Since the earliest adoption of tea for medicinal use, the story of tea has been intertwined with its use for religion and spirituality. This week, we take a look at these varied uses that intertwines tea with our very culture.
The shift in drinking habits that occurred in late medieval China cannot be understood without an appreciation of the fact that Buddhist monks were responsible for not only changing people's attitudes toward the intoxicating substance, but also the proliferation of tea drinking. Monks had enjoyed a long association with tea in South China, but it was not until Lu Yu's compilation of the Chajing (The Classic of Tea) and the spread of tea drinking by itinerant Chan monastics that tea culture became popular throughout the empire and beyond.
Tea was important for maintaining long periods of meditation; it also provided inspiration for poets and profoundly affected the ways in which ideas were exchanged. Prior to the eighth century, the aristocratic drinking party had excluded monks from participating in elite culture. Over cups of tea, however, monks and literati could meet on equal footing and share in the same aesthetic values. Monks and scholars thus found common ground in the popular stimulant—one with few side effects that was easily obtainable and provided inspiration and energy for composing poetry and meditating. In addition, rituals associated with tea drinking were developed in Chan monasteries, aiding in the transformation of China's sacred landscape at the popular and elite level. Pilgrimages to monasteries that grew their own tea were essential in the spread of tea culture, and some monasteries owned vast tea plantations. By the end of the ninth century, tea was a vital component in the Chinese economy and in everyday life.
It is argued that the tea ceremony originated from a religious practice of the Buddhist Zen sect, in which a certain service would gather and take tea in front of the image of the Buddha who had introduced Zen to China.
Although tea has a meditative implication, it is argued by numerous scholars that it holds significance when examining the notion of purity. It was first asserted by the priest Murata Shuko in the 14th century that four values were central to the concept of the tea ritual: reverence, respect, purity, and tranquillity. It is claimed that the tea used in the tea ritual has great consequence with regard to purification, as it has an association with physical and spiritual purity appropriate for those who approach sacred places. It is further argued by scholar Kakuzo Okakura that the concept of tea represents purity and harmony, and the manner in which the person is able to worship the social order and hierarchy.
The tea bowl used in the duration of the Japanese tea ritual an important and celebrated utensil. When examining the magnitude of the tea ceremony, it is said that the bowl used in the Japanese tea ritual represents an important piece in the reunification of the cosmos.
Myanmar fermented tea leaf is a common signature and national ancient food that is eaten by all people in the country, regardless of race or religion, at get-togethers in family homes, in monasteries, and in the traditional celebrations. The consumption of tea leaves around the world is in three forms: green tea, black tea, oolong tea.
Apart from the drinking form of tea, fermented pickled tea, the so-called laphet, is another form of tea leaf that is habitually eaten in Myanmar. The tea leaf plants are cultivated in the mountain regions of Myanmar, which have the proper climate, sufficient humidity, adequate sunshine, and fertile soil. The best time for tea leaf harvesting is April–May. The generic name of laphet is probably derived from the name used by each region such as moe-goke laphet and pa-laung laphet.
Whilst tea is not specifically used in spiritual or religious ritual, many Muslim countries cite tea as their national beverage and it has important cultural and familiaral uses.
Tea is especially important to Iran, Egypt, Mauritius and Somalia, where it is considered the national drink. In most other Muslim countries tea as a beverage is second only to coffee.
The importance of tea (and coffee) is quite simple to trace as it is very related to the fact that alcohol consumption is prohibited in the Islamic religion. Where may social situations in the West (for example) might involve the use of alcohol for family and social gatherings, in Muslim countries it is prohibited and therefore tea and coffee are used as the substitutes.
This concludes our article on hosting your own tea events. Please feel free to feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org with your comments or questions on this article.