The Humanity in Tea

teaset

This is the new Chinese tea set that I got recently!

What’s so special about such a tea set? Well, the uniqueness lies in the pot. This pot is known as the Yixing (宜興) Tea Pot which is made from clay from the Yixing region in China. There is no protective glaze on it, and so this special clay not only absorbs the tea flavours, but also enhances it. Tea brewed in this pot will taste better as you brew more tea in it over time. In fact, it is said that if you have been using this pot for a long time, you can add hot water into the pot without the leaves, and still get tea!

The wooden tray on which the pot seats on, and the wooden tools on the side are part of an elaborate tea brewing method known as Gongfu Tea (功夫茶). No, there’s no gongfu involved, but rather it refers to the skill cultivated in the art of tea brewing. The temperature of the water, the time taken to brew the tea, etc., are all significant in making that most awesome cup of tea. It really makes a huge difference! I know because I’ve tried.

People are probably wondering why should one waste one’s time going through all that trouble to make tea when one could simply take a tea bag and soak it in hot water?

The answer is this: Nowadays, with the advancements in technolgy, we become so end-oriented. When we think of food, we just think of putting something tasty into our mouths. When we think of drink, we think of just putting a liquid into our mouths. The entire process has been forgotten.

In the past, going to get water meant taking a walk out to the nearby well, meeting all kinds of people, and interacting with them whilst enjoying that walk. Today, getting water is as simple as going to a tap. It is so simple that we don’t think too much about getting water. In fact, we become so end-oriented (goal-oriented) that we forget about the whole process. We forget about enjoying the means (the process) of getting things done.

Be it work or studies, we have become so end-oriented that we don’t make it a point to enjoy the process, nor make the process a meaningful experience. No. There is a huge tendency within us to focus only on trying to get what we want to get, to the point where we forget about our human interactions, and we forget to enjoy the fine things in life that surround us as we go about our daily tasks.

In short, we’re losing our humanity. We will be no different from animals (and even robots!) if we don’t make it a point to enjoy the process and make significant our means to ours ends.

Something as simple as tea should be enjoyed fully. Its flavour should be appreciated. The process of brewing tea is in itself an art. And if we make significant the process, we bring back the humanity in our daily living.

Tea is not just tea. It is a social ritual (禮) which is made up of human interactions and the fine art of tea appreciation. A multitude of ends are intertwined in tea. Even the tea brewing ceremony itself cultivates virtue in the maker and the guests. Not only do they learn patience, but the ceremony of tea making is like a dance which cultivates harmony and solidarity with one another. In a dance, the various dancers must know their roles and do their best to co-ordinate themselves with each other. In so doing, there is harmony in the dance. If one were to go out of rhythm or miss a step, the dance loses its harmony and beauty. A ceremony as simple as tea making and appreciation can cultivate such harmony in people, as people learn to co-ordinate themselves to the actions involved in the art of brewing tea. On top of that, it allows for social interaction and tea appreciation all at the same time.

In today’s culture, where the use of technology has conditioned us to focus purely on the ends, we lose this richness. If I were to meet you for tea, it means meeting for a social interaction. The fine art of tea appreciation is not present. We may drink tea, but the end (goal) of tea appreciation is not in mind. By separating the means from the ends, we unconsciously also create a separtion of ends. And in so doing, we lose that richness of our humanity.

It is therefore important, if we want to fully realise our humanity and make our life rich with meaning, to never be totally end-oriented, but to make it a point to enjoy the process in whatever tasks we have to do. It is important for us to make significant some of these daily (and even mundane) processes and recover the social interactions which we have lost.

Work is never just work. Whatever task it may be, even if it is as simple as tea, it is always an opportunity for one’s self to blossom like a beautiful flower and a chance to flourish one’s friendships in the process.