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Chinese tea: A beverage, tradition, and philosophy

A medium for meditation and enlightenment

Updated: May 17, 2023 chinadaily.com.cn Print
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Jingshan Temple in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, plays host to regular ceremonies to help visitors better understand traditional tea culture. Its tea ceremony is included in UNESCO's Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.[Photo provided to China Daily]

Before setting out on his journey to research tea, Lu had led an unusual life. Abandoned as an infant in what is today's Tianmen, Hubei province, he was adopted in the year 733 by Zhiji, a Buddhist abbot, and grew up in the Longgai Temple.

It was there that he first learned to brew tea, but unwilling to live a pious life, in his teens he became an actor of comedic characters. Later an official recognized his talent and recommended him to pursue further learning.

When the An Lushan Rebellion broke out in 755, Lu left Central China for the east and started his exploration into tea.

Perhaps his bond with the Zen lifestyle never ended. At Huzhou's Miaoxi Temple, he met Jiaoran, a monk poet who enlightened him in the philosophy of tea drinking.

Jingshan Temple in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, plays host to regular ceremonies to help visitors better understand traditional tea culture. Its tea ceremony is included in UNESCO's Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.[Photo provided to China Daily]

"Served as a beverage, tea is best suited to those who uphold discipline and moral conduct," Lu wrote in The Classic of Tea, emphasizing the tea preparation and ritual, which helped elevate tea into a symbol of refinement and social status.

An exemplar among tea drinking rituals is the Jingshan Tea Ceremony, a solemn ceremony hosted at the Jingshan Temple in Yuhang district, Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, where Lu visited during his journey.

Though it is recorded that the temple's founder offered tea as a sacrifice to Buddha in the mid-Tang Dynasty, the ceremony became a mature practice during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), in which tea was relished by Buddhist monks and guests, the majority of whom were literati and bureaucrats.

Here, tea became a medium for meditation and enlightenment, which involved more than 10 formal procedures, including welcoming the guests, burning incense and paying tribute, as well as making and drinking the tea.

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