by Kakuzo Okakura
In religion the Future is behind us. In art the present is the eternal.
The tea-masters held that real appreciation of art is only possible
to those who make of it a living influence. Thus they sought to
regulate their daily life by the high standard of refinement which
obtained in the tea-room. In all circumstances serenity of mind
should be maintained, and conversation should be conducted as
never to mar the harmony of the surroundings. The cut and
color of the dress, the poise of the body, and the manner of
walking could all be made expressions of artistic personality.
These were matters not to be lightly ignored, for until one has
made himself beautiful he has no right to approach beauty.
Thus the tea-master strove to be something more than the
artist, - art itself. It was the Zen of aestheticism. Perfection is
everywhere if we only choose to recognise it. Rikyu loved to
quote an old poem which says: "To those who long only for
flowers, fain would I show the full-blown spring which abides
in the toiling buds of snow-covered hills."
Manifold indeed have been the contributions of the tea-masters
to art. They completely revolutionised the classical architecture
and interior decorations, and established the new style which we
have described in the chapter of the tea-room, a style to whose
influence even the palaces and monasteries built after the sixteenth
century have all been subject. The many-sided Kobori-Enshiu has
left notable examples of his genius in the Imperial villa of Katsura,
the castles of Najoya and Nijo, and the monastery of Kohoan.
All the celebrated gardens of Japan were laid out by the tea-masters.
Our pottery would probably never have attained its high quality
of excellence if the tea-masters had not lent it to their inspiration,
the manufacture of the utensils used in the tea-ceremony
calling forth the utmost expenditure of ingenuity on the parts of
our ceramists. The Seven Kilns of Enshiu are well known to all
students of Japanese pottery. Many of our textile fabrics bear the
names of tea-masters who conceived their color or design. It is
impossible, indeed, to find any department of art in which the
tea-masters have not left marks of their genius. In painting and
lacquer it seems almost superfluous to mention the immense
services they have rendered. One of the greatest schools of painting
owes its origin to the tea-master Honnami-Koyetsu, famed also as
a lacquer artist and potter. Beside his works, the splendid creation
of his grandson, Koho, and of his grand-nephews, Korin and Kenzan,
almost fall into the shade. The whole Korin school, as it is generally
designated, is an expression of Teaism. In the broad lines of this
school we seem to find the vitality of nature herself.
Great as has been the influence of the tea-masters in the field of art,
it is as nothing compared to that which they have exerted on the
conduct of life. Not only in the usages of polite society, but also
in the arrangement of all our domestic details, do we feel the
presence of the tea-masters. Many of our delicate dishes, as well
as our way of serving food, are their inventions. They have
taught us to dress only in garments of sober colors. They have
instructed us in the proper spirit in which to approach flowers.
They have given emphasis to our natural love of simplicity, and
shown us the beauty of humility. In fact, through their teachings
tea has entered the life of the people.
Those of us who know not the secret of properly regulating our
own existence on this tumultuous sea of foolish troubles which
we call life are constantly in a state of misery while vainly trying
to appear happy and contented. We stagger in the attempt to
keep our moral equilibrium, and see forerunners of the tempest
in every cloud that floats on the horizon. Yet there is joy and
beauty in the roll of billows as they sweep outward toward
eternity. Why not enter into their spirit, or, like Liehtse, ride
upon the hurricane itself?
He only who has lived with the beautiful can die beautifully.
The last moments of the great tea-masters were as full of
exquisite refinement as had been their lives. Seeking always
to be in harmony with the great rhythm of the universe, they
were ever prepared to enter the unknown. The "Last Tea of
Rikyu" will stand forth forever as the acme of tragic grandeur.
Long had been the friendship between Rikyu and the Taiko-Hideyoshi,
and high the estimation in which the great warrior
held the tea-master. But the friendship of a despot is ever a
dangerous honour. It was an age rife with treachery, and men
trusted not even their nearest kin. Rikyu was no servile courtier,
and had often dared to differ in argument with his fierce patron.
Taking advantage of the coldness which had for some time existed
between the Taiko and Rikyu, the enemies of the latter accused
him of being implicated in a conspiracy to poison the despot.
It was whispered to Hideyoshi that the fatal potion was to be
administered to him with a cup of the green beverage prepared
by the tea-master. With Hideyoshi suspicion was sufficient ground
for instant execution, and there was no appeal from the will of the
angry ruler. One privilege alone was granted to the condemned -
the honor of dying by his own hand.
On the day destined for his self-immolation, Rikyu invited his chief
disciples to a last tea-ceremony. Mournfully at the appointed time
the guests met at the portico. As they look into the garden path the
trees seem to shudder, and in the rustling of their leaves are heard
the whispers of homeless ghosts. Like solemn sentinels before the
gates of Hades stand the grey stone lanterns. A wave of rare incense
is wafted from the tea-room; it is the summons which bids the guests
to enter. One by one they advance and take their places. In the
tokonoma hangs a kakemon, - a wonderful writing by an ancient
monk dealing with the evanescence of all earthly things. The singing
kettle, as it boils over the brazier, sounds like some cicada pouring
forth his woes to departing summer. Soon the host enters the room.
Each in turn is served with tea, and each in turn silently drains his cup,
the host last of all. According to established etiquette, the chief guest
now asks permission to examine the tea-equipage. Rikyu places the
various articles before them, with the kakemono. After all have
expressed admiration of their beauty, Rikyu presents one of them
to each of the assembled company as a souvenir. The bowl alone
he keeps. "Never again shall this cup, polluted by the lips of
misfortune, be used by man." He speaks, and breaks the vessel
The ceremony is over; the guests with difficulty restraining their
tears, take their last farewell and leave the room. One only, the
nearest and dearest, is requested to remain and witness the end.
Rikyu then removes his tea-gown and carefully folds it upon the
mat, thereby disclosing the immaculate white death robe which
it had hitherto concealed. Tenderly he gazes on the shining blade
of the fatal dagger, and in exquisite verse thus addresses it:
Welcome to thee,
O sword of eternity!
And through Daruma alike
Thou hast cleft thy way.
With a smile upon his face Rikyu passed forth into the unknown.
by Kakuzo Okakura
The Book of Tea was published in 1906 and is now in the public domain.
- The Cup of Humanity
- The Schools of Tea
- Taoism and Zennism
- The Tea-Room
- Art Appreciation
The text as it appears here was originally taken from http://www.teatime.com/tea/TheBookOfTea/, but this has since disappeared.
The book can also be found at http://hjem.get2net.dk/bnielsen/teatbot.html among other places.
Hardlinks and minor corrections by Oolong.