September 11, 2009
Tea and Chan (Japanese: Zen) Buddhism go back a long ways. Tea leaves are said to have sprung from Bodhidharma's eyelids when he cut them off to remain awake, and the tea ceremony has been an integral part of Japanese culture and religion ever since. In fact, it was a Buddhist monk, Eichu, who brought tea to Japan after a visit to China.
Now Chinese Chan Buddhists are working to rediscover the place of tea in their practice. A two-month long Chan-tea culture Festival just wrapped up at Tanzhe Monastery in Beijing:
Tea drinking has always been part of the history of Tanzhe Temple and can be traced back to the Western Jin Dynasty (265-316) when the temple was first built. At the time, the monks would pick tea leaves in the mountains behind the temple, dry them and make them into drinkable tea. The beverage proved to help the monks during long meditation sessions and became part of their daily ritual.
The long history of drinking tea at Tanzhe Temple saw the monks and masters gradually combine their understanding of Chan Buddhism with tea drinking, forming the Chan-tea culture of Tanzhe Temple.
"There is an old Chinese saying'Chan and tea share the same taste' and Chan-tea at Tanzhe Temple reflects many thoughts of Chan Buddhism," a monk at Tanzhe Temple told the Global Times.
But while this celebration of Buddhism was happening in the capital, unfortunate news was coming out of Tibet: First, China's plans to "strike hard" at Tibet in advance of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic, and the terrible news that the monk Phuntsok Lhundup, arrested at Drepung Monastery in March of 2008, was tortured and killed in mid-August while in government custody. His family had no news of him until his death was announced. The whereabouts of another monk arrested at the same time remain unknown.