why tea is used in meditation and ceremony

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Green Gulch240forbt.jpg For nearly four thousand years, China kept tea to herself. During the latter part of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), some Buddhist monks from Japan visited their Chan Buddhist counterparts in China, and discovered that drinking ground, whisked green tea (now known as matcha) could be an asset to their concentration and meditation practices as it was for that of the Chinese monks.

Japanese tea ceremony is based on such a meditation with tea, and its practice is meant to support awareness,  and harmony. Why, of all the plants in the world, is tea the one chosen by Chan, Taoist and Zen monks to assist in meditation? I went to the best source I know to find the answer.

"The medicinal properties of tea are extremely significant as to why tea is used as a beverage and for meditation," said Christy Bartlett, head of San Francisco's Urasenke Foundation.

"When tea was drunk in early Buddhist monasteries in China, they drank it for several purposes, and one was that it was considered to be a medicine that prolonged life and helped to keep people healthy. As well, caffeine stimulates and sharpens the senses during meditation or study", said Bartlett (below right, instructing a student in tea ceremony, also known as chado, chanoyu, or the way of tea).
UrasenkeforBlog copy.jpg "Then, by people gathering together and making tea for one another, it fostered a sense of community.  So in early Buddhist temples those were the associations made to drinking tea," she said.

We know that many plants are stimulants, but tea offers more than just stimulation, which could, by itself, hinder the steadiness and concentration required for good meditation practice. Instead, tea offers a relaxed alertness which aids in contemplation and meditation. Perhaps we can attribute this to tea's high concentration of the amino acid L-theanine --known for its ability to relieve mental and physical stress and to enhance cognition and awareness. Most botanists will tell you that the thousands of combined chemicals found in a single plant cannot be duplicated by another plant (or distilled or fabricated into pill form as a medicine). So what tea offers is a unique concert of chemicals that delivers wakefulness, awareness, relaxation, and perhaps something extra that cannot be named.

Asked about tea ceremony as a ritual, Bartlett was careful to correct the association: "Tea ceremony is not a ritual but a practice, a form.  It's like a score was written for the practice of making tea, and when we sit down, for example, and play a piece of music, which someone else might have written, we don't feel like we are doing a ritual.  When you play music or when you go to a dance performance, there is very little sense in that case of viewing it as a ritual, even though there is a predetermined sequence of gesture and motion through time. So I view tea the same way as that, not as a ritual but as something very simple and something that has a clear form to it."

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