A student asked me about techniques of making tea. I told him, “It is actually very simple: put some tea leaves in the teapot, and pour some hot water in, then pour out, there you have it —— tea! The whole process is that simple.”
A student asked me to teach him how to choose a fine teapot. I told him to first go and purchase one.
Just wanting to know how to make tea is of course as simple as this. But such simple technique is useful only if it is put into action. Only then can one actually know by experience.
It is the same with choosing a good teapot. It begins with picking up a teapot by oneself. Then, one can go further from there.
Learning must start from the basics. There are indeed methods for studying; a teacher can lecture on the theories and the techniques. However, lecture is merely a lecture — no matter how brilliant the teacher speaks, it is still the knowledge of the teacher. Regardless how detailed the teacher’s description, the technique remains only words, not something alive. Only when those who wish to learn put their hands on it, can a foundation of learning be possibly established and the techniques become alive.
In addition to the actions, putting one’s mind into it is very important. The same goes for the teacher — it requires wholehearted involvement. With wholehearted learning and wholehearted teaching, there is resonation between the teacher and the student, and the techniques come to life with solid grounding. Then the student benefits and the teacher also progresses.
Not all learning requires step-by-step explanations. After a general overview on key points, detailed practice can be undergone gradually, one step at a time. This way of learning seems to be suitable for many people. However, underneath the practice, there must be a sound theoretical foundation.
The refined craftsmanship of a teacher is to know how to combine aspects of both practice and theoretical principles, and enable the action of practice to proceed so that the principles are exhibited in practice.
So the way of making tea is not sophisticated. Yet, to make it real entails no less practice. However, this rather simple action is essential, for only then can expansion and deepening of the more subtle aspects gradually follow…
The first teapot one purchases is a causal condition in the present circumstance. From this point, one advances. The space for a teapot is limitless, yet it starts from this very point.
(Published 12/19/2014 in Chinese on the weekly column in which Master Chi Chern has been authoring for years for the newspaper “Oriental Daily” in Malaysia.)