It was surreal. Hidden behind a tall wooden gate an old man with more wisdom that I had ever met in my entire life sat waiting for me to join him. I remembered well my initial visit to his place. A skeptic, out of breath, overweight and aging, perhaps I had been more of a dinosaur than a true human being.
It was a Sunday morning. Once more I stood, as I had many times before, in front of the entrance to what I now reverenced a holy place. The sense of tranquility that moved over me as I left my world behind in order to step into another left me wordless. How could I possibly describe the simple yet magical spirit of being here?
Instead of rushing in, I took time to gently remove my shoes. I watched with care as I placed my left foot in the pan of water, washed it, removed it to step onto the towel provided. I placed my right foot in, using the same thoughtful procedure, and experienced a sweet hint of floating up to higher plane, as if I were hovering above the moment.
The water felt warm to my feet, which was something new. Considering that the outside temperature was around fifty degrees, I sensed that the monk had poured warm water into the pan. How very considerate of him. I waited before entering the gate. I closed my eyes and moved into meditation, inhaling and exhaling with all my senses alert to my surroundings. A huge welcoming sensation greeted me as I walked into the garden with delicate steps. A veil of fog from the chilly, early morning hovered over the incense-scented meditation sitting area.
The monk sat in his usual place, looking peaceful and calm, beyond traditional, with pu-erh as his tea choice. I sat on my mat directly across from him. No words were exchanged. He did nothing to acknowledge my presence. If that had happened a few weeks prior I might have searched for an answer to see if there was cause for concern. On that day, though, I had found a very favorable place to be in body, mind, and spirit.
After moments of deepening meditation, I heard the master say in his ever-loving soft voice, “When one is in a state of peace, so is the tea.”
I opened one eye to see him remove a round section of the wooden deck in front of us. It surprised me to see a bed of coals nicely arranged in a perfect circle, layer upon layer. The monk reached for a box of matches, struck one and lit the coals. He then reached to his side and picked up a rack and placed it over the burning pile. Because I had never seen him do this before, I opened both eyes to watch. After some time passed, when the coals glowed red hot, the monk placed a kettle of water on the rack.
I waited in silence, observing every move. He sat back with his eyes closed. Curious, I asked, “Master, why have we never prepared the tea in this way?”
He smiled and said, “The mind was too busy. Best tea is saved for person when not so rushed.”
Not wanting to appear too aggressive or in a hurry, I waited until I could not bear to wait a moment longer. How am I to know more unless I asked?
“Master, how do you know when the water is hot enough?”
Without opening his eyes, he said, “By the sound it makes.”
Waiting longer I finally heard the bubbles in the water begin to roll over from the heat of the fire. Surely it was now time to remove the water kettle from the rack and make the tea, but the monk did not move. “Okay,” I asked, “what is the right sound of the water when it is done?”
He smiled again and said, “When there is no sound.”