Posted in Kafevend Blog

Tea and the open door

This time last week we were exploring the role of tea in Korean culture and took a look at Darye, Korea's own tea ceremony. We discovered that one man in particular had done much to revive tea's waning popularity in the twentieth century. Today's blog, as promised, is a more in depth look at that man, Venerable Hyo-Dang.

Never too busy for tea

Hyo-Dang was born Choi Beom-Sul in 1904 just six years before Korea was annexed by Japan. At the age of twelve he became a Buddhist novice monk and by fifteen had also begun to take part in the Korean Independence Movement. That yearning for independence for his home country didn't stop him from taking up the opportunity to continue his Buddhist studies in Japan for several years, although he simultaneously remained a member of the Korean resistance movement. Hyo-Dang was appointed head of his monastery back in Korea at the comparatively youthful age of  twenty four; his life of meditation coupled with political activism continued in the following decades. A very busy man then and yet it seems he always found time for tea.

Tea for all

As a child Hyo-Dang had witnessed the pleasure his father gained from drinking tea and had watched local people harvesting and processing tea in the spring ready to be used during the year ahead, mainly as a medicinal drink to ward off colds. There was nothing remotely sophisticated about their use of tea and when he went to study in Japan he was struck by how formal tea drinking was there by comparison. He gravitated towards his own people's way of drinking tea and throughout his life was at pains to keep it both inclusive and simple. His vision for tea is expressed in the saying, 'Chado-mumun', which translates as 'the Way of Tea has no doors' or 'the Way of Tea leaves no doors shut'. He felt very strongly that the Korean Way of Tea should include everyone regardless of class and that everyone taking part is equal.

Hyo-Dang's other equally strong conviction regarding tea was its suitability as an aid to the practice of Zen Buddhism. In fact, he felt that the very act of preparing and drinking tea was a practice of Zen itself, which explains why he referred to Panyaro, the green tea that he made, as 'the Dew of Enlightening Wisdom'. In 1966 he received a request to put Korea's cultural tea practice into writing. Those first writings were extended over the next few years until, in 1973, he published a book entitled, 'Hangukui Chado' (The Korean Way of Tea). Along with his lectures, it went a long way to reviving interest in tea drinking in a nation that had struggled to keep up with its traditions in the face of war and conflict.

Since his death in 1979, Hyo-Dang's work has been continued by Chae Won-hwa, who spent ten years learning about the Way of Tea from him, including how to make Panyaro. She is now recognised a Great Tea Master in her own right and is the director of the Panyaro Institute for the Way of Tea.

The life of Hyo-Dang
The Korean Way of Tea

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