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Join Thomas for an experienced discussion concerning how to face the modern tea market.
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Yes it is a tricky balance. We must remain humble, open-minded and never, ever allow our cups to be full (lest they make a mess), yet also–in these troubled times– we have misleading photos of “secret” plantation teas in the exotic mountains of hidden Taiwan where Master Zoowanda weaves magic on a select number of hidden leaves that only I can get because my master has guanxi, etc., etc. (which is nothing new for any market).
For those of us like me who tend to lean towards the more poetic, spiritual and fanciful heritage of tea, keeping such realities in mind is important. Whereas the more cynical, dry laoweis *ahem* should perhaps balance that out with a bit more humility and spirit in their tea…
As an aside, Jason, you had tea with this author..hmmm…
I am weary of your use of the word “syndrome” next to “master”, Jason. This makes it sound as if having a master or submitting your will in discipline to others is a psychological sickness. At the same time, lack of humility, being hung up in our own egocentric patterns, judgments and conditioning are the greatest inhibitors of personal growth, whether spiritual, academic or material. In that way, the ego itself is the greatest syndrome of all, and recognizing that some people use the idea of mastery to sell things is not the same as saying that mastery isn’t possible or that such people are not worthy of our reverence and humble attention, as well as devotion. I recently read this:
“The Zen Tea Record” distinguishes two kinds of chanoyu, worldly tea and Zen tea. Worldly tea is a microcosm of ordinary life, entangled in concern over the self and therefore beset by anxieties and desires. A perversion of authentic chanoyu, it is tea activity that has been dragged into the compass of mundane existence. True tea is Zen tea: true because it leads its practitioners to awakening, and because it is itself the emergence of true reality, in the Buddhist sense, in the lives and acts of tea people.”
If we covet the utensils of others with greed or use tea to further our cravings, trying to fill the bottomless hole in ourselves with material possessions or comfort, not only have we passed over the essence and spirit of tea, but we have also demoted it to nothing more than a social pastime like collecting model cars. It is okay to have treasures, antique pots and great teas—as even the ancients mentioned—but we mustn’t let the subsequent thoughts of “mine” arise. I try to view my teaware as something I am using and passing on. After all, most all my pots, cups, kettles, etc. are very old, and having been used for hundreds of years, have passed through many owners, so in a sense I don’t own them at all; I just use them for a time. In this way, I work on my attachment. To quote a modern master:
“For the practitioner of tea, the love of revere utensils is fine, but the succeeding thought must not arise. The old masters carefully preserved and regarded the renowned scrolls and tea utensils as provisions for their practice of the way of tea. If we venerate these with the thought that “the old teachings illumine the heart,” then with all things that we encounter through sight or that we take in our hands, we experience joy and gratitude. Even at this point, however, if delusional, self-centered thoughts arise, it turns into attachment and we regress. It does not matter what those things are that meet our eyes or our hands; it is a question of our state of mind. Therefore, we are told again and again that we must be the heart’s master and never let go of the tether. We must allow no room for egocentric thinking to enter.”
For every business I find that is using the idea of mastery to sell tea, I also find someone not progressing in tea because they have treated it in a worldly way and often because they fail to listen. They think tea is about being a librarian and gathering information. When in fact, as Master Ling suggests in the other article, all the information in the world doesn’t mean you can brew good tea. I myself have drank tea with such teachers, as knowledgeable as they come, but in the end only serving up a commodity—a taste to be bought and sold like coca cola.
We all have eyes, but not all see; and everyone has ears, but not all listen. So too, do most people become wholly concerned with all the externals of tea drinking, not recognizing the changes happening inside. As one develops, though, one soon discovers that no aspect of a tea session occurs outside the heart and mind.
The spirit of tea cannot be taught in words, learned from a book or even from watching a master. It must be felt, lived and experienced. Tea is cultivated from within.
In the end, I fear that by recognizing mastery as a “syndrome” we will scare people away from the experience of a real master if and when they meet one, as you once did here in Taiwan and can testify to its life-transforming effects. It is not okay to go around snatching information without gratitude or humility because one doesn’t wish to place one’s ego below a ‘master’. Humility/respect was to the ancients an explicit aspect of the Way of Tea, along with harmony, purity and tranquility. If we view any gong fu as something we take and covet, we will never reach said mastery ourselves. For such men are masters in their egolessness, their great humility and deep presence of purity and tranquility.
Rather, we might hope that each and every tea-lover has the good fortune to meet a true master, who will share with them in the spirit of tea: never charging money for teaching or for a steaming cup.
Teamaster Syndrome is not, as you assume, where mastery of tea is considered a syndrome. You might have asked me to clarify before you assumed you knew what I meant. My meaning is more along the lines of Lawrence’s comment above.
I refer to the tea drinker who falls prey to soi-disant “teamasters”, tea vendors whose only mastery is of fraudulent sales tactics, or to the tea drinker who looks to only one master to learn and considers this master’s word absolute.
St. Thomas Aquinas said, “Beware the man of one book.” And I say, “Woe to the man of one tea master.” Indeed, how much can you know of food if you’ve only eaten the food of a single chef? How much can you know of art if you’ve only seen the work of one artist?
More to the point, how much can you know about tea if you learn from only one source?
You yourself count many “masters” amongst your teachers. I was lucky to meet some of them.
On the other hand, we both know of men in Taiwan who charge to teach, and I met many men who sell their pupils their tea while badmouthing the tea of other stores.
“I have heard the saying, ‘He who finds himself teachers will rule the greatest area…He who is willing to ask becomes greater…He who wishes to be sure of his end must look to his beginning” (Shu Qing, Part IV, Book 2, Chapter 4, pp 8-9).
I apologize if you took my post as a jab or call to arms-touche. The whole purpose, actually, of my post was to entice you to come here and clarify/further discuss what you meant when you said “tea syndrome”; and that you have done very clearly. I in fact wasn’t making assumptions on what you percieved, but–as I mentioned–just expressing my wariness of using these words together without clarifying what is mean by them for those, like myself, who haven’t heard the term.
Furthermore, I agree with all you have said here in your clarification!
This is my first chance to visit the magazine site since its inception and for goodness sake, you guys sound like the last people i would want to have tea with (even those of you who are friends). By over thinking every aspect about tea until its broken down into debates. Don’t forget its just water and leaves and ask yourself what would your life be without tea, if it would be any different, you still don’t know how to enjoy tea. The formula for having good tea is as follow, drink with whom you enjoy their presence (”master” or “not”), study yourself, buy from who has good tea and does righteous business and save the rest of your energy to enjoy life and love those around you.
well said. Amen. Thanks for poking a hold in my heretofore inflated ego, so that it fly about the room making fart noises, settling eventually in silence again–where it belongs. Let me go have some tea and close my mouth, as you have reminded me again that it is in this sip, not so many words (which I seem to need reminding of all the time, even as I talk of it now).
Thank you, Jeffrey for hitting the nail squarely on the head. The Conscientious Tea Consumer was the first article I read. I was very excited to learn about the magazine and the article’s title proved so promising. There were indeed sound points, especially the first mention of our need for humility during the process of exploring, buying and enjoying tea. Shame that the overall tone of the article is anything but humble. Subjective generalizations were fairly present. To be clear, is it safe to assume that the article’s focus (though unstated) was heavily geared towards China & Taiwan teas?
Again, there were some sound points, but I think it is this somewhat elitist tone that only turns people away from tea vs. encouraging them to really explore it. Yes, there are indeed scammers and BS is present in the market. But if I was an inexperienced consumer and I read this article, I would begin my exploration with a chip on my shoulder assuming that most vendors are out to rip me off. I know this wasn’t the intent of the article. The truly humble thing to do is to not heap your own weight on other peoples’ tea exploration. I hope that the magazine can really help to educate all of us rather than turn people away from this amazing world we’re drawn to. I think the basic framework of the article could have supported an amazingly useful guide to tea buying at every level.
Interestingly, the ancient Vedas regarded the merchant class as the lowest, and often discusses them as such. Besides outcasts they were thought of negatively because they don’t create or make anything of their own. Merchants just buy other people’s creations and then sell them for double elsewhere, and the shrewder and cheaper they pay their supplier and more they sell to their customers, while keeping them happy, the better business people they are.
To me, whether or not all merchants do rip people off isn’t important. I would hope no one would be scared off by the fact that all vendors are out to make money, to make a business. Otherwise, we couldn’t buy anything anywhere. What I dislike is vendors that take the ‘we love tea’ approach, rather than just selling tea plain and simple. After all, I also am glad there are vendors to buy tea from (despite teh above anecdote). I can show you 4 or 5 very popular online vendors who keep blogs and either directly state or imply that they don’t sell tea for money, but out of a love for tea. ANd they share their information out of the kindness of their hearts. I don’t understand how others then don’t notice the blatant product placement in every post, how they only review their own teas and how their descriptions never even resemble what I taste when the tea arrives. I don’t think this should scare any modern person away, as it is the same in every business…”come down to Joe’s car lot where we love cars so much we’ll put you behind teh wheel of a new Ford for…”
I guess for me I just like a vednor who vends and I think the author’s main point was not to listen to salesmen’s information when it is obviously biased, their gifts are rarely really free, their gatherings are promotion and thei kindness customer-service. And no matter how much they blog about how they wish to spread tea culture, when every other post glorifies their products, their events and their business rather than exploring tea for its own sake, misinformation will spread,
“Tea Masters who know only their own school and take no heed of any other, and who make their pupils buy utensils at a high price because they are indespensable to their style, whereas they could do as well without them, are a great nuisance and no better than curio dealers.” –Umpei Zasshi 1862–