Tea began as a medicine and grew into a beverage. In China, in theeighth century, it entered the realm of poetry as one of the politeamusements. The fifteenth century saw Japan ennoble it into a relgionof aestheticism-. Teaism. Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of thebeautiful among the sordid facts of every day existence. It inculcatespurity and harmony, the mystery of mutual charity, the romanticism of thesocial order. It is essentially a worship of the Imperfect, as it is a tenderattempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing weknow as lifeThe Philosophy of Tea is not mere aestheticism in the ordinaryacceptance of the term, for it expresses conjointly with ethics and religionour whole point of view about man and nature. It is hygiene, for itenforces cleanliness; it is economics, for it shows comfort in simplicityrather than in the complex and costly it is moral geometry, inasmuch as itdefines our sense of proportion to the universe. It represents the truespirit of Eastem democracy by making all its votaries aristocrats in tasteThe long isolation of Japan from the rest of the world, so conducive tontrospection, has been highly favourable to the development of TeaismOur home and habits, costume and cuisine, porcelain, lacquer, paintingour very literature--all have been subject to its influence. No student ofJapanese culture could ever ignore its presence. It has permeated theelegance of noble boudoirs, and entered the abode of the humble. Ourpeasants have learned to arrange flowers, our meanest labourer to offer hissalutation to the rocks and waters. In our common parlance we speak ofthe man"with no tea" in him, when he is insusceptible to the serio-comic interests of the personal drama. Again we stigmatise the untamedaesthete who, regardless of the mundane tragedy, runs riot in thespringtide of emancipated emotions, as one "with too much tea" in himThe outsider may indeed wonder at this seeming much ado aboutnothing. What a tempest in a tea-cup! he will say. But when we considerhow small after all the cup of human enjoyment is, how soon overflowedwith tears, how easily drained to the dregs in our quenchless thirst forinfinity, we shall not blame ourselves for making so much of the tea-cupMankind has done worse. In the worship of Bacchus, we havesacrificed too freely, and we have even transfigured the gory image ofMars. Why not consecrate ourselves to the queen of the Camelias, andrevel in the warm stream of sympathy that flows from her altar? In theliquid amber within the ivory-porcelain, the initiated may touch the sweetreticence of Confucius, the piquancy of Laotse, and the ethereal aromaof sakyamuni himself
Those who cannot feel the littleness of great things in themselves areapt to overlook the greatness of little things in others. The averageWesterner, in his sleek complacency, will see in the tea ceremony butanother instance of the thousand and one oddities which constitute thequaintness and childishness of the East to him. He was wont to regardJapan as barbarous while she indulged in the gentle arts of peace: hecalls her civilised since she began to commit wholesale slaughter onManchurian battlefields. Much comment has been given lately to theCode of the Samurai. -the Art of Death which makes our soldiers exult inself- sacrifice; but scarcely any attention has been drawn to Teaism, whichrepresents so much of our Art of Life. Fain would we remain barbariansif our claim to civilisation were to be based on the gruesome glory of warFain would we await the time when due respect shall be paid to our art andWhen will the West understand, or try to understand, the East? WeAsiatics are often appalled by the curious web of facts and fancies whichhas been woven concerning us. We are pictured as living on the perfumeof the lotus, if not on mice and cockroaches. It is either impotentfanaticism or else abject voluptuousness. Indian spirituality has beenderided as ignorance, Chinese sobriety as stupidity, Japanese patriotism asthe result of fatalism. It has been said that we are less sensible to painand wounds on account of the callousness of our nervous organisation!Why not amuse yourselves at our expense? Asia returns thecompliment. There would be further food for merriment if you were toknow all that we have imagined and written about you. All theglamour of the perspective is there, all the unconscious homage of wonder,all the silent resentment of the new and undefined. You have beerloaded with virtues too refined to be envied. and accused of crimes toopicturesque to be condemned. Our writers in the past-the wise men whoknew--informed us that you had bushy tails somewhere hidden in yourgarments, and often dined off a fricassee of newborn babes! Nay, we hadsomething worse against you we used to think you the most impracticableeople on the earth, for you were said to preach what you never practiced
Such misconceptions are fast vanishing amongst us. Commerce hasforced the European tongues on many an Eastern port. Asiatic youthsflocking to Western colleges for the equipment of modem education.Our insight does not penetrate your culture deeply, but at least we arewilling to lean. Some of my compatriots have adopted too much ofyour customs and too much of your etiquette, in the delusion that theacquisition of stiff collars and tall silk hats comprised the attainment ofyour civilisation. Pathetic and deplorable as such affectations are, theyevince our willingness to approach the West on our knees. Unfortunatelythe Western attitude is unfavourable to the understanding of the eastThe Christian missionary goes to impart, but not to receive. Yourinformation is based on the meagre translations of our immense literatureif not on the unreliable anecdotes of passing travellers. It is rarely thatthe chivalrous pen of a lafcadio Hearn or that of the author of The Webof Indian Life" enlivens the Oriental darkness with the torch of our osentimentsPerhaps I betray my own ignorance of the Tea Cult by being sooutspoken. Its very spirit of politeness exacts that you say what you areexpected to say, and no more. But I am not to be a polite Teaist. Somuch harm has been done already by the mutual misunderstanding of theNew World and the old, that one need not apologise for contributing histithe to the furtherance of a better understanding. The beginning of thetwentieth century would have been spared the spectacle of sanguinarywarfare if Russia had condescended to know Japan better. What direconsequences to humanity lie in the contemptuous ignoring of EastemprcEuropean imperialism, which does not disdain to raise theabsurd cry of the Yellow Peril, fails to realise that Asia may also awaken tothe cruel sense of the White Disaster. You may laugh at us for havingtoo much tea, " but may we not suspect that you of the West have"no teain your constitution?