When Buddhism was brought to China during the Han Dynasty (206 B. C. to 220 A. D.), it was to be an explanation of human life. Buddhism believes that the point of human life is to search for suffering, since it is considered an inevitable process. If a Buddhist can come to terms with that thought, then the suffering is really no longer suffering. Buddhists are not allowed to eat meat or fish; their diet merely consists of vegetables, rice and wheat products. Tea is allowed in their diet because technically tea is a vegetable. Tea is also beneficial to Buddhists while they meditate because the caffeine keeps them awake.
Looking at tea from a metaphorical standpoint, the Buddhists believe that the leaves’ bitter taste is symbolic of life’s suffering while the clear liquid is symbolic to the monastery rule of self-discipline and calm.
Some compare the importance of tea in Buddhism to the importance of wine in Catholicism. Both beverages became crucial in their rituals and the faithful also showed their devotion in the consumption of the beverage. Catholic monasteries became the epicenters for growing grapes and making wine while the Buddhist monasteries were for growing tea leaves and the ever growing sophistication of making tea. Even the creation of champagne by the monk Dom Perignon is synonymous to the monks’ creation of white tea, green tea and oolong tea.
To a Buddhist, tea is more than just a beverage for their physical bodies. Tea is also part of the ritual in meditation, to ready the spirit for its journey and its return. This aspect of Buddhism developed further, becoming its own spiritual practice, until it became its own Way (or Path) to Enlightenment. Lu Yu, the author of the first recorded book on tea, was the first secular priest on what is known as the Way of Tea.
Until I wrote this article, it never occurred to me how beverages could be such a crucial part of one’s religion. It makes sense and also makes me love the beverage even more. What you all think, dear readers?