Here are some excerpts from “Tea Life, Tea Mind,” written by Soshitsu Sen XV, “Hounsai,” the previous iemoto of Urasenke.
“In the time of Buddha, a man was walking deep in the mountains in search of a place where he could discipline himself to understand his spirit. While searching he chanced to meet one of Buddha’s disciples. “Sir, from where do you come?” he asked. “The disciple answered directly, “I’ve come from my place of practice.” Thinking that this man knew of the very place for which he had been searching, he asked the disciple, “Sir, I am looking for that same place. Please take me there.” The disciple answered, “The place of practice lies in the pure and honest spirit where there is no false vanity.” Startled, the man saw that a place of practice and discipline is not only seen with the eyes. The place of practice is the spirit.
* * *
In one Tea teacher’s house hangs a scroll that says: The Place of Self-Humiliation. When you enter the Way of Tea, no matter how you think you may disgrace yourself, it will not be taken as disgrace or shame. Make mistakes, be rebuked, stand corrected, and learn. Rikyu wrote a poem with a similar meaning as a guide for the student of Tea:
Fight your shame.
Throw out your pride and learn all you can from others.
This is the basis of a successful life.
* * *
The student of Tea once on the path must put away his doubts about himself and ignore the slighting remarks of others. He must give the greatest attention to his study and practice. Tea, like cleaning, is not a skill to memorize but one that is acquired slowly by the body and the spirit.”
* * *
I found these lessons about humility indispensable. All too often I have let self-consciousness, inferiority, and vanity keep me from trying new things and practicing what I enjoy. For instance, I got a Mandarin Chinese audio study course, but I was usually too embarrassed to use it, even when home alone! Inspired by this book, I began practicing my Mandarin course on the subway. I hope you will find Hounsai’s little book as useful as I have.