tea seon (zen)


When tea’s blue waves and green fragrance enter the court of the heart,

intelligence and brightness reach everywhere, unimpeded.

Then, your spiritual roots will rest on divine mountains,

though in appearance immortals seem a different species.

-Ven. Cho Ui

For as long as tea has been consumed in Korea, it’s had an intimate connection with Buddhism. Monks in the southern region of Jirisan cultivated, by hand, the trees that grew wild on the slopes, and developed the first Korean tea cultures, which quickly became popular with the villagers as well.

Ceremonies evolved, offering tea to the Buddhas, and, as tea was recognized for its ability to sharpen one’s senses, drinking tea became entwined with meditation. Just the act of preparing and drinking tea itself became a sort of meditation.

Seon is a reality that can never be explained in words or writing.

Seon is a concentrating, a positive awareness.

Seon is above all free and creative, and subjective too.

Seon offers a short-cut by which to reach a limitless individuality.

Just like tea.

-the Seon of tea

As Seon cleanses the mind and tea cleanses the body, they do make a lovely combination!

Korea's most famous Japanese tea plantation, in Boseong

Eventually, tea became important in the royal courts, as well, but when Neo-Confusion “scholars” convinced a Joseon Dynasty King to banish Buddhism, the drink most associated with the religion eventually followed (…throwing out the baby with the bath- uh… tea-water!). Taxes on tea crops became excessive and farmers turned to other crops. Finally, the King ordered that tea be replaced by wine in the courts (anyone who’s spent much time in Korea probably won’t be surprised by this!). For hundreds of years, tea was almost completely forgotten in Korea, but the wild trees kept on growing, unconcerned.

With the Japanese invasion, in the early 1900’s, came Japanese tea plantations and mechanical cultivation. The Japanese tea plant is a slightly different variety from those which became wild over the centuries and the final product does not compare to that of the painstaking labor of the monks and their assistants. What did happen, though, is that, by the 1970’s, a renewed interest in tea was born. The Korean way of tea, barely kept alive by a small number of individuals, mostly hermit monks, was revived.


One response »

  1. My friend, Hee Suk, introduced me to traditional Korean tea and its forms of preparation. What a delight!

    Of course, during Kyol Che retreats at Hwa Gye Sah, many of us would pop out of the walking meditation line to brew a single small cup (in one of those tiny sets that brews just one small bowl). What a lifesaver!

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