circle of the way



This is part of a series of articles on the arc of Zen thought, practice, and history, as presented in The Circle of the Way: A Concise History of Zen from the Buddha to the Modern World.  You can start at the beginning of this series or simply explore from here. 

Zen and Tea: A Guide for Readers

Zen and tea have long gone hand in hand. For example the combination of strict ritual joined with attention to details, composed gestures, and a mindful movement in the Japanese tea ceremony elicits an effect similar to that found in a Japanese Buddhist temple. Composed of precise preparations, ritual procedures, and thoughtful completion, a traditional tea ceremony evokes focus and attention similar to that of offering incense or chanting the Heart Sutra with concentrated attention. Deeply rooted in Zen, the tea ceremony is spiritual in nature, encouraging a cultivation of harmony and inner peace to all involved.

Likewise, whether formal or informal, the drinking of tea has inspired countless Zen poets and meditation masters to equate the tranquil experience of a mindful sip of tea with a momentary yet fruitful experience of clarity. Not unlike the sense of calm and ease that arises from meditation in a peaceful mountain environment, the drinking of tea is seen to elicit a similar meditative state associated with peace and serenity.

Below you'll find a collection of books related to Zen and tea from Shambhala Publications. We hope these treasures bring you clarity, peace, and enjoyment in drinking up the moment!

Tea Ceremony

$14.95 - Paperback

The Book of Tea

By Kakuzo Okakura
Introduction and contributions by Sam Hamill

In his landmark entrée to tea culture and history, Kakuzo Okakura celebrates the Way of Tea from its ancient origins in Chinese Taoism to its culmination in the Zen discipline known as the Japanese tea ceremony—an enchanting practice bringing together such arts as architecture, pottery, and flower arranging to create an experience that delights the senses, calms the mind, and refreshes the spirit. It also describes the rich aesthetics of Asian culture through the history, philosophy, and practice of brewing and drinking tea.

$19.95 - Paperback

The One Taste of Truth: Zen and the Art of Drinking Tea

By William Scott Wilson

Traditionally in China and Japan, drinking a cup of tea was an opportunity for contemplation, meditation, and an elevation of mind and spirit. Here, renowned translator William Scott Wilson distills what is singular and precious about this traditional tea culture, and he explores the fascinating connection between Zen and tea drinking. He unpacks the most common phrases from Zen and Chinese philosophy—usually found in Asia printed on hanging scrolls in tea rooms, restaurant alcoves, family rooms, and martial arts dojos—that have traditionally served as points of contemplation to encourage the appropriate atmosphere for drinking tea or silent meditation.

Part history, part philosophy, part inspirational guide, The One Taste of Truth will connect you to the distinctive pleasure of sipping tea and allowing it to transport your mind and thoughts. This beautifully written book will appeal to tea lovers and anyone interested in tea culture, Chinese philosophy, and Zen.

Poetry Inspired by Zen and Tea

$16.95 - Paperback

A White Tea Bowl: 100 Haiku from 100 Years of Life 

By Mitsu Suzuki
Edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi
Translated by Kate McCandless
Introduction by Norman Fischer

A White Tea Bowl is a selection of 100 haiku written by Mitsu Suzuki, the widow of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, and published in celebration of her 100th birthday. The compelling introduction by Zen priest Norman Fischer describes the profound impact on her life and work of war in Japan and social upheaval in America.

Part I: 100 Haiku presents a kaleidoscope of poems by Mitsu Suzuki that touch all aspects of her being: her dedication to the Buddha way, the loneliness of a widow's life, her generational role as "Candy Auntie," her sensitive attunement to nature, and her moments of insight into the dharma. The more you read these haiku, the more their wisdom will emerge.

Part II: Pickles and Tea contains reminiscences and anecdotes about Mitsu Suzuki by those who lived and studied with her at the San Francisco Zen Center; often these meetings took place in Mitsu's kitchen where she provided countless cupsA White Tea Bowl is a selection of 100 haiku written by Mitsu Suzuki, the widow of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, and published in celebration of her 100th birthday. The compelling introduction by Zen priest Norman Fischer describes the profound impact on her life and work of war in Japan and social upheaval in America.

Historical Anecdotes on Zen and Tea

yin mountain

$19.95 - Paperback

Yin Mountain: The Immortal Poetry of Three Daoist Women

Translated by Rebecca Nie
Translated by Peter Levitt

Though not specific to Japanese Zen, in part one of Yin Mountain, the poet and Daoist priestess Yi Le meets Lu Hongjian also known as Lu Yu, the author of The Classic of Tea. According to the authors, Rebecca Nie and Peter Levitt, "Lu was revered as “the Sage of Tea” and credited with creating the tea ceremonies of China and Japan."

After offering the Sage a Yi Le the "elixir of Tao Yuanming, a seminal fourth-century hermit-poet known for his propensity for drinking," she states:

Yesterday, you left beneath a moon thick with frost—

today you return to find me suffering beneath a bitter fog.

Still bedridden and ill,

only tears flow when I try to speak.

Let’s just drink Tao’s hermitage elixir,

and recite the poems of Xie Ke’s seclusion.

Besides the slight chance we’ll get drunk,

what else can we do?

-from "Sick on a Lake Happily Receiving Lu Hongjian," Yin Mountain

More about Yin Mountain

Yin Mountain presents a fascinating window onto the lives of three Tang Dynasty Daoist women poets. Li Ye (c. 734–784), Xue Tao (c. 768–832), and Yu Xuanji (843–868) lived and wrote during the period when Chinese poetry reached its greatest height. Yet while the names of the male poets of this era, such as Tu Fu, Li Bo, and Wang Wei, are all easily recognized, the names of its accomplished women poets are hardly known at all. Read More

$24.95 - Paperback

The Art of Budo: The Calligraphy and Paintings of the Martial Arts Masters

By John Stevens

In The Art of Budo, John Stevens translates a beautiful piece of calligraphy from Rikyu.

I share a sip of tea together with the spring wind and ten thousand peaks;
Then with my arms folded in my sleeves I contently stroll along the

Commenting on the above verse, Stevens writes:

The verses evoke a tranquil state where there is no sense of separation between humans and nature. One feels that the universe itself is being sipped and savored. The brushwork is extraordinarily supple and perfectly composed and placed. The rhythmic calligraphy is clear and bright, calm and settled.
The Kanbayashi family is one of the major tea growers and merchants in Uji. The Kanbayashi Shunsho Honten tea business was established in the 1560s. Rikyu had close ties to this family. He regularly ordered matcha tea from the store, and several members of the family were among Rikyu’s senior disciples. One of Rikyu’s daughters married into the Kanbayashi family, whose archives contain a number of letters from Rikyu concerning orders for tea, delivery receipts, and as in this case, replies to questions pertaining to the true nature of tea. This letter is Rikyu’s response to Kanbayashi Kyukai’s request for a statement on the essence of the tea ceremony. One of the most well-known anecdotes in tea circles tells of when Rikyu and a few disciples were hosted by Kanbayashi Chiku-an in Uji. Flustered by his master’s presence, Chiku-an made several clumsy mistakes and flubbed the ceremony. Nonetheless, Rikyu complimented Chiku-an on his fine performance: “No one could have done it better.” On the way back to Kyoto, Rikyu’s puzzled disciples asked how he could praise such a sloppy execution of the ceremony. Rikyu replied, “Heartfelt sincerity trumps technique.”
Beginning with the legendary samurai Miyamoto Musashi, nearly all of the great Japanese martial arts masters left a legacy of calligraphy and painting. In this art, rooted in the tradition of Zenga and Zensho (meditative painting and calligraphy), the brushstrokes are considered to be alive, conveying a master’s teaching directly and concisely. When the artwork is displayed in a dojo or more intimately in one’s home, the master is experienced as a living presence. Read More

$35.00 - Paperback

The Compass of Zen

Foreword by Stephen Mitchell
By Zen Master Seung Sahn
Edited by Hyon Gak

In The Compass of Zen, Zen Master Seung Sahn shares important Zen teachings coupled with insightful stories and personal experience. Humorously, when discussing the nature of the Three Jewels—Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha—Master Seung Sahn writes:

A long time ago, somebody asked Zen Master Joju, ‘‘What is Buddha?’’ Joju replied, ‘‘Go drink tea!’’ Another time, someone asked Joju, ‘‘What is Dharma?’’ ‘‘Go drink tea!’’ ‘‘What is Sangha?’’ ‘‘Go drink tea!’’ In Chinese characters, we call this shil yong sam bo, which means the actual Three Treasures. If you drink tea with a clear mind, then in that moment, you become actual Buddha, actual Dharma, and actual Sangha. This is a very simple, everyday mind. Joju answered many kinds of questions with ‘‘Go drink tea!’’ If you don’t understand this you must go drink some tea, right now. If you don’t like tea, you can drink Coca-Cola or a milkshake. Ha ha ha ha ha! Either way, you will attain Zen Master Joju’s true teaching. You will attain the highest teaching of the Buddha and all the eminent teachers. Then you will attain the actual Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. It is very clear.

The Compass of Zen is a simple, exhaustive—and often hilarious—presentation of the essence of Zen by a modern Zen Master of considerable renown. In his many years of teaching throughout the world, the Korean-born Zen Master Seung Sahn has become known for his ability to cut to the heart of Buddhist teaching in a way that is strikingly clear, yet free of esoteric and academic language. In this book, based largely on his talks, he presents the basic teachings of Buddhism and Zen in a way that is wonderfully accessible for beginners—yet so rich with stories, insights, and personal experiences that long-time meditation students will also find it a source of inspiration and a resource for study. Read More

Zen and Tea in Contemporary Life

$18.95 - Paperback

Green Buddhism: Practice and Compassionate Action in Uncertain Times

By Stephanie Kaza

In Green Buddhism, Stephanie Kaza invites readers to glimpse the state of peace and appreciation inspired from tea and the values of respect, purity, and tranquility experienced from the practice of drinking tea. Musing on the notion of wabi, Kaza writes:

I return to the austere beauty of wabi. Something here speaks to me. This is the very opposite of charisma, of ostentation, of pretension, of arrogance. The path of tea speaks of four primary values that lead to understanding wabi. These same four principles also shape the design of Japanese gardens. Through wa (lit. “harmony”) the student observes the unchanging force of nature, of life, generativity, and loss, right in the midst of constant change. To practice harmony means “to be free of pretensions, walking the path of moderation, never forgetting the attitude of humility.” One keeps close to the Earth, where the broken things lie, where beauty springs forth from the soil.

With species rapidly disappearing and global temperatures rising, there is more urgency than ever to act on the ecological crises we face. Hundreds of millions of people around the world—including unprecedented numbers of Westerners—now practice Buddhism. Can Buddhists be a critical voice in the green conversation? Leading Buddhist environmentalist Stephanie Kaza has spent her career exploring the intersection of religion and ecology. With so much at stake, she offers guidance on how people and communities can draw on Buddhist concepts and practices to live more sustainable lives on our one and only home. Read More

$18.95 - Paperback

The Little Book of Zen Healing: Japanese Rituals for Beauty, Harmony, and Love

By Paula Arai

While note related specifically to Zen and tea, Paula Arai emphasizes similar qualities such as embodied compassion, expressions of gratitude, and expanding your perspective in daily rituals. Just as tranquility can arise from a mindful sip of tea, Arai explains that healing can arise from living from the heart, nurturing qualities of self-care, beauty, and gratitude, and relating with each moment of our life in a creative and expansive way. In fact, healing, she explains can happen in the most simple acts of life. In her words:

Planting seeds of Zen in daily life can yield a harvest of healing. You can tend these seeds as you cook, clean, and mark life passages. Times of illness and loss, too, are fertile soil for healing. Healing grows where it is needed, as a lotus blossoms in mud.

Accessible and adaptable Japanese Buddhist rituals to infuse your life with purpose, healing, and gratitude when you need it most.
How do we make and sustain meaning amidst the messy conditions of daily life? Personalized rituals can help us blossom like lotuses right in the mud of the present. On a pilgrimage she began after her mother’s death, author Paula Arai encountered numerous Japanese Buddhists who taught her the remarkable power of ritual to heal—practices you can adapt to your own cultural and personal circumstances. Applying principles of Zen practice, she offers stories and insights that illuminate how to nourish and reap a healing bounty of connection, joy, and compassion. Read More
Japanese Home Cooking

$40.00 - Hardcover

Japanese Home Cooking: Simple Meals, Authentic Flavors

By Sonoko Sakai
Photographs by Rick Poon

Though not specific to tea and tea ceremony,  Sonoko Sakai, author of Japanese Home Cooking explains the qualities of traditional Japanese cooking and eating in terms of traits that are similar to tea ceremony. She writes:

There are five keys to Japanese cooking: freshness, seasonality, simplicity, beauty, and economy. At its most fundamental level, Japanese cooking, or washoku, is about respecting your ingredients and letting their natural flavor come through. Your ingredients should be as fresh and seasonal as possible. Relatedly, let the ingredients speak for themselves. I prefer not to fuss too much with the food. A fresh fish, simply salted and grilled over charcoal, can make a beautiful meal.

The art of Japanese cooking lies in the twin appreciation of ingredients and process. Using high-quality, in-season ingredients in simple preparations is the way of Japanese home cooking that Sonoko Sakai promotes in this book of essential recipes. Read More

Zen and Tea for Kids

$18.95 - Paperback

Zen for Kids: 50+ Mindful Activities and Stories to Shine Loving-Kindness in the World

By Laura Burges
Illustrated by Melissa Iwai

In Zen for Kids, Laura Burges offers a kids version of "The Broken Teacup," a famous story about a young boy named Ikkyu and his Zen teacher. Following the story Burgess encourages young readers to participate in practices related to the story. She writes:

Have a Cup of Tea
Tea ceremony is a special practice to share with other people and to enjoy the making and drinking of tea. Invite a friend to have a cup of tea with you. Peppermint tea is very nice! You may need help from an adult to boil the water and pour it into the cups over the tea bags. A little honey is nice too. Sit quietly with your friend for a bit. Feel the warmth of the tea through the cup. Notice how the teacup looks and how the tea looks and smells. Blow on it a little bit before you take a sip and let the taste of tea fill up your mind and body. The tea you share with your friend becomes a part of both of you.

Have you ever heard the word Zen? It’s what happens when you sit quietly, noticing your breath and what it feels like to just be alive. Zen is a way of closely looking at our life and the world around us so that we can share love and compassion with everyone and everything! Read More

As described above, qualities that are central to Zen Buddhism, such as attention to details, respect, care, and tranquility of mind, come through in the various aspects of Japanese culture from tea ceremony and casual tea drinking, poetry, calligraphy, and home cooking. The above books are just a few examples of books on the subject of Japanese Buddhism and culture available at Shambhala Publications.

Recent Books of Japanese Zen