Sometimes, our minds are open enough for powerful experiences. Most of the time, they are not. Tea can help to open our mind - to achieve the Zen mind. It is no coincidence that tea has been used for nearly a millennium to help focus the mind during meditation. It facilitates our access to the spiritual realm. It helps us us to try harder not to try.
Certain teas have the potential to get you drunk - tea-drunk, that is. These are usually aged pu-erh and some oolong teas. The drunkenness doesn’t stem from the caffeine but rather by the strong chi some teas possess. Today, I drank one of these teas - an old pu-erh from the 1980s that I purchased a while ago but hadn’t tried yet. After about 4 infusions, the symptoms of being tea-drunk became obvious: a heightened sense of being, an unusual alertness, a feeling of lightness throughout the entire body and a slight pressure in the head similar to a very light headache that is not unpleasant. It is a wonderful feeling.
It was in this state that I decided to take my dog for a walk along the river. I often listen to an audiobook on these walks and chose to start a new recording today. Not really knowing what to expect from it, I started listening to “Der Tigerbericht” (the tiger report) by Dietrich Wild. It is a short German story in which the narrator - as it turns out - summarizes the fundamentals of Zen Buddhism in an account of a fictional encounter with a spiritual teacher in the desert. The story is based on the teachings of Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki-roshi and absolutely beautifully narrated by the author. It is complemented perfectly with the meditative sitar music of Al Gromer Khan, which enhances its impact. In my tea-drunk state, it had a deep effect on me and my mind readily absorbed its messages.
There was a section about Giving that especiallly resonated with me as I have experienced something similar in relation to tea. “Giving is nothing hard. I doesn’t mean to own something and then give some of it away. Giving is not to hold tight. To not adhere to anything. Not to hang onto something, to have nothing. To be a sieve in which nothing gets stuck. All this is Giving” tells the narrator. Many seasoned tea drinkers that I know are some of the most generous people I’ve ever met. They are happy to share even their most expensive old pu-erh with like-minded friends. They even feel a strong desire to share and give. It’s in the nature of tea. Tea needs to be given, to be shared and enjoyed.
A key element in the story is the concept of stillness - portrayed through the quietness of the desert as an image for the stillness of the mind. This brought to my mind the teachings of the godfather of tea, the great Lu Yu. He wrote the following:
“Tea is said to be a way. This is because it is something one learns to appreciate through feeling, not through verbal instruction. If a person maintains a state of quietness, only then will one appreciate the quietness inherent in tea.
Lu Yu (733–804 A.D.)“
While “Der Tigerbericht” is only available in German, the book that Dietrich Wild has based his story on - Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind - is available online in English. I do highly recommend to read through it - it contains a series of talks in which Shunryu Suzuki conveys his Zen teachings in simple language that lacks the common scholarly exclusivity. It might inspire you, too.
Time to sit back and enjoy some of Al Gromer Khan’s music!