Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Living with Tea Medicine - The Sixth Session: The Spirit of Intention

Up until this chapter, I had been able to follow through on my commitment to blog every two to three weeks on Tea Medicine. Funny how once I got to the chapter on "Intention" that things would start falling apart! This chapter wasn't anything I could actually "relive"; I apparently skipped this one over on the first go-around and hadn't actually lived it at all! Having now tarried with it for a few weeks, I empathize much more with those who might say living the teaching of Tea Medicine is "too hard". It might just be the hardest thing you ever try to do in your life! If you take it seriously enough, it is your life!
Chapter 6, "The Spirit of Intention", contains the story of one of Wu De's students who had been changed deeply enough by the Way of Tea that she "quit her job to pursue her lifelong dream, reconciled her broken marriage so they could live in harmony; she became vegetarian, was meditating twice a day, and most importantly, she was happy!" Now this story is not a prescription for how to do Cha Dao right, yet this happens to be my own story as well. Things certainly started coming together after a couple of years practicing Cha Dao on a daily basis. However I must point out that although this story reads like a fairy tale with a happy ending, it has a hidden white lie: the nature of "pursuing a lifelong dream" is simply an intention, a mere begining, which does not necessarily flow fairytale-like, tea or no tea!
In Zen, there is the idea of "post-Satori practice": you've meditated your way into an awakening of the nature of reality, and while you might feel as if you've reached the peak, you quickly realize that now this realization has to be lived. It's quite sobering. Similiarly, Cha Dao will eventually take you to the top of the mountain, showing you a view of your life which is now situated as properly as it ever needed to be for you to find success, only to point out that you now have to climb down its craggy cliffs, with no other option but to engage yourself in that pesky task of "pursuing the lifelong dream"! All the old demons preventing you from manifesting your dream that were ever there are ever there still! Nothing fundamentally has changed. Mountains are still mountains. There is still self-doubt. There is still fear. But what might be different, fundamentally different, is that now your intention is to see the whole thing through, no matter how much it costs or how long it takes. And because Tea is now a part of living the dream, you might actually trust the process this time.
Even still, your mind knows you all too well. It knows your weaknesses, vulnerabilities and deepest fears. It can veil even the strongest determination. It is in this spirit that I'd like to introduce you to something that keeps me in the game, while my intention experiences its psychosomatic fits and starts: my Quan Yin altar.
Until I went to visit the Tea Sage Hut in Taiwan last year, my affinity for Quan Yin was basically non-existent. Long ago, I had to taken my spiritual knicknacks to the proverbial dumpster, proud to have overcome the rights and rituals that did little to help me in my life other than to build spiritual pride. But upon seeing Shen Su perform his pattern of mindful blessings around the Hut, I could see the kind of mind at work that I myself wanted: one that was able to supplicate itself to a higher power, knowing that higher power was both within and without. As soon as I returned from my trip, I established a Quan Yin altar in my own home. From the moment I placed the first stick of lit incense at Her feet, I set an intention that I would not miss lighting a stick of incense for even a single morning, barring not being at home. I did not set this intention in order to accomplish any particular goal, not as a prayer of supplication to this powerful deity who might take pity on me and bestow Her wish-fulfilling blessings upon me. No, this small act would be my own overt identification with my fundamental sanity. Lighting this incense, I could then say to myself that even if the day goes south for any reason, I was at least able to trust myself to do the simplest thing. If I couldn't maintain the practice of this simple act, how would I trust myself when things go really far south and I'm tempted to throw it all away again!
Even the strongest human mind is bound to go down every now and again! None of us would be here if we didn't have any buttons that needed pressing. Adding Quan Yin to this dire picture, a manifest repository for my intention of maintaining a stable mind, I have a ballast that commands only the smallest of payments to work. If I am lucky and my mind wakes up sharp and the house is calm that morning, I can spend some time lingering in prayer, which bolsters my intention with firm insurance. Knowing how precariously my mind sits between calm and disaster at any moment, it is bare minimum catastropic coverage with a very high deductable. Given that I have a family, I would be a fool to carry only that. I must therefore also keep my appointment with the kettle. After all, if this is the only insurance I am carrying, I better be making regular preventative trips to Dr. Tea.
In pursuit of one's dream, a protracted process that eats decades of one's life, the mind in its impatience chomps at the bit to take over and color everything over with its hopelessness. It doesn't have all the time in the world for you to work everything out as Nature intends! Once you've taken its bait of possible shortcuts, it strings you incessantly along, making all kinds of promises that "the solution is right around the corner". You follow his errant lead, thought and after thought, groping and searching for the way out. Does it every truly come?
A healthy mind in it for the long haul has its proper function. It allows you to become aware of the stillness that is the true genesis of its movement. If you can follow that thread and not be tempted by shortcuts, solutions appear like miracles. I am not advocating a lazy "thy will be done" type attitude! The struggle to free one's self from the confines of the running mind takes all of one's body and mind. After you pierce through into still awareness, you then have to maintain it continuously with the gentle effort of samadhi. Here the mind can suddenly and violently pull one back down under the rough water, like undertow, where you tumble around, gasping for air, again and again. As you toss and turn, keep feeling around in the wet dark for the Tea bowl! She will rescue you!
Recently, my life's dream of finishing a particular body of music was rekindled after I was asked to submit music for Global Tea Hut's August issue on Tea and Music. Via this offering, Tea led me to see that I had so much still to offer and all the right parameters in which to do so. I reengaged. Immediately, all the old obstacles reappeared. I fought through them all, my mind hammering me at every turn as it threw every old, depressed negative emotion it could my way. Yet every morning, incense was lit, tea was drunk, chores were managed. Every day, money was spent, experiments were undertaken, trials were made. Every evening, meditation persisted, plans were laid, varying qualities of sleep were had. Intention stayed fundamentally firm. It was not pleasant! It was not unpleasant, either!
When you make space for Tea and set Its intention forth, it will clear out all kinds of clutter and fill in the gaps with a high-energy awakened life. This awakening can feel so good! But your intention must not regress into drinking a beverage that makes you feel good that lets you sit around in a relaxing stupor, breathing in incense and flowers and admiring what a clean, polished life you now have. In a path of Tea service, to yourself and therefore to others, one must descend down from the mountain hut into the big, bad world and help see things along. These things includes your own hopes and dreams, which are not likely to fall away through the life of Tea but rather become more imperative for you to follow and achieve. This is where the Chajin meets the Road, and when the journey includes a travelling companion like the Mind, the same Mind that before Tea satori got in the way at every turn and created so many hardships and detours, the Mind that will still be there, lurking, waiting for your intention to become lax. Your job is to keep your intention firm every step of the way, to persist in the vow of keeping things clean and untarnished by this shortcut-pushing mind, no matter what happens.

A Life of Tea Practice: Making it sacred

Just like I made burning incense on an altar sacred in the way I needed it to be sacred, all spaces meant to invite Tea spirit must be made sacred by intention for them to light up. There is nothing inherently special about burning incense. Matter is consummed in heat, it's just a momentary chemical process. Yet for me, it holds so much power, the key to continuous practice towards success in life. Wu De says it is "important for the artist to be all that she hopes to convey." The truest artist attempts to be all they hope to convey at every moment, when things are easy and pleasant and when things are hard and uncomfortable. Tea doesn't rely on your interpretation of events being right in order to participate in making things sacrosanct, but it does rely on where your heart is.

Ask Yourself: Am I looking for fulfillment through my senses or am I centered in a fulfilled heart?

The mind wants to experience fulfillment through tasting fruits of action. It wants badly to taste these fruits. Yet many of us know that this very wanting is an obstacle to actually attaining our dreams. In a lifetime of engaging in dream fulfilling effort, doing it right means working so tirelessly in the moment-to-moment striving that when the fruit finally does arrive, there is no more ceremony at the end point than there would be at any other step along the way. The thought of future enjoyment is rendered inert. Unless one finds fulfillment moment-to-moment, through all the large and small tasks that must be worked through over the long haul, the heart cannot rest.

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