Closely intertwined with Zen Buddhism and mindfulness, Matcha green tea appeals to our ruminative nature in every way possible. It has long been regarded as a key element of the Way of the Tea which was all about rituals to emphasise mindfulness and spirituality. Zen monks typically drank Matcha before beginning their meditation sessions, tea ceremonies were held where Matcha was consumed and it was taken very seriously for its restorative properties and perceived qualities to promote clarity of the mind. It wasn’t just about drinking the tea, it was about slowing down and being in the moment. It was about appreciating life, its simple joys, its beauty and its impermanence.
If you’re familiar with the concept of the “Tree of Life”, then you’ll know that when broken down to its bare basics, the “Tree of Life” refers to anything that gives rise to life. Simple, right? Yet, the significance of it is much deeper and much more complex.
Look around at what’s happening in the world about preventative medicine. There’s a rapid growth of awareness about it. People are realising the fact that Mother Nature has a wealth of herbs and plants with amazing health benefits. And these are being used more and more widely to take care of our health before the time comes when we are forced to.
A tree’s roots help it survive, stay healthy and grow. Similarly, the physical body reflects the state of the spiritual body. Both of them need to be in perfect shape, so to speak, in order for us to survive and grow. The “soil” is our physical body which is directly affected by what we put in it. And what water is to a tree, superfoods are to our health.
Nature offers an abundance of superfoods that can heal and nourish the body. One such superfood is Matcha. Once it’s absorbed into the body, it builds a healthy “soil” which improves our physical as well as mental well-being.
What’s most fascinating here is that the health benefits found in a wide array of healing plants and herbs are found wrapped up in one single, small tea plant - Matcha.
To understand Matcha a little better, we need to take a step back and look at how it impacted life in 12th century Japan.
Followers of Zen Buddhism steered away from the traditional ways of making a living. They believed in attaining self-understanding through wisdom and were of the opinion that everyone can attain it through very simple, everyday activities. But those simple things must be done with great intensity, a lot of thought must go into them and one must make it the sole goal of their life to attain self-understanding. Only then can they achieve it.
Drinking tea was considered to be calming, spiritual, and a way to increase the awareness of the lifestyle known as wabi-sabi (simplicity and austerity). Drinking tea was also an attempt to appreciate the imperfect as a way to find Zen.
The philosophy of wabi-sabi expanded to all walks of life, including, but not limited to, art, architecture, and even interior design. In places tucked away deep in nature, small teahouses would be built for people to spend time contemplating the simple joys of life through activities like painting, arranging flowers and drinking tea.
As you can guess, everything was designed to inspire people to feel one with nature. The idea behind it was that by fully understanding the inevitability of impermanence and the sheer simplicity of the soul, one can rise to a higher state of consciousness.
Yin and Yang
In the Japanese Tea Ceremony, the water used in preparing Matcha, symbolises Yin and the fire which helps brew the tea represents Yang. Matcha is kept in a small ceramic container covered with a silken pouch. The ceremony host arranges the materials needed such as a bamboo whisk, a Chawan (tea bowl) and a Chashaku (scoop). In addition to these materials, a silk cloth is also used in the ceremony to purify the container that holds the Matcha - it is thought to represent the host’s spirit.
The way the host handles this piece of article signifies their mindfulness. Zen monks believed that the tea ceremony works on all five senses. It was designed to awaken the attendees, both physically as well as spiritually. And it was also meant to bring inner peace by aligning physical and mental well-being.
Smell, touch, taste, hearing and sight - the five senses were met with the aroma of the tea, the texture of the straw mat on the floor, and the feel of the the glazed ceramic tea bowl, the taste of the tea, the sound of the water boiling, and the beautiful images in the wall scrolls and flower arrangements.
With all the five senses awakened, the mind has ample food for thought whilst admiring the beauty of the venue and the calmness of the ceremony.
Simplicity and Purity
One of the greatest Zen monks, Sen No Riku, began a quest to study the ritual of tea drinking and its impact on the mind and body. He almost single-handedly designed the ritual of Chanoyu, or as we call it nowadays: the Japanese Tea Ceremony.
As with everything Zen, the Tea Ceremony too, has an inner meaning and an outer significance. The tea room itself, and the aged, weathered materials in and around it represent the outer significance, known as sabi, meaning material life. They remind us that - everything in life is temporary and will eventually perish.
The inner aspect of the ceremony emphasises on simplicity and purity, known as wabi.
Books on the subject always talk about the key aspects of the tea ceremony - harmony, tranquility, and respect. This state of harmony, tranquility, and respect can be attained even in this day and age. Take some time off your busy schedule, sit back, and enjoy a cup of Matcha green tea and you’ll see that it doesn’t just relax but also delights your body and mind.
Matcha uplifts the spirit and brings the mind and body into harmony, whilst nourishing your health. Japanese sages have known the wonderful health benefits of Matcha and its impact on mental well-being for centuries. The 12th century Japanese Buddhist monk Eisai had once said, “A medicine is for one disease only, but green tea is a kind of panacea that can prevent and treat all sorts of ailments.” He gave Matcha the moniker - “the Elixir of the Ancients”.
Matcha and You
Full disclosure, Matcha can take complete care of your body and mind. It is a good way to put your shields up against cancer and heart disease. It’ll lower your blood sugar, help you lose weight and even reduce your stress. Here’s a complete list of health benefits that Matcha has to offer.
Matcha could be fairly new to the Western World, but its age-old benefits are already making waves. Are you ready to make Matcha your way of life?