Saturday, September 25, 2010

Korean Tea Classics Book Club- Cha Bu- Rhapsody To Tea by Hanjae Yi Mok 5. Seven Bowls Of Tea

"On drinking less than half the seventh cup, emotions swell on a fragrant, pure wind, wafting towards the Gates Of Heaven very near the magestic forests on the boarders of Penglai."

from Cha-Bu Rhapsody To Tea by Hanjae Yi Mok translated in Korea 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.

Additional Readings:

Lu T'ung and the "Song of Tea": The Taoist Origins of the Seven Bowls (Part 1 of 2)

Lu T'ung and the "Song of Tea": The Taoist Origins of the Seven Bowls (Part 2 of 2)



Unknown said...

" On drinking the sixth cup, sun and moon, seem to have one's heart, all that exists is here on this bamboo mat"

I like that phrase, most noticeably the very last part, as it seems to touch upon the Zen sentiment of living here and now. So while the text says "all that exists is here on this bamboo mat" I personally feel he is saying "I should only care about what is here on this bamboo mat, as it pertains to what I am currently doing, which I should do completely."

That being said, in the notes it references the Seven cups poem most of us probably know a bit better, and sadly I do not know enough about some of these terms, but it would be interesting to see if this is just a reordering of what happens after each cup, or did he substitute one or two new lines, in place of one he felt was obsolete in the Chinese poem.

Matt said...


Comparisons between the two 'versions' of the seven bowls poem ( )is so interesting. There will likely be a bit of conversation about that in this comment section.

Very interesting, the "sixth bowl" line does have a slight zen flavour. Early Buddhism was heavily influenced by Daoism as it came to China. This verse no doubt is a Daoist reverence but, as you noted does have a certain zen taste to it... Mmmm... zen flavour (one can imagine the comment that will come from HoGo here :)

This sixth bowl is referencing the totality of the Taichi- the yin (moon) and yang (sun). The following line states, "the wonder of it is like following ahead of the sages... rising into the Mysterious Void and bowing before the Celestial Emperor." This line is suggesting that if six bowls of tea is consumed the mystery of the dao, the Taichi, that what was before old sages that lived very, very long ago (prehistoric), is experienced.

This feeling of completeness (and conversely of nothingness) enters the heart, which in asian cultures houses the spirit. So essentially, the "sixth bowl" line is saying that when six bowls of tea is consumed ones sprit is complete, the tao is in balance, nothingness commences, the drinker is immortal.


Matt said...


Although many people have exclaimed that they are in the book club by leaving comments or emails, so far only about 5 or so people are joining in the discussion. Pretty quite group. Please do try to comment even if you just mention a line or phrase that you liked or enjoyed or something that jumped out at you, or that spoke to you in some way. Even if you don't exactly know why you liked it, or what it means. Or perhaps you may want to comment about how a certain section reminded you of something or how you think it pertains to tea culture or your current tea drinking attitudes. Please don't be intimidated by the overanalyses.

On that note...

some more overanalyses... ;)

Notes on section 5 Part one:

The first paragraph continues to juxtapose tea and nature by the use of nature imagery to describe the preparation of tea. Through the use of such imagery, Hanjae Yi Mok is suggesting that we should prepare tea by mirroring the nature world because every bowl of tea consumed has the nature of dao in it.

Fragrance as a specific sensory aspect of tea acts as a vehicle that transports the drinker to other worlds and states. At the end of this first paragraph it takes the tea drinker to an alerted state, a place where ships fly toward Red Cliff. The use of fragrance as a vehicle is also tied to the last line of this section where this "fragrant wind" is a vehicle taking the drinker to a state/ place of immortality.

The use of fragrance as a vehicle makes sense because fragrance or smell is a yang, active, upward moving characteristic. It is also often paired with wind which is also a yang characteristic possessing these qualities as well. Fragrance is said to float upward and outward making it an ideal choice for use as a vehicle.


Anonymous said...


The Daoist image of a "pure wind" or qingfeng 清風 has endured in the literature of tea for over a thousand years. In sencha, the literati tea of nineteenth century Japan, tea masters and adepts wrote seifu 清風 as hanging scrolls and banners to hang about them as they prepared and served tea. This practice continues today among those who recall the Song of Tea and its Daoist philosophy.


Rebekah said...

Taking time to know what you can and absorb a bit of Yi Mok's similes slows you down, like slowing down to drink tea, and then on the page after the explanatory notes, there is that simple picture of a bit of tea leaf inside a tea bowl. Perfect.

A smile at YM's "less than half of the seventh cup." Meant to be humorous? Probably not? A careful measuring with relation to his model?

Scent, they say, is the most powerful of the senses for evoking memory. Literally transporting.

Half humorous: yoga students also reduce awareness to "here on this...mat." Completely humorous: the third cup read out of context would seem to do what college students wish their coffee could do, put their minds in accord with the Classics.

Matt said...


Thanks once again for elaborating. It seems like we all have came across this imagery before.


Thanks for sharing.

Your humorous view of the text brought a smile to ones face.

You are right Hanjae Yi Mok leaves the seventh cup half full for a reason (not just for humour's sake).

In present Korean culture it is proper etiquette to end a tea session with just under a full cup. Drinking all of the tea in the cup suggests that you still want more. Not drinking anything from a full cup suggests arrogance. The most nobel way to leave a tea session or signal to a guest that you must go is to drink "less than half" which transmits respect and humility.


Anonymous said...


Regarding the etiquette of tea and the refusal to drink when served, there is the following story about the tea master Lu Yü 陸羽 (traditional dates, 733-804 A.D.) before he wrote the Chajing 茶經, Book of Tea.

In the mid autumn of 764 A.D, the imperial high commissioner Li Chi-ch’ing 李季卿 (709-767 A.D.) commanded Lu Yü to prepare tea for him and the tea master complied. Lu Yü arrived at the government residence disheveled and wearing improper attire and sauntering nonchalantly behind the servant carrying the tea equipage case. Offended by Lu Yü’s casualness, Li Chi-ch’ing sat stony faced throughout the preparation as the tea master talked about the tea and utensils. When at last the tea was brewed and served, Li Chi-ch’ing ignored the offered tea bowl, curtly ordering a servant to pay thirty cash to “Dr. Tea” and then dismissing Lu Yü.

Humiliated, Lu Yü put off writing the Book of Tea and wrote instead the Hui-ch’a lun 毀茶論,
The Ruination of Tea. It took Lu Yü fifteen years to finally publish the Chajing in 780 A.D.


Matt said...


Interesting story. What exactly is The Ruination of Tea? Never heard of that.


Anonymous said...


The Ruination of Tea or Hui-ch’a lun 毀茶論 was a lost manuscript attributed to Lu Yü 陸羽 by Feng Yen. The Ruination of Tea as well as the meeting between Li Chi-ch’ing 李季卿 and Lu Yü 陸羽 was recorded in “Yin-ch’a 飲茶” (Drinking Tea), the sixth chapter the Feng-shih wen-chien chi 封氏聞見記 (Record of Things Heard and Seen, ca. late 8th century A.D.).

Things Heard and Seen was a personal commentary on society and culture during mid eighth century T’ang by Feng Yen (active ca. 755-794). Feng Yen was a Vice Censor in Chief of the Censorate, the investigative agency where Li Chi-ch’ing was Censor in Chief. Both Li and Feng were northerners and undoubtedly knew one another. Li very likely told Feng about the official and cultural highlights of his southern tour on his return to the imperial capital in Ch’ang-an, including the incident with Lu Yü.

In terms of tea history and culture, Li Chi-ch’ing and Feng Yen represented the northern and conservative style of tea. Lu Yü represented a southern style that was more individualistic, less formal, and liberal.


Matt said...


Thanks again for sharing these details.

The differences between the Southern Chinese tea and Northern Chinese tea at this time is also very interesting.

Many thanks.


Matt said...


Notes on section 5 Part two:

In the next paragraph Hanjae Yi Mok sets up a bit of a nice introduction to his version of Lu Tong's 'seven bowls poem' and gives readers some advice on how to prepare our bodies and minds for drinking tea.

As he makes tea his eyes focus on "the seen and unseen". This phrase suggests that Hanjae Yi Mok is involved with a full sensory experience with tea- if tea's full effects are to be appreciated, we should focus on all of our senses while drinking tea.

He then states the three 'orders' of tea which is a bit of an outline of themes covered in the 'seven bowls poem' that follows.

He makes suggestions on posture and attitude while brewing tea. His reference to Baishi, a two thousand year old man with a face and complexion of a thirty year old (from footnote #2), suggests that we should approach tea with wisdom of a man that is very old but with a posture and demeanour that is very young. He suggests we should prepare tea every time like we are preparing something of great worth, something that can transcend time and age, like "preparing to brew the Golden Elixir". This reference to "the Golden Elixir" also hints at the magical, unexplainable, and mysterious health properties of tea.

This introduction adds a very personal touch allows the reader to sit down cross-legged on the mat and share in the upcoming seven bowls of tea as Hanjae Yi Mok prepares them.


Matt said...


Notes on section 5 Part three: A comparison between Hanjae Yi Mok's seven cups of tea and Lu Tong's seven bowls of tea.

Hanjae Yi Mok's first cup of tea is a bit of a combination of Lu Tong's first and thrid bowl. Lu Tong's first bowl focuses only on the initial effect of tea on the very first physical parts in contact with the liquid, the lips and throat. Whereas Hanjae Yi Mok's first cup suggests "the withered entrails are washed clean" a reference to the cleansing, detoxifying aspect of tea as well as teas regenerative effect on the body. Both suggest that the first bowl/cup quenches thirst.

Hanjae Yi Mok's second cup deals with the desire to keep drinking with the end goal of being elevated into a state of immoral bliss held close in his mind. Hanjae Yi Mok's third cup is building up anticipation for this feeling that is realized with the first few sips of his seventh bowl. You can feel Hanjae Yi Mok's anticipation, almost impatient, as he concedes a bit of humanity here. Lu Tong's sixth bowl explicitly states the merging with the immoral.

Hanjae Yi Mok's third cup of tea banishes sickness and pain while instilling the moral weight of the great Confucius thinkers, promoting the middle way. This third cup strikes at some of the most sought after attributes of tea drinking, moral and physical betterment. Lu Tong's seven bowls never touch on strengthening morals.

Hanjae Yi Mok's fourth cup of tea and Lu Tong's fourth bowl have very similar undertones but are presented differently. Hanjae Yi Mok uses a famous Confucius quote while Lu Tong states things more directly. Their fourth bowls both touch on how tea has the ability to wash away the troubles and tribulations of the world and bring peace of mind.

All lusting vanishes when Hanjae Yi Mok finishes his fifth cup. It seems to Hanjae Yi Mok that lust is an important barrier that must be overturned if the highest spiritual order is to be achieved. Once lusting is dissolved, the transformation to the immoral begins. Hanjae Yi Mok and Lu Tong both use the common imagery of a winged bird which is a mythical Daoist vehicle to the immoral.

Notes for Hanjae Yi Mok's sixth and seventh bowls are discussed in the comments above.


Anonymous said...

In present Korean culture it is proper etiquette to end a tea session with just under a full cup.

It reminds me that in Tibet, a tea session is ended with a full cup. The cup is always re-filled when not full of tea. Do not hesitate to correct me if I am wrong.

As for the remaining of the seventh cup, just offer it to the external wall of your teapot :-)

Song of Tea -> I do not understand the “finding nothing except a literary core of five thousand scrolls”. What does it mean? It is the fact that the third bowl goes beyond one's knowledge? Scrolls (=books?) are theory are not worth practicing tea?

Incidentally, what is the volume of Yi Mok's bowl, or Lu Tong's one? What was the usual practice when they lived? (roughly: was it more 20-30 cl or 5-10 cl?)

“jade bowl” -> it is true that this kink of bowl is very neat for tea. I like its colour, in harmony with tea. (Though I personally tend to prefer a white bowl to better seen the colour of the liquor...)

“wash it yourself” -> preparation of tea begins. We put ourselves in condition to drink tea. Focus on the event, take your time.

I really love the three sentences about “highest order” (“lighten the body”), “central order” (“banish ailment”) and “succeeding order” (“comforts melancholy and sadness”). Maybe there is a hidden message here. A mention of the three usual cups recommended by Lu Yü? A mention of Dao? Heaven/Body/Earth woes?

What follows the first three cups is for experienced people, as far as I understand the text. “It is unlikely that such a gift as this is so easily acquired.” For highly experienced hill-climbers only! (See the previous section: they “find it hard to reach here”.) I really appreciate the reference, because the fourth cup also deals with climbing: Confucius climbs Taishan.

Sixth cup, “sun and moon”, of course, as you already mentioned in previous comments.
Seventh cup, “near the majestic forests on the borders of Penglai”. We are near the “tea-forest landscapes” previously described by Yi Mok.

Seven colours of the rainbow. Heaven. It is the gate of it. Sun after rain. “Bow before the Celestial Emperor.”

In conclusion: I am very impressed by Yi Mok's skills. This section is one of my favourite! A great moment.

Matt said...

Julien ÉLIE,

"what is the volume of Yi Mok's bowl, or Lu Tong's one?"

Don't know what the volume it would have been... not quite a measurement kind of person... any one knows?

Regarding the number 7, it is no coincidence that there are seven bowls. Seven is a very auspicious number in Daoist numerology.

Thanks for your interesting insights.