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Sen no Rikyu

Category: Poet

 

Sen no Rikyū (千利休?, 1522 – April 21, 1591), was a Zen buddhist, also known simply as Rikyū.

He is considered the historical figure with the most profound influence on chanoyu, the Japanese "Way of Tea", particularly the tradition of wabi-cha. He was also the first to emphasize several key aspects of the ceremony, including “rustic simplicity, directness of approach and honesty of self”.

Sen no Rikyū  was also a writer and poet, and referred to the equipment involved in the tea ceremony, saying "Though you wipe your hands and brush off the dust and dirt from the vessels, what is the use of all this fuss if the heart is still impure?"

He was also a practitioner of Ikebana (生け花?, "living flowers"), which symbolically is the art of flower manipulation on a larger scale, so not just one flower but multiple flowers all at once, which takes a lot of practise, but purely literally is the Japanese art of flower arrangement, known as kadō (華道?, the "way of flowers"). 

Complex flower arranging

It is extremely difficult to ascertain whether Sen no Rikyū was involved in the Japanese tea ceremony, or was simply interested in the literal Tea Ceremony as a means of progressing along the Zen path and thus using it in the form of a Ritual or ceremony.  It is impossible to determine which was the case as the wording used in all descriptions of his activities could easily be either – such is the nature of symbolism.

The Book of Tea - Kakuzo Okakura

All our great tea-masters were students of Zen and attempted to introduce the spirit of Zennism into the actualities of life. Thus the room, like the other equipments of the tea-ceremony, reflects many of the Zen doctrines. The size of the orthodox tea-room, which is four mats and a half, or ten feet square, is determined by a passage in the Sutra of Vikramadytia. In that interesting work, Vikramadytia welcomes the Saint Manjushiri and eighty-four thousand disciples of Buddha in a room of this size,--an allegory based on the theory of the non-existence of space to the truly enlightened.

 

Again the roji, the garden path which leads from the machiai to the tea-room, signified the first stage of meditation,--the passage into self-illumination. The roji was intended to break connection with the outside world, and produce a fresh sensation conducive to the full enjoyment of aestheticism in the tea-room itself. One who has trodden this garden path cannot fail to remember how his spirit, as he walked in the twilight of evergreens over the regular irregularities of the stepping stones, beneath which lay dried pine needles, and passed beside the moss-covered granite lanterns, became uplifted above ordinary thoughts. One may be in the midst of a city, and yet feel as if he were in the forest far away from the dust and din of civilisation. Great was the ingenuity displayed by the tea-masters in producing these effects of serenity and purity. The nature of the sensations to be aroused in passing through the roji differed with different tea-masters. Some, like Rikiu, aimed at utter loneliness, and claimed the secret of making a roji was contained in the ancient ditty:

"I look beyond;/Flowers are not,/Nor tinted leaves./On the sea beach/ A solitary cottage stands/In the waning light/Of an autumn eve."

 

The Book of Tea - Kakuzo Okakura
The host will not enter the room until all the guests have seated themselves and quiet reigns with nothing to break the silence save the note of the boiling water in the iron kettle. The kettle sings well, for pieces of iron are so arranged in the bottom as to produce a peculiar melody in which one may hear the echoes of a cataract muffled by clouds, of a distant sea breaking among the rocks, a rainstorm sweeping through a bamboo forest, or of the soughing of pines on some faraway hill.

 

Even in the daytime the light in the room is subdued, for the low eaves of the slanting roof admit but few of the sun's rays. Everything is sober in tint from the ceiling to the floor; the guests themselves have carefully chosen garments of unobtrusive colors. The mellowness of age is over all, everything suggestive of recent acquirement being tabooed save only the one note of contrast furnished by the bamboo dipper and the linen napkin, both immaculately white and new. However faded the tea-room and the tea-equipage may seem, everything is absolutely clean. Not a particle of dust will be found in the darkest corner, for if any exists the host is not a tea-master. One of the first requisites of a tea-master is the knowledge of how to sweep, clean, and wash, for there is an art in cleaning and dusting. A piece of antique metal work must not be attacked with the unscrupulous zeal of the Dutch housewife. Dripping water from a flower vase need not be wiped away, for it may be suggestive of dew and coolness.

Life

 

Sen no Rikyū married  Hōshin Myōju (died 1577) when he was around twenty-one.  Rikyū had ‘a number of children’, including a son known in history as Sen Dōan, and daughter known as Okame. This daughter became the bride of Rikyū's second wife's son by a previous marriage, known in history as Sen Shōan.

The Book of Tea - Kakuzo Okakura

there is a story of Rikyu which well illustrates the ideas of cleanliness entertained by the tea-masters. Rikyu was watching his son Shoan as he swept and watered the garden path. "Not clean enough," said Rikiu, when Shoan had finished his task, and bade him try again. After a weary hour the son turned to Rikiu: "Father, there is nothing more to be done. The steps have been washed for the third time, the stone lanterns and the trees are well sprinkled with water, moss and lichens are shining with a fresh verdure; not a twig, not a leaf have I left on the ground." "Young fool," chided the tea-master, "that is not the way a garden path should be swept." Saying this, Rikiu stepped into the garden, shook a tree and scattered over the garden gold and crimson leaves, scraps of the brocade of autumn! What Rikiu demanded was not cleanliness alone, but the beautiful and the natural also.

Apprenticeship and practise

 

As a young man, Rikyū studied tea under the townsman of Sakai named Kitamuki Dōchin (1504–62), and at the age of nineteen, through Dōchin's introduction, he began to study tea under Takeno Jōō, who is also associated with the development of the wabi aesthetic in tea ceremony. He is believed to have received the Buddhist name Sōeki (宗易?) from the Rinzai Zen priest Dairin Sōtō (1480–1568) of Nanshūji temple in Sakai.  Rikyū also underwent Zen training at Daitoku-ji temple in Kyoto. Not much is known about his middle years.

In 1579, at the age of 58, Rikyū became a tea master for Oda Nobunaga and, following Nobunaga's death in 1582, he was a tea master for Toyotomi Hideyoshi. His relationship with Hideyoshi quickly deepened, and he entered Hideyoshi's circle of confidants, effectively becoming the most influential figure in the world of chanoyu. In 1585, in order that he could help at a tea gathering that would be given by Hideyoshi for Emperor Ōgimachi and held at the Imperial Palace, the emperor bestowed upon him the Buddhist lay name and title "Rikyū Koji" (利休居士?). Another major chanoyu event of Hideyoshi's that Rikyū played a central role in was the Kitano Ōchanoyu, the grand tea gathering held by Hideyoshi at the Kitano Tenman-gū in 1587.

Two of his primary disciples were Nanbō Sōkei (南坊宗啓; dates unknown), a somewhat legendary Zen priest, and Yamanoue Sōji (1544–90), a townsman of Sakai. Nanbō is credited as the original author of the Nanpō roku (南方録), a record of Rikyū's teachings. Yamanoue's chronicle, the Yamanoue Sōji ki (山上宗二記), gives commentary about Rikyū's teachings and the state of chanoyu at the time of its writing.

Innovations

 

It was during his later years that Rikyū began to use very tiny, rustic tea rooms referred as sōan (lit., "grass hermitage"), such as the two-tatami mat tea room named Taian, which can be seen today at Myōkian temple in Yamazaki, a suburb of Kyoto, and which is credited to his design. This tea room has been designated as a National Treasure.

The Book of Tea - Kakuzo Okakura

The first independent tea-room was the creation of Senno-Soyeki, commonly known by his later name of Rikyu, the greatest of all tea-masters, who, in the sixteenth century, under the patronage of Taiko-Hideyoshi, instituted and brought to a high state of perfection the formalities of the Tea-ceremony. The proportions of the tea-room had been previously determined by Jowo--a famous tea-master of the fifteenth century. The early tea-room consisted merely of a portion of the ordinary drawing-room partitioned off by screens for the purpose of the tea-gathering. The portion partitioned off was called the Kakoi (enclosure), a name still applied to those tea-rooms which are built into a house and are not independent constructions. The Sukiya consists of the tea-room proper, designed to accomodate not more than five persons, a number suggestive of the saying "more than the Graces and less than the Muses," an anteroom (midsuya) where the tea utensils are washed and arranged before being brought in, a portico (machiai) in which the guests wait until they receive the summons to enter the tea-room, and a garden path (the roji) which connects the machiai with the tea-room.


He also developed many ‘implements’ for the tea ceremony, including ‘flower containers’, tea scoops, and lid rests made of bamboo, and “also used everyday objects for tea ceremony, often in novel ways”.

 

Raku teabowls were originated through his collaboration with a tile-maker named Raku Chōjirō. Rikyū had a preference for simple, rustic items made in Japan, rather than the expensive Chinese-made items that were fashionable at the time. Though not the inventor of the philosophy of wabi-sabi, which finds beauty in the very simple, Rikyū is among those most responsible for popularizing it, developing it, and incorporating it into tea ceremony. He created a new form of tea ceremony using very simple instruments and surroundings. This and his other beliefs and teachings came to be known as sōan-cha (the grass-thatched hermitage style of chanoyu), or more generally, wabi-cha. This "line" of chanoyu that his descendants and followers carried on was recognized as the Senke-ryū (千家流?, "school of the house of Sen").

Death

There is an official version of Rikyū’s death and an unofficial and more probable one.   Rikyū  had been one of Hideyoshi's closest confidants, and Hideyoshi ordered him to ‘die’.  As most western writers do not understand the concept of annihilation or the kundalini experience via the sword, swords in fact as both the long sword and the short sword are employed, there is the generally accepted view that he ‘committed ritual suicide’.

 

It is known that Rikyū committed seppuku at his residence within Hideyoshi's Jurakudai villa in Kyoto in 1591 on the 28th day of the 2nd month (of the traditional Japanese lunar calendar; or April 21 when calculated according to the modern Gregorian calendar), at the age of seventy.

According to Okakura Kakuzo in The Book of Tea, Rikyū's last act was to hold an ‘exquisite tea ceremony’. After serving all his guests, he presented each piece of the tea-equipage for their inspection, along with an exquisite kakemono, which Okakura described as "a wonderful writing by an ancient monk dealing with the evanescence of all things." A kakemono (掛物?, "hanging thing"), is literally a Japanese scroll painting.  It has other symbolic meanings.

Rikyū presented each of his guests with a piece of the ‘equipment’ as a souvenir, with the exception of the bowl, which he shattered, uttering "Never again shall this cup, polluted by the lips of misfortune, be used by man." As the guests departed, one remained to serve as witness to Rikyū's death. Rikyū's last words, which he wrote down as a death poem, were in verse, addressed to the dagger – the short sword - with which he took his own life:

Welcome to thee,
O sword of eternity!
Through Buddha
And through Daruma alike
Thou hast cleft thy way

or it could have been literal............

Legacy

 

Rather intriguingly there are three iemoto (sōke), or "head houses" of the Japanese Way of Tea, that are directly descended from Rikyū: the Omotesenke, Urasenke, and Mushakōjisenke, all three of which are dedicated to passing forward the teachings of their mutual family founder, Rikyū.  It is unknown which form of Tea ceremony they teach.

The Book of Tea - Kakuzo Okakura

Nothing is more hallowing than the union of kindred spirits in Art. At the moment of meeting, the art lover transcends himself. At once he is and is not. He catches a glimpse of Infinity, but words cannot voice his delight, for the eye has no tongue. Freed from the fetters of matter, his spirit moves in the rhythm of things. It is thus that Art becomes akin to religion and ennobles mankind. It is this which makes a masterpiece something sacred. In the old days the veneration in which the Japanese held the work of the great artist was intense. The tea-masters guarded their treasures with religious secrecy, and it was often necessary to open a whole series of boxes, one within another, before reaching the shrine itself--the silken wrapping within whose soft folds lay the holy of holies. Rarely was the object exposed to view, and then only to the initiated.

Observations

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