Monday, July 30, 2007

Tea and China

Last Thursday (July 26), Kyogen, Gyokuko, and I met with Andy Ferguson. Andy is a person who leads Buddhists on tours to China. ZCO was trying to get DRZC folks to join them for a tour they have planned next year, but Kyogen was kind of backpedaling because he wants to see what he wants to see, not just do whatever ZCO is doing. He looked at their itinerary, and part of the point of meeting with Andy was to see whether we could join ZCO for part of it and then do a leg on our own, or whether we should just plan our own trip, and what that would look like.

I hadn't realized that they wanted to include me in the meeting until it was actually happening. I was happy to sit in, and pretty much just listened. It took a while. Andy described some of the typical tours he does (I think Kyogen had already told him some of what we're interested in) and how they might work for what we are looking for. We talked a lot, and there was at least one lengthy philosophical digression where Andy and Kyogen were talking about emptiness (still in the context of China, how Zen is re-emerging in China and how they understand many Zen terms more deeply than westerners do, etc.) and such other interesting things. I was fascinated by all of it, but Gyokuko brought the discussion back to trip planning, and then Andy stopped a moment and said, you know, because logistics are easier in China than they used to be, maybe we could do this -- and he put together a new itinerary that he's never done before, based on the fact that domestic (that is, within-China) flights are available that weren't available even a few years ago. That one hit the mark, including pretty much everything we are interested in and leaving out things we aren't interested in.

I've always been more interested in China than Japan. When I think of the roots of Zen, I think more about China than Japan, even though our lineage came through Japan, and includes 800 years of Japanese cultural influence. Buddhism, of course, started in India with Shakyamuni Buddha, but was taken from China to Tibet, China, and Southeast Asia. In China, there were several schools of Buddhism, but what survived was Zen (Cha'n in Chinese, transliterated to Zen in Japanese, and now the term widely used worldwide).

Kyogen pointed out that his teacher, Jiyu Kennett Roshi, studied in Malaysia (and was even ordained there, I think) before going to Japan, and so also transmitted a fair amount of Chinese influence along with the Japanese.

I really want to do this trip. It won't be until spring of 2009, and if I don't still have enough money left, I'll have to work to put together the approximately $3000 it will cost. Andy is passionate about China, speaks fluent Chinese and also studies classical texts, lectures in China and the US, has written books about China and Buddhism (we studied one this last year in seminary called Zen's Chinese Heritage), and was really delightful to listen to.

One of the things he's interested in and lectures on is tea. Tea has become a large part of Zen culture, in Japan as in the US. But it came from China originally. One of the two areas we are looking at is where it became a prominent part of practice. Now, I don't drink tea. Occasionally I'll have a mild herbal tea (peppermint, chamomile, barley), but generally I drink water. When Andy started to talk about tea, I thought maybe I'd better start drinking tea. I've never found a compelling reason to drink coffee, but this might be the time to begin exploring tea. Slowly, in small amounts, of course.

So, on Saturday, when I went to the 10th Anniversary celebration of the Zen Center of Portland, and someone offered me some green tea, I at first said no thank you, but she came up after a bit and poured me a cup. I had been having this conversation with another woman about the fact that we both turned down the tea, and I recalled to her the discussion about tea in connection with a China trip and how I had been thinking I should start drinking tea. Then this woman who had offered me tea came back and poured me a cup, and I was pretty surprised. I did tell her that I generally don't drink tea, and would prefer a smaller amount. So she went back and brought me back a mug about 1/3 full of green tea.

I drank it, and it was very nice -- a delicate flavor, as I prefer. I said this to the woman I had been talking with, and pretty soon she got her own cup. So maybe I'll start with mild green tea and work up to other types.


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