Wind in the Pines: Classic Writings of the Way of Tea as a Buddhist Path / Compiled and Edited by Dennis Hirota

Know that chanoyu
is a matter of just
heating water,
preparing tea,
and drinking.


The poem above is telling us “… however thorough one's understanding of tea writings, it is only so much information. It is knowing with the head, not actual experience.” This echoes the statement I have heard from many of the colleagues I look up to in the tea industry who, while not necessarily disparaging the various tea sommelier programs out there, or discouraging one from doing them, insist that the best way to learn about tea is to drink lots of it. Cupping different teas all the time, tasting teas from all around the world of various grades and types; only from that “experience” can you take advantage of the information your learn. Or, as Yoda would say, “there is no try, only do.” In his lucid introduction, editor Dennis Hirota states that

For students familiar with Japanese Buddhist traditions, the phrase "just heat water and prepare tea" resonates with key expressions in Buddhist teachings such as "just say the Name of Amida Buddha" and "just sit" in zazen. "Just" here implies acts free of all instrumentality and worldly distraction.

And then he further develops that by writing

When one "simply heats water with wholeness of heart" for tea, one is free, in one's humility, from designing and calculating. One does not prepare the water for one's own use, but rather participates in and enriches the water's existence as the water participates in and enriches one's own life.

Wind in the Pines: Classic Writing on the Way of Tea as a Buddhist Path was a fascinating read for me. While not a practicing Buddhist, I identify with many aspects of Buddhism and see many parallels with the yogic path that I am on. To insert the ancient and amazing thing that is tea into the meditative aspect of the equally ancient and amazing paths of yoga and Buddhism was inspiring and enlightening, to say the least.

The Zen Tea Record that is the subject of one of the chapters does distinguish between two types of tea: worldly tea and Zen tea. So there is at least an acknowledgement that there is a place for worldly tea and that it can be enjoyed without all the ceremony and refinement described here. The masters of chanoyu were obviously pursuing Zen tea, and that is the main subject of the book.

One reason I love reading the old texts on tea is the descriptive way they have of giving instructions. With our gadgets and technology, we don’t have to think as much about how to tell if the temperature of the water is correct or not. But in Rikyu and Sotan’s day, they would tell you the water was ready “when the water heating in the kettle produces the sound of wind in the pines…” Another interesting aspect is the historical record of the intertwining of tea and Zen, such as the fact that T'ang Dynasty Zen master Chao-chou (778-897) was famous for responding to disciples with the words, "Have a bowl of tea!"

This book might not be of interest for those who are more interested in specific info on tea or who are only into worldly tea. But regardless of whether you are interested in Buddhism, it will be fascinating for those interested in tea history and the development of the chanoyu tea ceremony in Japan. It is full of beautiful tea quotes and tea-related poems. I had to exercise considerable restraint not to quote them all here. My notes on passages I loved ran to almost 10 pages! But I always come back to “Chanoyu is just a matter of building a fire, boiling water, and drinking tea.

I’ll leave you with one last poem, used as an epigraph for the book:


must be made with the heart,

   not with the hand.

Make it without making it,

in the stillness of your mind.