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The World on a tea bowl "A miniature universe"

These days, the idea of "mindfulness" is praised, but it is nothing new. It is nothing more than remaining in the present, the mantra of both Zen and Daoist ideals, and the concept reflected in the art and crafts of the traditional tea ceremony. The traditional path leading to the tea house is called roji, dewey ground, and comes from a Buddhist sutra which states, "There is no peace in the three worlds; they are like a house in flames," but upon enlightenment, one "emerges from the house in flames and sits on the dewey ground." Thus, the ceremony of tea is a spiritual one, which can lead practitioners to worldly understandings.

The tea house has a small door, so small that guests have to crawl inside, thus accentuating the feeling of separation from the petty thoughts and mundane considerations of the outside world. Inside, the small tea room is bare, with nothing more than a flower vase and a hanging scroll. Referred to as the abode of the unsymmetrical, it may look imperfect, but an appreciation of its beauty allows one to live in the present, to cast away the smaller self and understand the transcendent unity of all people and all things.

The acclaimed tea master Sen no Rikyu wrote:

House and dewy ground.

Guest and host both joined as one,

Share a cup of tea.

In tranquil meditation,

No margin divides their hearts.

Among the prized objects used in the tea ceremony, none is more valued than the tea bowl, and it is said that each bowl is a miniature universe. With countless styles and refined aesthetics, all who strive to understand its beauty will find works that speak to them. Besides the sky-blue and jade-green incised Chinese bowls, the beloved red and black Japanese raku ware, and the prized Korean ido and irabo pieces, there are many other beautiful styles, such as unglazed Bizen pieces, colored by ashen deposits, and partly-glazed Shigaraki works, which highlight the natural beauty of the rough clay hidden under smooth glaze. Hagi potters often leave patches of bare clay between the thick, white glaze that covers each piece. The bare clay suggests desert sands and sometimes contains small pebbles, boulders in the miniature landscape, which are covered by a snowy white glaze that hides all imperfections and echoes the impermanence of all things. See the miniature world in each tea bowl. Their beauty facilitates mindfulness and a refined awareness of details, and will lead beholders to harmonize with their surroundings.

Dr. Ken Jeremiah

Introduction written exclusively for Onihagi.com by Ken Jeremiah. He has written extensively about history, religion, and critical thinking. His books and articles are available worldwide.