The Korean tea-ceremony format, more than a thousand years old, was re-envisioned by Cho-eui* as quite different from what had developed in China and Japan – closer to the former than the latter, but still unique.  It emphasizes ease and naturalness as friends enjoy brewing and drinking green tea in a semi-formal and spiritually-oriented yet friendly setting, far less stiff and elitist than the famous tea-ceremony styles developed in Japan.  It combines the best philosophy and aesthetics of Korea’s Seon Buddhism and “Sage-Principle” Neo-Confucianism.  The ceramics and utensils are all as simply natural as possible, with colors that call the mind, although made with unforced artistic skill.  The highest values in Korean Chado are peacefulness, respectfulness, purity and wise insight.  Today, Cho-eui’s style and atmosphere have become popular as part of the “well-being”  movement, as modern Koreans seek harmony and relaxation during their stressful and rapid urban lives.

His spiritual devotion to tea is well expressed in these verses:

From long ago, saints and sages have both loved tea.

Tea is like a perfect gentleman whose nature has no evil.

The first human had tea in earliest times when he entered far into Snowy Mountain to pick tea leaves.

Thereafter its qualities have been transmitted by the Way of Tea

and teas were kept in jade jars like ten kinds of brocade.

After long seeking, the best water for tea was found in the Yellow River

which has eight kinds of virtue and also beauty.

Water should be drawn from the depths,

and examined for lightness and softness.

If water is really pure,

it develops both the body and the spirit of the tea.

When all dirt and coarseness are eliminated and essential vitality enters,

attainment of the Great Path is not far, is it?

When I pay homage to the Spiritual Mountain

and offer tea to all Buddhas,

I must be careful of the boiling point

and consider the range of Buddhist precepts.

Although the real body of Och-ieh tea seeks its mysterious origin,

the mysterious origin is the Perfection of Non-Attachment.

Alas, I was born three thousand years after the Buddha;

his voice is dim as the Sound of the Tide from the primordial heaven.

I wanted to seek the mysterious origin but obtained nothing.

I deeply regret that I was not born before the Buddha left the world.

So far I have not been able to wash away my love of tea, so I brought some to the Eastern Land (Korea) to smile at my difficulty.

I'm now unpacking the brocade wrappings from a jade jar, to make a gift of some tea to close friends first.

(translated by Jinwol-seunim)

Cho-eui’s hermitage devoted to Chado was abandoned after he died, but a little more than a century later it was rebuilt under the leadership of the late Tea-Master "Myeongwon" Kim Mi-hi , as interest in Korea’s tea-traditions were starting to revive, thanks to her efforts and those of Hyodang-seunim and others.  The first time I visited that reconstructed Ilchi-am* I fell deeply in love with it, particularly its plain-wooden thached-roof tea-pavilion (built later in the 1980s) next to the brook of particularly pure water.  My companions and I were simply stunned by how charming it was, how it expressed such deep devotion to Seon and Daoist Chado in such elegantly simple ways.  It seemed like a kind of paradise-retreat of the true Korean spirit.

Professor David Mason

Authors on tea agree on the importance of Ven Cho-ui, (sometimes, as below, spelled Cho-eui) and the Ilchi-am hermitage we will be visiting. Here the author Prof. David Mason, perhaps best known for his research and books on Korea’s mountain-spirits has also written about Ven Cho-ui.   

*The Anglicization of Korean words can confuse us.

The Great tea master “Ven Cho-ui”,  found in our itinerary, is the same as “Cho-eui” mentioned above.  ”Ilchi-am”, where he lived and wrote, is often written as “Ilji-am”. 

More important than words.  You will be at this hermitage and learn more about Ven Cho-ui, honored by many authors on Korean tea, when you join this historic tea tour. 

To read more by Prof. Mason on Korean tea, click on his name above.


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