism in the fifteenth century. Our legends ascribe
the first flower arrangement to those early Buddhist saints who
gathered the flowers strewn by the storm and, in their infinite
solicitude for all living things, placed them in vessels of water.
It is said that Soami, the great painter and connoisseur of the
court of Ashikaga- Yoshimasa, was one of the earliest adepts
at it. Juko, the tea-master, was one of his pupils, as was also
Senno, the founder of the house of Ikenobo, a family as illustrious
in the annals of flowers as was that of the Kanos in painting.
With the perfecting of the tea-ritual under Rikiu, in the latter
part of the sixteenth century, flower arrangement also attains
its full growth. Rikiu and his successors, the celebrated Ota-
wuraka, Furuka-Oribe, Koyetsu, Kobori-Enshiu, Katagiri- Sekishiu,
vied with each other in forming new combinations. We must remember,
however, that the flower-worship of the tea-masters formed only
a part of their aesthetic ritual, and was not a distinct religion
by itself. A flower arrangement, like the other works of art
in the tea-room, was subordinated to the total scheme of decoration.
Thus Sekishiu ordained that white plum blossoms should not be
made use of when snow lay in the garden. "Noisy" flowers
were relentlessly banished from the tea-room. A flower arrangement
by a tea-master loses its significance if removed from the place
for which it was originally intended, for its lines and proportions
have been specially worked out with a view to its surroundings.
The adoration of the flower for its own sake begins with the
rise of "Flower-Masters," toward the middle of the
seventeenth century. It now becomes independent of the tea-room
and knows no law save that the vase imposes on it. New conceptions
and methods of execution now become possible, and many were the
principles and schools resulting therefrom. A writer in the middle
of the last century said he could count over one hundred different
schools of flower arrangement. Broadly speaking, these divide
themselves into two main branches, the Formalistic and the Naturalesque.
The Formalistic schools, led by the Ikenobos, aimed at a classic
idealism corresponding to that of the Kano-academicians. We possess
records of arrangements by the early masters of the school which
almost reproduce the flower paintings of Sansetsu and Tsunenobu.
The Naturalesque school, on the other hand, accepted nature as
its model, only imposing such modifications of form as conduced
to the expression of artistic unity. Thus we recognise in its
works the same impulses which formed the Ukiyoe and Shijo schools
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
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
In religion the Future is behind us. In art the present is
the eternal. The tea-masters held that real appreciation of art
is only possible to those who make of it a living influence.
Thus they sought to regulate their daily life by the high standard
of refinement which obtained in the tea-room. In all circumstances
serenity of mind should be maintained, and conversation should
be conducted as never to mar the harmony of the surroundings.
The cut and color of the dress, the poise of the body, and the
manner of walking could all be made expressions of artistic personality.
These were matters not to be lightly ignored, for until one has
made himself beautiful he has no right to approach beauty. Thus
the tea-master strove to be something more than the artist,--art
itself. It was the Zen of aestheticism. Perfection is everywhere
if we only choose to recognise it. Rikiu loved to quote an old
poem which says: "To those who long only for flowers, fain
would I show the full-blown spring which abides in the toiling
buds of snow-covered hills."
Manifold indeed have been the contributions of the tea-masters
to art. They completely revolutionised the classical architecture
and interior decorations, and established the new style which
we have described in the chapter of the tea-room, a style to
whose influence even the palaces and monasteries built after
the sixteenth century have all been subject. The many-sided Kobori-Enshiu
has left notable examples of his genius in the Imperial villa
of Katsura, the castles of Najoya and Nijo, and the monastery
of Kohoan. All the celebrated gardens of Japan were laid out
by the tea-masters. Our pottery would probably never have attained
its high quality of excellence if the tea-masters had not lent
it to their inspiration, the manufacture of the utensils used
in the tea-ceremony calling forth the utmost expenditure of ingenuity
on the parts of our ceramists. The Seven Kilns of Enshiu are
well known to all students of Japanese pottery. many of our textile
fabrics bear the names of tea-masters who conceived their color
or design. It is impossible, indeed, to find any department of
art in which the tea-masters have not left marks of their genius.
In painting and lacquer it seems almost superfluous to mention
the immense services they have rendered. One of the greatest
schools of painting owes its origin to the tea-master Honnami-Koyetsu,
famed also as a lacquer artist and potter. Beside his works,
the splendid creation of his grandson, Koho, and of his grand-nephews,
Korin and Kenzan, almost fall into the shade. The whole Korin
school, as it is generally designated, is an expression of Teaism.
In the broad lines of this school we seem to find the vitality
of nature herself.
Great as has been the influence of the tea-masters in the
field of art, it is as nothing compared to that which they have
exerted on the conduct of life. Not only in the usages of polite
society, but also in the arrangement of all our domestic details,
do we feel the presence of the tea-masters. Many of our delicate
dishes, as well as our way of serving food, are their inventions.
They have taught us to dress only in garments of sober colors.
They have instructed us in the proper spirit in which to approach
flowers. They have given emphasis to our natural love of simplicity,
and shown us the beauty of humility. In fact, through their teachings
tea has entered the life of the people.
Those of us who know not the secret of properly regulating
our own existence on this tumultuous sea of foolish troubles
which we call life are constantly in a state of misery while
vainly trying to appear happy and contented. We stagger in the
attempt to keep our moral equilibrium, and see forerunners of
the tempest in every cloud that floats on the horizon. Yet there
is joy and beauty in the roll of billows as they sweep outward
toward eternity. Why not enter into their spirit, or, like Liehtse,
ride upon the hurricane itself?
He only who has lived with the beautiful can die beautifully.
The last moments of the great tea-masters were as full of exquisite
refinement as had been their lives. Seeking always to be in harmony
with the great rhythm of the universe, they were ever prepared
to enter the unknown. The "Last Tea of Rikiu" will
stand forth forever as the acme of tragic grandeur.
Long had been the friendship between Rikiu and the Taiko-
Hideyoshi, and high the estimation in which the great warrior
held the tea-master. But the friendship of a despot is ever a
dangerous honour. It was an age rife with treachery, and men
trusted not even their nearest kin. Rikiu was no servile courtier,
and had often dared to differ in argument with his fierce patron.
Taking advantage of the coldness which had for some time existed
between the Taiko and Rikiu, the enemies of the latter accused
him of being implicated in a conspiracy to poison the despot.
It was whispered to Hideyoshi that the fatal potion was to be
administered to him with a cup of the green beverage prepared
by the tea-master. With Hideyoshi suspicion was sufficient ground
for instant execution, and there was no appeal from the will
of the angry ruler. One privilege alone was granted to the condemned--
the honor of dying by his own hand.
On the day destined for his self-immolation, Rikiu invited
his chief disciples to a last tea-ceremony. Mournfully at the
appointed time the guests met at the portico. As they look into
the garden path the trees seem to shudder, and in the rustling
of their leaves are heard the whispers of homeless ghosts. Like
solemn sentinels before the gates of Hades stand the grey stone
lanterns. A wave of rare incense is wafted from the tea-room;
it is the summons which bids the guests to enter. One by one
they advance and take their places. In the tokonoma hangs a kakemon,--a
wonderful writing by an ancient monk dealing with the evanescence
of all earthly things. The singing kettle, as it boils over the
brazier, sounds like some cicada pouring forth his woes to departing
summer. Soon the host enters the room. Each in turn is served
with tea, and each in turn silently drains his cup, the host
last of all. according to established etiquette, the chief guest
now asks permission to examine the tea-equipage. Rikiu places
the various articles before them, with the kakemono. After all
have expressed admiration of their beauty, Rikiu presents one
of them to each of the assembled company as a souvenir. The bowl
alone he keeps. "Never again shall this cup, polluted by
the lips of misfortune, be used by man." He speaks, and
breaks the vessel into fragments.
The ceremony is over; the guests with difficulty restraining
their tears, take their last farewell and leave the room. One
only, the nearest and dearest, is requested to remain and witness
the end. Rikiu then removes his tea-gown and carefully folds
it upon the mat, thereby disclosing the immaculate white death
robe which it had hitherto concealed. Tenderly he gazes on the
shining blade of the fatal dagger, and in exquisite verse thus
"Welcome to thee,/ O sword of eternity!/ Through Buddha/
And through Daruma alike/ Thou hast cleft thy way."
With a smile upon his face Rikiu passed forth into the unknown.
This Etext was prepared by: Matthew and Gabrielle Harbowy