Monday, June 9, 2008

Four Origin Stories of Tea in Korea: How'd It Get There?!? PART 3: It Came With Dharma From China

For Part 1 link here, Part 2 link here. Part 3 is as follows...

There is a famous and often told Chinese legend of the origin of tea. As it goes, the second emperor of China, Shennong, who ruled over China around 5000 years ago, was the first person to discover tea. Shennong was said to be a popular and effective ruler, a brilliant scientist, and a renowned doctor. He was very a inquisitive person and was keen on testing medicines and ways to bring about a more healthy existence to the pupils under his rule. One of his most famous discoveries was that by boiling the often unclean waters that waded through China's mainland, one could remove many harmful impurities from it. He therefore sent a decree throughout his kingdom that all water must be boiled before consumption.

One summer day in the year 2737 B.C., on a convoy through the distant lands of his kingdom, Shennong and his court stopped to rest. In accordance with his law, his servants prepared a fire to boil the water. The flame from the fire scorched a near by bush and, little did they know, that a single roasted, dried tea leaf had fell from the bush and into the Emperor's cup. Infused with the boiling water, the liquor took on a brownish tone. The emperor, curious about the mysterious liquid, couldn't help but taste it. He reveled in his lucky discovery, declaring the drink to be especially refreshing.

Another Chinese legend that seemed to originate during the Tang dynasty tells a different story as to the origin to tea. It attributes the discovery of tea to the first patriarch of Zen Buddhism, Bodhidharma. Some Japanese claim that he brought tea with him as he traveled from his homeland of India in 519 A.D. A more popular legend says that Bodhidharma was meditating facing a wall in a cave for 9 uninterrupted years. When he was 7 years into his mediation he apparently drifted off into sleep. He was so angry that when he awoke he tore his eyelids right off and hucked them at the ground. Just as his eyelids hit the floor they sprung up as the first two tea plants. It was from this point on that tea would be used to combat drowsiness that is often caused by long periods of mediation.

Some accounts, even substitute Bodhidharma with Shakyamuni Buddha, the historical founder of Buddhism. Others claim that tea was discovered when tea leaves fell into the hot water of Shakyamuni's cup, a story that seems too similar to the Shennong legend. These Buddhists creation myths about tea reveal the close relationship that tea has had with the practice of Buddhism. Moreover, it mirrors the spread of Buddhism, like the apparent spread of the Camellia sinensis from India to China.

Much more credible but consequently much less fantastic, is the belief that tea traveled from China to Korea via the spread of Buddhism during the forth or fifth centuries. This was during a time of the Three Kingdoms in Korea. The Goguryeo Kingdom, the northernmost of the three was likely first exposed to Buddhism and tea (but that area that it occupied was still to cold to grow tea). A Chinese monk by the name of Sundo brought Chinese Buddhist texts and statues with him to the royal court of Goguryeo in 372 A.D. The royalty there immediately accepted this rudimentary form of Buddhism sensing a certain similarity to the animistic shamanism that was common before the introduction of Buddhism. The Bekjae Kingdom that occupied Korea's Southwest also received Buddhism in a similar manner by a Serindian monk, Marananta in 384. Although, it is recorded that these missionaries carried texts and idols, they mention nothing about tea. It is widely accepted that Buddhism was being practiced in Korea years before these monks came and that simple forms of the religion most likely trickled into Korea before the official Chinese court envoys arrived. It too is rumored that tea also snuck quietly into the back doors of Korea in this manner.

Some Koreans posit that Heo Hwang-ok, the Indian princess and first queen of Gaya Confederacy may have brought more than just gold, silver, and a tea plant on her ship to Korea (see Part 2 for the deets on her story). These Koreans claim that she may have been the first to introduce Buddhism to Korea. Their evidence lies in an unusually uncharacteristic pagoda nearby what is believed to be Heo Hwang-ok's tomb. A historic Korean record, the Samguk Yusa, claims that Heo Hwang-ok erected this pagoda on her ship to calm the god of the ocean and allow for safe passage. Historians claim that since there is no records of Buddhism in Korea for hundreds of years later, and that this story simply seems unlikely. However the chance that tea spread with the spread of Buddhism is an almost certainty.


No comments: