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)