February is a transformative month. It begins with the lunar new year, followed by the loosening of Winter’s grip and shift into the earliest moments of Spring.
On the 14th, lovers everywhere celebrate their amorous bonds with Valentines Day. While on the 15th, Buddhists worldwide observe Parinirvana Day, marking the death of the historical Buddha and the dissolving of his karmic bonds as he achieved nirvana.
The two days’ juxtaposition offers an intriguing meditation, one that perhaps calls into question the nature of love and the process of self realization. Tea, in a sense, offers this same consideration.
On the morning that sits between both days, I opt to brew an elegant 紅茶 hóngchá (“red tea”) gifted to me by a friend using a traditional Chinese wedding tea set.
Made of eggshell-thin porcelain, and hand-painted in vibrant colors, the distinctively-shaped teapot and its paired two cups are covered in an array of auspicious symbols meant to ensure prosperity and the happiness of lovers.
Red bats surrounding a stylized character for longevity (壽 shòu) carry with them a hidden rebus, as the word for “bat” in Chinese (蝠 fú) is a homonym for “luck” (福 fú). With the four bats arranged around the stylized symbol 壽 shòu, the character becomes a fifth bat. This, in turn, contains yet another rebus, 五福 wǔfú, “Five Blessings”.
Used in conjunction with a traditional marriage ceremony, the tea objects and the symbols they contain, are meant as a silent, visual invocation to deepen the connection between two lovers.
Used in the context of today’s reflection on the meaning of parinirvana, it is a wish for all beings to become free from suffering.
With one motion, tea can bring us together, and, through another, it can dismantle the ego. As a subtle art and mindful practice, the action of making tea can become a means to relocate the self in action. Through the observance and appreciation of its taste, we can enjoy its refinement and humble nature. To take a moment for tea is to take a moment for one’s self. To offer tea to a friend or lover is to open one’s heart.
In a way, the offering of tea is a form of death. The moment comes and goes. What was initially there in the beginning has now changed. What was once a living plant has been dried, then rehydrated and brewed. Once fully steeped, a tea leaf is as empty of a body as we will ultimately become with our own inevitable death. What remains is just a memory, of the flavor of tea and of life, and hopefully of love.