Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Imprint of Lamed: Learning = Teaching

According to one of my teachers, Gilla Nissan, the Hebrew letter lamed ל

has kabbalistic meaning of both teaching and learning, education. The form of the lamed represents the aspiration of the truly devoted pupil to learn from the mouth of the teacher. In the “Letters of Rabbi Akiva,” the full spelling of the letter's name, i.e. lamed (lamed-mem-dalet) is read as short for the phrase: “a heart that understands knowledge” (lev meivin da’at). Thus, it is often heard that a student of Jewish knowledge will say that she "learns" with a particular teacher, rather than as we might say in English, we learn from that teacher, implying that the teacher and the knowledge are separate; one takes away knowledge. In these situations, teacher and student are engaged in the exchange, rather than a more dualistic, disconnected give and take. 

I was thinking about this letter when reflecting on my experiences in the classes known  as oku-no-okeiko, advanced lessons that focus on the temae of the daisu. These procedures are not (supposedly) recorded in a book; one must learn directly in the presence of a teacher. Not every teacher feels comfortable (or is granted license) to teach this "level" (above shikaden), so when available, they are usually held on the fourth week of the month. We must wear kimono and be prepared to spend a long time in seiza position. 

These daisudemae procedures for koicha are to the previous series of classes what a symphony is to a student etude, as they incorporate pieces of many of the other procedures linked together with a refined extended elegance that is hard to describe. These are said to be the original procedures that were abbreviated / disassembled into parts that were taught separately as temae in themselves. 

It takes many years before a student is introduced to the daisudemae, and these procedures are practiced with a teacher at most 12 times during the full year, with the modifications to the ro/furo as is normal per the appropriate season. Thus, it takes a long time to actually inculcate the procedures, even using well-practiced steps.

Out of respect for the effort that my sensei had invested in explaining to me about the procedures, I remember being quite nervous before my oku classes because I didn't remember the variations and connections between the various aspects of a daisudemae. So I relied on her guidance once again to take me through the steps.

LIkewise, I was charged with hosting a chashitsu biraki, opening of my tea room and celebrating my having been granted chamei, professional name. I had never hosted a chakai, much less a chaji, so I had many, many questions for my teacher about how to create such an even worthy of the senior students and other teachers who would be the guests in my home. 

In both these cases, I felt that I was never alone in my learning, and even when sensei said nothing during my temae I knew that we were doing it together then, and will forever, together. 

The Epic of Tea Tea Ceremony as the Mythological Journey of the Hero

"The Epic of Tea: Tea Ceremony as the Mythological Journey of the Hero" is one of the most important articles about chanoyu in English language. It was written by the late Daniel Kane, an Urasenke practitioner in Santa Fe and ran in the first issue of Kyoto Journal.
It review some of the Taoist inspired aspects of space, time and utensils, including yin-yang, 5 elements, furo mandala, etc.