Saturday, August 28, 2010

Korean Tea Classics Book Club- Cha Bu: Rhapsody To Tea By Hanjae Yi Mok 1. Preface


"Although the merits of tea are the highest of all, there has been no one so far to celebrate it. This is like mistreating a worthy person; what could be worse?"

from Cha Bu: Rhapsody To Tea By Hanjae Yi Mok Translated in Korean Tea Classics

Feel free to join the online book club at anytime by simply purchasing Korean Tea Classics. The classics will be covered one section a week which will go on for about a year.

Peace

Note: This will be the continuing format for the book club. One will post an interesting quote from each section and discussion about the whole section will commence in the comments. The discussion does not have to be about the quote- it can involve anything you want to add relevant to the section. The quote is just there to spark conversation about the section. If you are taking part in the book club please try to at least say something about each section. The more participation, the more interesting the discussion will be. So... let us begin...

Double Peace

28 comments:

Bret said...

Interesting that you picked that quote to start with, I had just read that last night and that particular quote is the one that stuck in my head. As humble and unpretentious as tea is (or should be)it deserves respect, reverence and appreciation. If treated with humble reverence you will be richly rewarded.

Matt said...

Bret,

The quote was selected because of its weight. It does really sick with you because it is such a blatantly bold statement. It states that tea is not just good, great, or excellent but that it has the highest merit of all. Undoubtedly the use of such strong language was used here in the preface to draw readers in, especially other litteri that would no doubt be interested in Hanjae Yi Mok's writing.

Because "there has been no one so far to celebrate it" the readers of Hanjae Yi Mok likely were drawn to this sort of language for a topic that is quite new and after reading this quote many readers must have been questioning such a statement. But the only way for someone to prove Hanjae Yi Mok wrong would be to continue reading his argument for tea.

This quote also strikes at the core of Confucianism, the state religion at the time. It speaks of merit. Merit is what all noble Confucists should strive to achieve. So this statement is also a teaser in a sense. Suggesting that by deep appreciation of tea you can achieve "the highest" merit.

Hanjae Yi Mok goes on to personify tea in this quote by giving it the qualities of a "worthy person". In the Confucius society, a worthy person is to be treated with the most reverence. Remember that Confucianism doesn't have a god or gods to worship. The religion is based primarily on respect of worthy people (i.e. people with much merit) and of ancestors. So the personification of tea as a worthy person is especially powerful in this context.

Bret, it seems Hanjae Yi Mok's motif is first to establish that tea is deserving of the respect that you speak of, a respect that has, in Joseon, not been accorded yet.

Peace

Bret said...

So many hidden implications behind this "intentionally" bold statement. I never would have realized this on my own, thats why we westerners are relying on you to lift the veil and give it the voice it was intended to have. How interesting! This book club is going to be a lot of fun and educational.

Matt said...

Bret,

A fresh new beginner mind is in many ways better than a mind boggled down with the baggage of too many thoughts, theories, history, ect. In this way someone with none or very little experience with Korean culture or Korean tea can see past all of this- cutting into the true meaning. That's why it is good for everyone in the book club to make some comment even if they think it is insignificant or not important.

For instance, your comment about humility got one thinking about Hanjae Yi Mok's perspective on humility and tea. One never really thought about this before.

It seems like Hanjae Yi Mok isn't too concerned about humility with tea maybe because humility is a reaction or dichotic polarity of pride. It seems like the people of Hanjae Yi Mok's time didn't have overflowing pride for tea. So, Cha Bu is in many ways is attempting to show the people of his time and us today that tea is something so very special, much more than just a beverage.

Peace

Ho Go said...

From my perspective, is there any meaning, merit, worthiness, that is inherent in tea or anything else? If one approaches tea with a conceptual mind, does one enjoy the tea or one's thoughts about the tea? Is sacred something in the tea or in our heads?

Bret said...

I enjoy tea, and consequently, thoughts are born.

Matt said...

HoGo,

Value, merit, and worth aren't inherently present in any material thing, it is what you bring to the table, it is how you approach these things that give them merit and worth.

Hanjae Yi Mok is saying, "Hey, listen up. Tea is something that should be valued and respected. And if you continue reading my book, I'll tell you why"

If you can find profound value in a cup of tea, surely you are capable of enjoying anything in this world to its fullest?

Peace

Ho Go said...

Perhaps leaving all these concepts at the door is preferable? Value, merit, worth. Sounds like something one reads about, not what one experiences. Forgive me if I question what is said and if I don't see it in your way. I am not seeking meaning from my tea.:)

Matt said...

HoGo,

Doesn't your participation in a forum such as this book club suggest an attempt on your part to understand tea at a deeper level, to find more meaning in the tea you drink?

Perhaps if you were one of the literati of Hanjae Yi Mok's day you would have laughed at the idea of tea having "the highest merit" and not have bothered to read any further? ;)

Peace

Ho Go said...

It's not that I can't appreciate the tea, it's the ideology that surrounds it that I question deeply. Most of these classics are written by scholars, Confucian scholars. They are addressed to other scholars. For me, a type of religious thinking regarding tea is like looking at something through a narrow lens, a filter, so to speak. There cannot be any direct experience of the tea through concepts, or, anything else for that matter. This is my only point, Matt, but it is basic to my pov. The search for meaning is a process of thinking. Since all thought is from the past, how does one 'understand' tea at a deeper level?

Isn't this what you meant when you said 'A fresh new beginner mind is in many ways better than a mind boggled down with the baggage of too many thoughts, theories, history, ect.'? If I do as you suggest, I have let go of meaning, merit, and, value and I am free to directly experience the tea, no? :) Did I misinterpret you?

Matt said...

HoGo,

Your right when you say that Cha Bu was written by a scholar of Confucianism for scholars of Confucianism- quite a narrow lens. But we have the liberty of looking at this work and tea through whatever lens we wish or attempt to throw the lens out the window completely.

Perhaps throwing the lens out completely is the deepest way to experience tea. The problem with this is that reading is too jam packed full of concepts- even cognitive act of reading. So as soon as we start reading, we immediately get sucked into this vortex of concepts and such and such.

That is why we are just looking at a small section of these classics per week. Allowing time for meditation and reflection on this work. Truly meditation is the deepest way of experiencing the essence of tea?

Peace

Ho Go said...

Matt said, ' The problem with this is that reading is too jam packed full of concepts- even cognitive act of reading. So as soon as we start reading, we immediately get sucked into this vortex of concepts and such and such.'

Now we are getting to the point. :)

Matt said...

Some other notes on 1. Preface:

In the first paragraph Hanjae Yi Mok compares the happiness that tea can bring to the happiness that wine or nature can bring. He claims that it is tea's "essential quality" that allows for such enjoyment. He then suggests to the reader that to appreciate tea at this level you need only read one good book on tea. The implication is that if you continue reading you can learn of tea's essential quality and will then enjoy tea on a deeper level.

In the third paragraph he reveals his intention of this book. He hopes to generate a higher respect for tea drinking like other famous historical Chinese figures have done for their craft. He then provides a brief outline.

In the last paragraph Hanjae Yi Mok distances himself and tea from a superficial aspect of tea: the taxation of tea. Remember that it is tea's essential qualities that Hanjae Yi Mok claims will allow for a deep respect of tea. He claims that other qualities imposed by man only detract from teas true nature and that these superfical qualities are not going to be discussed in Cha Bu.

Peace

Bret said...

Hanjae Yi Mok must have created quite a stir in his day. And the lively conversation continues today. IMO to read a book about tea (his or any others) fills the head with pre-conceived ideas about what tea is, to some degree you bring these ideas to the table with you. In which case what you experience has been "tainted" with your own thoughts. I realize that in his case his intentions were to steer societies perception concerning tea in a different direction than it had been in the past, so it was nesessary to raise a ruckus to get attention. Only from a "clean slate" can you truely discover teas inherent merit, value, worth. Yes, I do beleive these qualities to be inherent, it's the mind that conceptualizes it.

I hope we can all still be friends when all's said and done. haha!

Matt said...

Bret & HoGo,

It is probably true that the audience of Cha Bu wouldn't have been debating the nature of thought, reality, concepts, and the like as we digress from the topic at hand. But they would have probably been eager to debate issues of merit, reputation, and honour.

One has never lost a friend to a lively tea related conversation. :) Usually the outcome is a learning experience for all and we all walk away all the wiser.

So, Does tea deserve the recognition as having "the highest merit of all"?

Peace

Adam Yusko said...

The third paragraph I found interesting in the sense that to me it is saying "Tea should be so essential, that no matter the cost it should be consumed."

I know at least for myself, I always find ways to enjoy tea, and feel time should be made if at all possible. Tea is a ritual if you will which helps me center my mind and make me more productive in the long run.

Matt said...

Adam Yusko,

Very interesting. The cost ($) of tea is based on market trends, social trends, fads, and so many other factors (Invisible Hands haha)all of which are imposed upon tea by man.

Adam, are you using this last paragraph as justification to support your new taste in ujeon? :) hahaha...

When one was reflecting on the last paragraph one thought about how lucky we are nowadays that tea isn't taxed. Us tea drinkers should be very grateful for that.

It is also interesting that tea was taxed in domestic markets in Korea and that this tax must have been high enough to create some animosity towards it. When we think of tea and taxation most people immediately think of the British and other European nations who imported tea and taxed it. But this passage reminds us that tea was also taxed in the domestic markets of China and Korea. It is interesting that all this was happening in a time hundreds of years before the famous Boston Tea Party, in a time before anyone in the west even knew about the existence of tea.

Peace

Bret said...

What he is saying in paragraph 3 is that the taxation of tea is not a valid reason to dismiss it. Taxation is imposed by man, not heaven ordained. "Guilt By Association" Does it deserve the reputation as "Having The Highest Merit" I don't know if there is a cut and dry answer to that question. Is his claiming "Tea Has The Highest Merit" another example of justifiable propoganda on his part? Another of his "Hey Look At Me" tactics?

Ho Go said...

Making a buck has been around a long time. So has revolution. Without debating the merit of tea, Hanjae Yi Mok obviously enjoyed drinking tea and to some degree wanted Korean society to emulate the Chinese in this fashion. One can make a case for his 'sales pitch' to the literati of the day using various powers of persuasion. This was a very closed society and penetrating the hierarchies was no easy task.

As for the statement 'tea should be drunk no matter the cost', I can only laugh. Tell that to your local homeless person. :)

Adam Yusko said...

HoGo, I mean perhaps instead of no matter the cost, it should be more of a you should always try and fit tea into your day to day life.

But yes perhaps him saying such a thing is also another one of his tactics to try and draw the literati to Tea, much as Bret Said.

Anonymous said...

All,

Part 1 of two parts:

In appreciation of the discussion regarding Yi Mok and the merits of tea, the following observations are offered.

In contemporary tea culture and among tea drinkers, there are two primary points of view: One opinion embraces the notion of tea as a aesthetic pursuit; and the other appreciates the leaf as a focus of connoisseurship. Neither is mutually exclusive for there are important elements of the literary and culinary traditions in both approaches. For instance, aesthetes accept tea not only as an artistic endeavor but also as an utmost gustatory refinement. And, gourmets receive tea as a haute cuisine with a venerable history of literature, methods, and procedures aimed at brewing the best cup the leaf can offer. Indeed, aesthetes and connoisseurs agree on the importance of color, scent, and flavor. In the broadest and most inclusive sense, neither position is possible nor complete without the other.

What distinguishes the two perspectives is the convention among some connoisseurs to question tea as a spiritual or moral quest, disparaging the aesthetic search as “scholarly,” “romantic,” or “poetic” and quixotically divorced from the fundamentally mundane, material form: the leaf and the brew. Moreover, a few connoisseurs even ignore the physiological response of the mind and body to tea and criticize any emphasis on the herbal effects and applications of tea. In part, these attitudes are reactions to New Age ascriptions and modern scientific studies of tea. But contemporary interpretations and medical treatises aside, there undoubtedly exists a long history in which tea was more than just a fine drink.

Steve.

Anonymous said...

All,

Part 2 of two parts:

In appreciation of the discussion regarding Yi Mok and the merits of tea, the following observations are offered.

Tea began with the Neolithic use of the plant as a medicine and then in early antiquity as a food. By the first millennium of the common era, tea changed from a beverage to an ambrosial liquid praised in poetry. From the third century onward, tea was cultivated as a literary theme by scholars and poets of every generation. There was a mystical aspect to the tradition; many actually wrote of tea as transformative - the elixir of life, longevity, and immortality - and the apocrypha, including alchemy, played a role in the formation of early equipage and technique. Throughout, there was the firm belief in tea as an intrinsically aesthetic if not profoundly spiritual pursuit. Then as now, the art of tea was all but inseparable from the practice and drinking of tea.

So, when Yi Mok presented the merits of tea as “the highest of all,” in Part Six, he described four physical responses to tea and one social response to the feeling of amity. He did much the same in Part Seven when he represented the virtues of tea: five physical responses to tea and one social response to feelings of civility. The difference between merits and virtues was the difference between the physiological effects of tea and the spiritual aspirations for tea. The single common ideal held by merit and virtue was the sense of comity and even communion between host and guest. Though Yi Mok separated merits and virtues, treating them in parts, he nonetheless recognized that both were essential to tea and its appreciation.

Steve.

Bret said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bret said...

Hey! That's what I was going to say. haha, Bravo Steve, Bravo!

Matt said...

Steve,

Thanks for sharing your beautiful insight.

Peace

Julien ÉLIE said...

Interesting readings, for a better understanding:

http://chadao.blogspot.com/2010/02/yi-mok-and-chabu.html

(a very good introduction to Yi Mok's way of life)

"Yi Mok lived during a time when the Korean throne and state were governed by a staunchly neo-Confucian ruler and bureaucracy."

Also see the page written by Brother Anthony, with a photo of Yi Mok's tomb:

http://hompi.sogang.ac.kr/anthony/HanjaeYiMok.htm

Matt said...

Julien ÉLIE,

Welcome to the discussion.

Peace

Julien ÉLIE said...

Thanks to a link to ChaDao put by Matt in his article about section 5 (“Seven bowls of tea”), I read there an interesting information, about tea taxes.
I think it worthy to be put into a comment in the preface.

http://chadao.blogspot.com/2008/04/lu-tung-and-song-of-tea-taoist-origins_23.html

“In terms of consumption, market and production, tea was so ubiquitous that it was treated as a veritable commodity. Tea became a common thing -- a necessity of life -- and as a necessity, it was, of course, taxed.

The first duty on tea was state imposed in 782 A.D. at ten percent of the average market price, the same rate as lacquer, bamboo, and timber. In addition to the imperial tea gardens, fine teas were produced without regulation by private and cooperative operations comprised of independent farmers, monasteries, and landowners. Such teas were routinely recommended by local officials for the annual tribute to the throne. In 793 A.D., the tea tax took the form of a ten percent trade duty paid in cash by tea merchants. Annual revenues from tea were minor, amounting to one twelfth of the cash brought in by the state salt monopoly. However, the tea revenues were considerable enough to incite bureaucratic wrangling and misuse of funds, becoming an object of political and financial import and institutional graft. Moreover, the market continued to expand along with high profits, and tea thus became an attractive target for bandits, dishonest merchants, and corrupt provincial officials. Yet, despite its problems, the tea market and the system to tax it worked relatively well for over fifty years up until the disastrous policies of Wang Ya.”