(Part III, Continued from Meditation lets my energy flow from within)
Never been to a “Tea Ceremony” before. On hearing about it Sunday, I envisioned something out of “Alice in Wonderland,” with the Mad Hatter sipping a cup at a long white table, and the March Hare constantly glancing at his watch — just a bunch of silliness, per an animated movie. But here I was, at the Chenrezig Tibetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia. Losang Samten, the spiritual leader, performed the ceremony as Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike chanted Sanskrit or Tibet and poured tea for the good of all.
Somehow, I ended up closest to the leader’s right side, and got a bird’s-eye view of the ceremony. The practice goes back a millenium in the country of Tibet and other Eastern lands, and it involves participants mingling with a spiritual leader, and sharing a special moment in life. In our case, it involved each of us handling a very ornate metal tea server, as we slowly poured a small amount of tea into what appeared to be a silver or pewter cup, while making a silent wish.
Many had to bend forward to bring the tea-pot close to the cup to avoid spillage, even though the cup rested on a large bowl or metal plate. Tea pours forth and the celebrant stands erect, bowing slightly to the Buddhist leader who smiles and bows in return.
Meanwhile, the chant is recited over and over, reminding me of the old Roman Catholic Mass when they said it in Latin. The Latin usually made no sense to me as a young boy, but it provided a soothing and relaxing “flow” to the church service. I got into this foreign chant by the fourth or fifth recital, trying to harmonize with a chanter to my right, often climbing the vocal scale from a low bass to a high tenor as the chant ended on an extremely long, and easy-to-hold note.
When my turn came, I stood up, extending myself from a lotus position where I had sat on a large pillow tossed over a mat. I felt like a child at a “tea party,” despite the solemnity most people were displaying. I couldn’t help it, I enjoy spiritual activities and take part vigorously, and not with a bleak or gloomy demeanor. I grabbed that metal tea-pot, manipulating it in both hands, feeling the cloth-like material hanging from its sides. It looked like shiny brass. There was a precious stone at the top of the pot, a light blue object that made me think of India and exotic lands I’ve never been to, and only read about.
I tilted the pot ever so slightly to look beneath it. Now, picture this: I am in the center of two dozen praying Buddhists and I am inspecting their ceremonial vessels as if I was at a bazaar. I couldn’t resist. Bliss filled me from meditating only minutes before, and I wanted to play. “Be” like a child. Enjoy myself, as long as the “play” didn’t show any disrespect or bring dishonor to anyone.
All of a sudden, I felt the chanting coming to an end. I had to assume a good position to let the tea pour into the cup and not over or out of the cup. I quickly brought down the pot and began to pour, almost forgetting the most important part of the ceremony. To make a wish.
I made it silently, stood up straight, saw the leader smile at me as I bowed, and returned the tea-pot before taking a few steps back to my “seat.”
Whenever people in his country would make a major decision, Losang said, they would meet in a special section of their house to take tea. They would speak softly and discuss all sides of an issue before arriving at a consensus, which usually turned out to be the right one.
Having participated in this tea practice, I have decided to return to the Buddhist Center. I think it’s the right choice for me.
For Part IV, see: Think Buddha ever signed new members?
(For Part I, see: On road to Peace, I found some “Bhuddies”)