EASTERN PHILOSOPHY – Sen no Rikyu

EASTERN PHILOSOPHY – Sen no Rikyu


In the West, philosophers write long non-fiction
books, often using incomprehensible words and limit their involvement with the world
to lectures and committee meetings. But in the East, and especially in the Zen
tradition, philosophers write poems, rake gravel, go on pilgrimages, practice archery,
write aphorisms on scrolls, chant and, in the case of one of the very greatest Zen thinkers,
Sen no Rikyū, involve themselves in teaching people how to drink tea in consoling and therapeutic
ways. Sen no Rikyū was born in 1522 in the wealthy
seaport of Sakai, near present day Osaka. Show map of this place. His father, Tanaka Yohyoue, was a warehouse
owner who worked in the fish trade and wished his son to join him in business. But Rikyū turned away from commercial life
and went in search of wisdom and self-understanding instead. He became fascinated by Zen Buddhism,
apprenticed himself to a few Masters and took to a life of wandering the countryside, with
few possessions. Zen Buddhism was founded by traveling monks,
who believed that people best could find spiritual meaning not by thinking complex thoughts or
performing great deeds but by doing (often very simple) things with intense thoughtfulness
and concentration. The wise Bodhidharma, for example, is believed to have stared at a wall
for nine years with to improve his focus. Rikyu chose to focus on something that was
a little more refreshing than staring at the wall: drinking tea. Today we remember him
for the contributions he made to the reform and appreciation of the chanoyu (茶の湯)=Japanese tea ceremony. It literally means “hot water for tea.”
The Japanese had been drinking tea since the 9th century, the practice having been imported
from China by merchants and monks. The drink was considered healthy as well as calming
and spiritual. But it was Rikyū’s achievement to put the
tea ceremony on a more rigorous and profound philosophical footing. The Japan of his era had grown image-conscious
and money-focused. Rikyū promoted an alternative set of values which he termed wabi-sabi (侘寂) a compound word combining wabi, or satisfaction
with simplicity and austerity, with sabi an appreciation of the imperfect. Across fields ranging from architecture to
interior design, philosophy to literature, Rikyū awakened in the Japanese a taste for
the pared down and the authentic, for the undecorated and the humble. His particular focus was the tea ceremony,
which Rikyū believed to hold a superlative potential to promote wabi-sabi. He made a number of changes to the rituals
and aesthetics of the ceremony. He began by revolutionising the space in which the tea
ceremony was held. It had grown common for wealthy people to build extremely elaborate
teahouses in prominent public places, where they served as venues for worldly gatherings
and displays of status. Rikyū now argued that the teahouse should
be shrunk to a mere two metres square, that it should be tucked away in secluded gardens and that its door should be made deliberately
a little too small, so that all who came into it, even the mightiest, would have to bow
and feel equal to others. The idea was to create a barrier between the teahouse and
the world outside. The very path to the teahouse was to pass
around trees and stones, to create a meander that would help break ties with the ordinary
realm. Properly performed, a tea ceremony was meant
to promote what Rikyū termed wa (和)=harmony which would emerge as participants rediscovered
their connections to nature: in their garden hut, smelling of unvarnished wood, moss and
tea leaves, they would be able to feel the wind and hear birds outside – and feel at
one with the non-human sphere. Then might come an emotion known as kei (敬)=respect the fruit of sitting in a confined space with
others, and being able to converse with them free of the pressures and artifice of the
social world. A successful ceremony was to leave its participants
with a feeling of jaku (寂)=tranquillity sei (静)=purity central concepts in Rikyū’s gentle, calming
philosophy. Rikyū’s prescriptions for the ceremony
extended to the instruments employed. He argued that tea ceremonies shouldn’t
rely on expensive or conventionally beautiful cups or teapots. He liked worn bamboo tea
scoops that made a virtue of their age and bamboo flower vases like this one, which he
carved himself: Because in Zen philosophy, everything is impermanent,
imperfect and incomplete, objects that are themselves marked by time and haphazard marks
can, Rikyū suggested, embody a distinct wisdom and promote it in their users. It was one of Rikyū’s achievements to take
an act which in the West is one of the most routine and unremarkable activities and imbue
it with a solemnity and depth of meaning akin to a Catholic Mass. Every aspect of the tea ceremony, from the
patient boiling of the water to the measuring out of green tea powder, was coherently related
to Zen’s philosophical tenets about the importance of humility, the need to sympathise
with and respect nature, and the sense of the importance of the transient nature of
existence. It’s open ended where this approach to everyday
life may go. It leaves open the possibility that many actions
and daily habits might, with sufficient creative imagination, become similarly elevated, important
and rewarding in our lives. The point isn’t so much that we should take part in tea ceremonies,
rather that we should make aspects of our everyday spiritual lives more tangible by
allying certain materials and sensuous rituals. Rikyū reminds us that there is a latent sympathy
between big ideas about life and the little everyday things, such as certain drinks, cups,
implements and smells. These are not cut off from the big themes;
they can make those themes more alive for us. It is the task of philosophy not just
to formulate ideas, but also to work out mechanisms by which they may stick more firmly and viscerally
in our minds.


100 thoughts on “EASTERN PHILOSOPHY – Sen no Rikyu

  1. +The School of Life Other than the Book of tea and several books on wabi-sabi by Leonard Koren, can you recommend any other sources to learn more about Sen no Rikyu?

  2. For the sake of furthering knowledge if anyone knows what the corner right video at 5:29 is that be a great help.

    Also thank you school of life you've been a great help, the internet appreciates your contribution by enlightening all of us one video at a time.

  3. I feel the church I go to does this by having a half hour between the morning bible study hour and the main church service. We drink coffee and eat doughnut holes and talk, all the while being in a room almost too small so strangers have a chance to talk and not just friends.

  4. You believe we should make some parts of our lives more spiritual, yet you are atheist.Something C.S. Lewis taught in his novella The Abolition of Men, people live by some moral rule, yet they do not believe in morals

  5. I really appreciate what you do, and this is only the first of surely many videos I'll see from this channel. Thank you and cheers!

  6. Could anyone tell me what's the name of that philosopher who starred at the wall for several years in 1:12, please? I didn't catch that.

  7. A profound paradox. Any ritualized thing becomes impossible to enter into with good faith because it is ritualized. As soon as a thing is culturally formalized it becomes frozen and immovable. Participants become performers and their actions become rigid. To escape crushing rigidity is exactly why the mendicant monks became wanderers: to become unfrozen, and unrigid. To become fluid. Therefore one can say that Sen no Rikyu was a failure. That is clear becomes he is famous. The great fluid persons of Zen are invisible unknowns. Their spell on earth was fluid and unmarked. They are as unknown as any leaf blown in the wind. Those were/are the successful ones.

    Just sayin'. And a Wabi-sabi to you too. Cheers.

  8. i see people comment about the speed pace of narrator but i am absolutel fine with that. actually i find it more comfortable because im very concentrated on what narrator is telling me. when you focus on the thing you are learning, that narrating speed is not a big deal. but i love how funny the head movement of sen no rikyu

  9. Is there any counterpart to this, mm that mmm involving other drinks, like milk? Or coffee? Or chocolate? Or vodka?

  10. Thats the same thing i did. People call me homeless. It is very peaceful especially when you have a zen tool kit. I wont stay homeless for ever and I have the money to get off the street but I want to live like these masters did.

  11. amazing work. i would like to see more of the chinese philosophers as well though such as mencius or lao tzu. hopefully more videos will be added to this section. keep up the good work guys <3

  12. the ethymological an alysis of wabi-sabi seems to be made up, can someone come up with the true ethymology of this term ?

  13. Honestly, I believe this is the strength of the east regarding their political resurgence. Their culture promotes virtues, and they are now beginning to leverage that to their advantage.

  14. I always wonder what these guys' parents must've thought at the time. "No, Dad, I don't want to be a fisherman I WANT TO BE A ZEN MASTER" It sounds like every teenager ever to me, hahaha.

  15. Although I agree with the non-literal interpretation, Tea Ceremonies are SUPER relaxing… if you are ever in Japan and get an opportunity to do a tea ceremony & go to an Onsen (volcanic hot springs) on the same day, please do, it's usually very reasonably priced & you will shed months of stress in hours.

  16. I really enjoy these, I just wish a little more repectful effort was put into pronunciation, as I, for example, cringe every time the narrator says "wabi sabi"…lol…

  17. Thank you School of Life for all these interesting videos. Can you tell me what app you use to make these videos?

  18. It's so sad that in present day Japan Wa is practically non existent, everyone fights with one another (especially in politics) without thinking more in depth about not only the ideas themselves, but other people as well.

  19. I like showing these videos to hipsters who have appropriated these sorts of things and bastardized them beyond recognition.

  20. When he's talking at a lower pace, is better to watch. Especially about something like tea ceremony. Tks for all your videos 🙂

  21. If you search Wabi Sabi in Japaniese Wikipedia, you'll find that Wabi Sabi in Japanese it's actually 佗 寂 not 侘 寂, the latter is in Chinese while the former is wirtten in Kanji (Chinese characters in Japanese), not in Chinese.

  22. I like these videos. The ideas of Philosophy, spirituality and psychology are kind of leant by everyone in 5 minutes of videos. But the speed of talking in the videos is too fast to me to understand. I have to force my mind to keep up. just a suggestion from my side. that if you could also make some time for the matter to sink in for the audiences. Or talk a little bit slow. instead of 5:40 minute video it might go to 6:30 or 7 minutes and won't be too long that people get bored, but because these are ideas to take away in the mind. I think there should be some time to let it in.

    Thanks a ton for the videos.

  23. Almost a year ago you stopped uploading eastern philosophy videos, why is that? there are still plenty of material to work on. BTW thank you for the excellent content!

  24. I as I consider myself a sort of philosopher, greatly recommend the philosophy of Wabi Sabi. I employ this philosophy for my own life, and it has sone wonders.

  25. Just wonder, why Japanese youth are disinterested in Japanese Tea ceremony nowadays? A paradigm shift from the traditional wisdom that lose touch with contemporary setting?

  26. I wish you would keep reminding to subscribe, when Ive subscribe already…Its the antithesis of what you are describing

  27. I really enjoy these. I love the way they animate their videos, It's creative and refreshing!! Low-key wish I came up with the idea lol 🙂 keep it up guys!!!

  28. That's half of the story at any rate. At tea master for the shogun, Rikyu's position was very political and privy to all kinds of military secrets. It involved spying on his guest's conversations and passing along sensitive information. It's possible that people's jealousy over his high status close to the shogun led to their spreading rumors about him which eventually got the shogun to force him to commit suicide.

  29. I do love you Alain, but please slow down and breath sometimes! – I know that YouTube audiences have a reputation for having a short attention span but listening to this breakneck commentary – I get bamboozled – I have to watch several times as nothing sticks. I want it "to stick more firmly and viscerally in my mind" – like your quote about Rikyu. (Maybe there is a cunning plan behind the speed so we all watch more than once to up the view count! ha ha, sorry that was a tease). Do keep these coming – I particularly like the ones on philosophy. I love these animations as well – the newer ones are less aesthetically appealing to me – could be just a taste thing….

  30. i dont know what that guy took but i do know weed wouldnt make you stare at the wall for 9 years. whatever it is its legendary😂

  31. Some of this i like, other parts not so much. I mean staring at a wall for nine years?, that's just an approach, it doesn't mean that everyone has to do that to be amazing…; its just a way of life. You can use hedonism as your approach, and many people do and enjoy it, so i don't think anyone really has the answer, some people are just born into a certain culture with a certain way of doing things; many people go out drinking every weekend and enjoy it. I don't believe straight away all of the teachings from the East, like anywhere — some of it is rubbish, some of it is not; dried seahorses don't do shit. But then there are great things from the east like eating healthy, philosophy, and martial arts and so on. Staring at a wall for nine years sounds like a big boring waste of time and the guy should not be applauded for it. Just because they're Japanese and lived a long time ago doesn't mean anything, i'm not saying that's the message here, but we tend to over – esteem this kind of thing in the west.

  32. When Bodidharma came from India to China to enlighten them with Zen, he didn't like the Emperor's attitude (and vice versa), so he sat in a cave for nine years and stared at the wall (that will show them!). He only consented to accept a student when the guy cut off his hand to show how earnest he was in his desire to learn. But meanwhile, Bodidharma had gotten drowsy while meditating and to see that it didn't happen again, he tore off his eyelids and threw them on the ground. From them, sprouted the tea plants that provide the vivifying drink that monks have used ever since to keep alert during long sessions on the zafu cushion, practicing zazen! Awesome channel this School of Life! Tao, Zen, Tea (Ippodo Macha is my favorite and really ramps up my practice, but I'm a poor hermit, so I have to really ration the good stuff!) So glad YouTube is free and your channel (liked and subbed) is so inspiring!

  33. Not a very helpful tradition when it is centered around a specific ritual with a specifically prepared plant. For a philosophy to be helpful one should disconnect one's meditation from material things, but this tradition creates dependence on drinking tea. What about all those people who not only don't have access to tea, but also may not even have access to fire or shelter. Not good.

  34. You can notice a very significant difference between the philosophies such as the one described in this video and generally speaking "western philosophers". I put that in quotation marks because the term is too general and not limited to geography. But the point is that more often than not western philosophers try to go from point "a" to point "b" in a cause and effect, or some other logical conditional states. But in Zen Buddhism here, and in Buddhism in general it is much more similar to various religions outside of Asia which is that it is more mysticism than academic philosophy. There is no objective reason why one has to focus on some simple task and put much thought into it.

    Buddhism has a number of crazy borderline evil beliefs such as the belief in Karma. Something bad is happening to you in this life, well it must be because you were a bad person in the past life and you can't do anything about it. So it is still "your fault". This is not unlike some of the worst beliefs in historic Christian sects or organizations. For example the people who believe in "faith healing" and "health and wealth" gospel (common in the US in some states only) would explain someone's sickness or poverty as being a result of not having enough faith, or not praying properly. T

  35. Video reminded me of this poem.

    On Religion

    Kahlil Gibran

    Have I spoken this day of aught else?

    Is not religion all deeds and all reflection,

    And that which is neither deed nor reflection, but a wonder and a surprise ever springing in the soul, even while the hands hew the stone or tend the loom?

    Who can separate his faith from his actions, or his belief from his occupations?

    Who can spread his hours before him, saying, "This for God and this for myself; This for my soul, and this other for my body?"

    All your hours are wings that beat through space from self to self.

    He who wears his morality but as his best garment were better naked.

    The wind and the sun will tear no holes in his skin.

    And he who defines his conduct by ethics imprisons his song-bird in a cage.

    The freest song comes not through bars and wires.

    And he to whom worshipping is a window, to open but also to shut, has not yet visited the house of his soul whose windows are from dawn to dawn.

    Your daily life is your temple and your religion.
    Whenever you enter into it take with you your all.

    Take the plough and the forge and the mallet and the lute,

    The things you have fashioned in necessity or for delight.

    For in revery you cannot rise above your achievements nor fall lower than your failures.

    And take with you all men:

    For in adoration you cannot fly higher than their hopes nor humble yourself lower than their despair.

    And if you would know God be not therefore a solver of riddles.
    Rather look about you and you shall see Him playing with your children.

    And look into space; you shall see Him walking in the cloud, outstretching His arms in the lightning and descending in rain.

    You shall see Him smiling in flowers, then rising and waving His hands in trees.

  36. I…I thought I was being weird staring at a piece of wood to improve focus just for a few seconds. Apparently someone was being way way way more extreme, nine years staring at a wall?????

  37. I had a girlfriend who used to make every aspect of life like a tea ceremony – everything was taken to the limits of perfection.

    Sadly she turned out to be a raging narcissist and this perfection was just part of the "love bombing" phase – still, it was impressive.

  38. Haha.
    It's not about "con-centration" or "con-templation."
    It's about medi-tation.
    This video doesn't capture a fragrance of zen.
    Haha.

  39. That's a very misleading intro, but if you say so. West bad, East good.
    I'll be leaving now, no point in finishing a garbage video.

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