Japanese tea and the Zen master

place of silence

Soto Zen teacher, Dogen Zenji said, “Handle even a single leaf of green in such a way that it manifests the body of the Buddha. This in turn allows the Buddha to manifest through the leaf.”  Was Dogen referring to the tranquil, detached state of Zen meditation or to the remarkable properties of the leaves of camelia sinensis, the tea plant?

The Japanese tea ceremony, Zen metaphysics, and the chemical compounds found within tea leaves are synergistically intertwined with people’s physical and mental well-being.  Modern science has verified that green tea leaves, steamed and minimally processed, contain antioxidants called catechins.  Catechins bind up dangerous free radicals that can alter our DNA and contribute to increased risk of atherosclerosis and cancer. Some medical studies suggest that two cups of green tea per day can prevent some cancers, including those of the lungs and digestive track. Green tea’s antioxidants also dilate blood vessels, keep them pliable, and help prevent arterial blockages.  The caffeine in tea may also promote weight loss, which is a factor in reducing high blood pressure.

People who enjoy the art of Japanese tea should consider that tea contains the stress-reducing amino acid called L-theanine.  L-theanine increases the brain’s production of alpha waves that are indicative of a person’s wakeful, relaxed state. Amazingly, alpha waves are also those produced during Zen meditation.

Evidence is abundant that a Zen lifestyle and a natural diet are significant factors in maintaining good health.  Eisai Zenji , founder of the Japanese branch of Rinzai Zen, brought the first tea seeds to Japan in 1191, setting the stage for the flowering of the Japanese tea ceremony. In time, the Zen practice called samu encouraged people to find their true nature by practicing mindfulness in everyday activities such as drinking tea. The state of calm induced by the tea ceremony helps people to slow down their thoughts and observe the natural processes in life.

Zen also advocates an aesthetic ideal called ‘wabi-sabi’, the idea that using simple, natural, and rustic objects such as Raku tea pots and cups can lead to a peaceful and detached mental state.  Relaxing, becoming mindful, and connecting to nature reduces stress, a major factor in heart disease.  People who are less stressed sleep better, and studies show that those who get a good night’s rest have reduced risk for heart ailments.

Becoming healthy involves a very Zen-like cycle of good practices.  Sharing tea with friends, eating more naturally, and focusing on life’s simple activities are good for your health.

“Enlightenment comes from practice, thus enlightenment is limitless. Practice comes from enlightenment, thus practice has no beginning”
– Dogen Zenji (1200 – 1253)

8 comments » Write a comment

  1. I have been a lover of train its many forms for quite a few years now. I knew about the anti-oxidant properties of green tea. But it’s ability to help lower blood pressure is new to me.

  2. Fascinating. Much of modern life seems to be missing significant rituals as part of our daily routines. This would be a practice well worth incorporating into daily life, plus it would give me an excuse to try more types of tea. I often consider the best part of my day the quiet time when I get to sit and just chill with a cup of tea or coffee between the palms of my hands.

  3. I love tea in just about any form. Finding time to just be, can be challenges but when I have a cup of good tea I am transported and it has a way of soothing my soul. :-) That said, I think the Japanese have it right. :-)

  4. I never knew tea had an amino acid that actually reduced stress. Which is funny because I drink tea every night to help me sleep easier, haha! I just figured it was the lack of caffeine that was making me more relaxed. Nice to know my habits are healthy even when I’m not trying. :)

  5. Great post. Tea is one of the best beverages you can drink for better health, especially green tea. Green tea provides your body with a great amount of antioxidants and helps speed up metabolism. This is a major diet staple in Asian cultures and a big reason why they have much less health conditions and serious illnesses in their society.

  6. Just reading this makes me long for a quiet place and a cup of tea. When I was growing up, tea was the drink of choice in my house. My grandmother and aunt seemed to live with a teacup in their hands. My cousins continue the practice, but I am more of a coffee drinker myself and coffee does not lend itself to calm – at least not the way I drink it. However, every once in a while I pull my selection of tea out of the cupboard or slip into one of the local teashops and enjoy a cup with my daughter. It’s incredibly restful.

  7. I have always found the Japanese tea ceremony a thing of beauty. I knew tea was healthy but thanks for sharing it’s many benefits here.

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