I have been recently asked to review Solala Towler’s “Cha Dao” by publisher Singing Dragon and couldn’t put it down once I have started. Cha Dao is an inspiring read, and, like a Zen master, it offers little teasers which urge one to find out more about the ideas behind the humble cup of tea.
The Chinese Art of Tea is an amalgam of Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism. Towler aims to lay out Daoism’s influence on this art. This book brings this ancient Chinese philosophy closer to non-Chinese readers.
Daoism in tea is about “being intensely engaged with life yet not being attached to the outcome of any endeavour.” Through the Dao principles of “Going Slowly” (or at the right speed), “Naturalness” (an internal state of simplicity and oneness with nature), “Way of Water” (being flexible), “Art of Doing Nothing” (letting things develop in their own time and allowing oneself to just be), “Uncarved Wood” (the pure attributes of a baby) and “Value of Worthlessness” (when we are willing to be worthless, we become worthy and we acknowledge that we are precious and perfect in our imperfections), Towler shows us that it is possible to stay living a life that is more at ease with the world by starting with the quiet and modest cup of tea. By focusing on the ordinary and everyday, we are constantly reminded that impermanence is at the core of everything.
Cha Dao: The Way of Tea, Tea as a Way of Life
by Solala Towler
£12.99 available on amazon
Paperback: 172 pages
Publisher: Singing Dragon (15 April 2010)
ISBN-10: 1848190328 / ISBN-13: 978-1848190320
Preview Book Here
It does not take much to instil some Zen wisdom in your daily life. The way of tea is very simple: “It is only to boil water along with tea leaves and drink it. Anything else is superfluous“. So live the Zen concept of ichi-go ichi-e, engage with your cup of tea, be in the moment with the tea, listen to it, allow it to help you be at one with everything around you, and appreciate the moment for it can never be recreated.
Towler observes that the Samurai class were attracted to the tea ceremony because it was “a place of quiet serenity in the midst of their battle-filled lives. It was a place where they could let down their guard and enter into a timeless realm… It was where they could listen to the quiet bubbling of the tea water … it was an opportunity to observe the slow, simple and austere movements of the tea master.”
It is Towler’s intention to share the idea that the “Way of Tea encompasses much more than simply drinking tea“. Tea is the union of all heaven, earth and humanity. “In our world of constant rushing activity“, he writes, “it is good to be able to take some time out of the race and bask in the glory of just ‘being’.“ I cannot agree more when he says that by “maintaining our still centre, even in the midst of activity, we will be better able to flow with the changes that happen in our lives.” In our era of overdoing and overachieving, where we are all Samurai in a sense, true refinement is more and more difficult all the world over. But if we follow the way of tea, we will be able “to reconnect and realign ourselves with the great Way of Dao. In that connection, we can begin to heal, to find the path to wholeness. And in this Way, we can open ourselves to new experiences, new ways of seeing and being, new attitudes and ways of looking at the world and our place in it.”
With the understanding of Dao, the way of tea is a way of accepting “the mundane of life and [trying] to find beauty in our world“. It is about living a life that is full but not overwhelming, slow but still productive. It is about existing in the moment and not worrying about the future or past.
Hold a cup of tea as still as possible in your hand. Inevitably the surface will ripple. If you put the tea down, the surface will shake more, but then finally the storm will pass and stillness reign. It’s about letting go of the effort to control. This too will pass.