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Tea in the Spiritual Tool Box

Spiritual practice is the application of attention to every aspect of every moment of experience. Spiritual tools are those practices which assist in the application of attention to life.

The best-known spiritual tools include practices such as prayer, chanting, devotional ritual, and meditation. These practices entail the direction of attention toward aspects of experience that, in the midst of daily life, the usually distractible mind rarely rests upon for long. In our online store and in our bricks and mortar store in Sebastopol, Many Rivers offers a range of tools to support these practices, including books and compact discs about prayer, meditation and chanting, sacred art images, ritual objects for home altar creation and use such as incense and candles, meditation cushions, etc. These tools help focus awareness in ways consistent with the goal of putting unwavering witness attention upon every aspect of experience.

Tea can be another instrument in the spiritual tool box. Of course, like any other tool, it can be misused or not used to its full potential. Most people treat tea as mechanically as they do any other aspect of daily life.

The inspiration for using tea as a spiritual tool comes from the east. In many Asian cultural contexts, the preparation and drinking of tea has long been valued as a special opportunity to place attention upon that which we often ignore. An example of the translation of this attitude towards tea from east to west can be found in Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s Plum Village community. The sharing of tea in community with fellow meditation practitioners is framed as an explicit spiritual tool – an opportunity to exercise awareness – along with chanting, formal meditation practices, etc. Tea has been used in similar ways for millennia by Buddhist, Daoist and Confucian spiritual practitioners.

The raison d'être for Many Rivers – the reason why Tayu Meditation Center created the store in first place – was to provide a place where genuine spiritual practice of every kind, from every tradition, could find tangible support.  Tea ceremony in several east Asian traditions (China, Japan, Korea among others) historically has been used as a spiritual tool as defined above. And as appreciation for fine, whole-leaf tea has grown in the United States, more and more Americans have come to realize that tea can be treated as more than just a commodity, or just another beverage. Like other practices, brewing tea can be consciously employed as a way to enhance attention and cultivate the unblemished presence of witness awareness.

Brewing fine whole-leaf tea is an opportunity to encourage attention to coalesce upon one object, or more properly, upon one process with many facets. To make the best-quality tea of any type, and especially when one is using highly sensitive green or oolong leaves, it is vital to focus awareness upon the interaction of a variety of factors: water temperature (and water quality), leaf appearance, aroma, brewing vessel, timing, and drinking vessel, not to mention the physical context where the tea is made and enjoyed. To these objects of awareness, circumstances may also add other factors, including the consciousness of the people with whom one may be sharing tea.

Harmoniously blending all these factors into a seamless spiritual exercise may be considered an art, but to do this consciously and consistently is an “art” that depends upon the experience of training attention with persistence and dedication. The product of such self-training can be a spontaneously elegant dance without agenda, where one seems to be “doing” nothing at all except paying attention. The tea makes itself; or the Universe collaborates to make this magical brew in this unique moment. Such a result can only be consistently achieved, however, by employing the contents of the spiritual tool box to create habits of awareness with a clarity beyond the habits of distraction that typically guide attention.

So it was a deliberate choice to call the store Many Rivers Books & Tea. Our motto “Tools for Spiritual Practice” encompasses all forms of spiritual tools, including tea, because tea can has much to offer those who would use it to deepen awareness and train attention.

 

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