Wednesday, July 1, 2009

From The Book of Tea

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.


Tea with us became more than an idealization 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 color 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.

Kakuzo Okakura, The Book of Tea. 1906. (Boston: Shambala, 2001), 3, 26–27.
"This impossible thing we know as life," "the utmost beatitude of the mundane": pretty Proustian to my ears. The Book of Tea, a book of aesthetics and philosophy, is available in many print and digital editions.

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