Sunday, May 22, 2011

Korean Tea Classics Book Club- Dong Cha Song- Hymn In Praise of Korean Tea- 2


"The flowers are white and pure as the powdery skin of the immortal who lives on Mount Guye. The flower stamens fragrantly blend the sandalwood and river-gold of Jambudvipa."


Feel free to join the online book club at anytime by simply purchasing Korean Tea Classics. Dong Cha Song is 17 stanzas in length, we will go through each stanza week by week. Jump in and join the discussion as you please.

Peace

8 comments:

learning to pull radishes said...

I'm wondering about this part, from Cho-ui's notes on the first stanza -- "the tea tree is like wild tea." The authors of this translation note that the Chinese name for wild tea is "guala", and that guala "makes a muddy-colored drink that is bitter and astringent." Which has me wondering why Cho-ui has made a comparison to guala, since the description of it doesn't sound very pure and desirable. I think I may be missing something here.

I appreciate the many mentions of fragrance in this chapter. I've been recently making my way into the world of incense (like chado, "the way of tea", kodo -- "the way of incense"). So much to appreciate about scent and aroma. Yet another avenue for listening. It's no wonder sandalwood is mentioned in the same breath as the river of gold of Jambudvipa, and that the pure fragrance of the tea flower is "subtle and hidden." (perhaps that's referring to the guala flower? in which case my confusion noted above is addressed a bit :)

Matt said...

Bev,

One also thought that the comparison to unflattering "gualu" was a bit strange but with some reflection realized that it was probably done for the following reasons:

1- To compare the tea plant to another similar looking plant for identification purposes. Remember this was back in a time before photography. If these plants looked much the same this differentiation would serve a purpose.

2- To create some contrast to the beautiful imagery that followed. Thereby making the imagery all the more beautiful.

When one first read this verse one thought that maybe gualu was actually old growth big leaf wild tea which it most definitely is not.

The concentration on smell and colour is interesting in this verse, thanks for mentioning that. Smell is a powerful sense worthy of much exploration.

Peace

Matt said...

All,

Comments on section 2:

Cho'Ui continues to maintain that the tea plant is both virtuous and divine in this second stanza. Stanza 1 looked at the virtues of its evergreen nature, this stanza rings praise for its pure white blossoms, its heavenly gold stamens, and the pure colour of its green stems. This stanza also places special consideration of the colour (look) and smell of the tea plant- qualities that are often overlooked by those who appreciate tea- especially those far removed from the growth of the tea plant. In this way this stanza continues to remind the reader of the tea's connection to nature.

"The flowers are white and pure as the powdery skin of the immortal who lives on Mount Guye." The colour white is considered the most heavenly and pure of colours. This line continues to make the argument that the tea plant is divine with a rather direct comparison. To elaborate on the foot note here it is referring to a particular immortal. One that "did not eat any of the five grains [see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_Cereals_(China) ], but inhaled the wind and drank the dew. Essentially, the tea flower is compared to a divine entity that is once again beyond the rules that dictate all living things and rather has a direct connection to the purest yang (wind) and purest yin (dew) energies.

"The flower stamens fragrantly bend the sandalwood and gold river of Jumbudvipa." Here imagery brings us from the simple/ sensory to the cosmological/ transcendental. The land of Jumbudvipa in Buddhist cosmology is the only land where beings can reach enlightenment in the human form (see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jambudvipa ). It is also a land that is described with similar topology as that of a flower which makes the comparison to the tea flower all the more appropriate. This comparison infers that one can use the tea plant as a vehicle to obtain enlightenment.

Cho'Ui's note compares tea to "Gualu" (see comment above). He also compares the leaves to that of the gardenia- perhaps alluding to the look of the leaves. He compares the tea flower to a white rose once again a symbol of purity with a beautiful fragrance. He mentions again the tea plants stamens of golden yellow. Golden yellow in the center is thought of the perfect balance of the five elements in traditional Chinese thought. As such, this mention once again points out the perfect form that the tea plant embodies. The description of the tea flower as "subtle and hidden" speaks to the subtlety of the tea plant, to balance out such other strong comparisons, and give the tea flower a mysterious quality.

"pure jade green stems"- comparison to jade as something that is auspicious.

"blue green bird tongue leaves" is a reference to the Korean term "Jaksul", or sparrows tongue, an often used expression to describe very small spring tea leaves.

In Cho'Ui's last note of this stanza he connects tea to the famous spiritualists who frequently consume it. Perhaps reinforcing the idea that tea and enlightenment/ spirituality go hand in hand.

Peace

learning to pull radishes said...

Excellent, Matt. Thank you for these further notes. Another question for you, regarding Jumbudvipa -- was this considered an actual physical place? Or were the descriptions of this place more metaphorical in meaning? It has me thinking of how the Bible can be read from two ends (and endless variations in between) -- literally and metaphorically (mythologically). I'm curious to know how this place, Jumbudvipa, is regarded?

Matt said...

Bev,

Suppose it depends on your beliefs. Just like Christians, there are some who take the Bible literally and others who feel as though its metaphorical.

See here for more on Buddhist cosmology:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhist_cosmology

Peace

learning to pull radishes said...

http://www.stephenbatchelor.org/koreantea.html

(no doubt you've read this, I found it to be great reading :)

Matt said...

Bev,

That is probably the most well written and concise writing on the Way of Korean Tea ever read. It quotes the modern Buddhist masters of Korean Tea. Thanks for pointing this one out.

Peace

Anonymous said...

All,

Please find the following notes on the gualu plant.

Gualu 瓜蘆 (Thea sinensis, L var. macrophylla) was “a wild relative of the domestic tea plant” also known as the gaolu 皋蘆 or gaolu 皐蘆 tree. In Kwangtung and Kwangsi provinces, the plant was known as kucheng 苦䔲. The tree resembled the tea plant, its large leaves, which grew to the size of a fist, were powdered and brewed to make a rather bitter, muddy-colored drink that tasted much like tea and caused sleeplessness. In the Chajing 茶經 (Book of Tea, 780 A.D.) by the Tang poet Lu Yü 陸羽 (circa 733-804 A.D.), gualu瓜蘆 was described: “In the south, there is the gualu tree that resembles tea” the taste of which was “bitter and astringent.” Furthermore, the leaf “is powdered and made into a drink that enables a whole night of sleeplessness. Laborers boiling brine to make salt rely only on this drink.” The modern identification of gualu is varied, if not problematic. The Italian scholar, Professor Marco Ceresa, identified gualu as uncertain but referred to it as Cecrodendron fortunatum, a plant historically associated with kuding cha苦丁茶. The noted Chinese scholar Wu Jüenong 吳覺農 identified gualu as Ilex latifolia Thunb (Tarajo Holly), a plant known in Japan as tarayō多羅葉 (たらよう) and as daye dongqing大叶冬青in China where the leaves are infused to make a beverage called kuding cha苦丁茶, “bitter nail tea.”

Steve.