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Pursuing peace through tea


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POSTED: Sunday, July 26, 2009

HERE is a lot of false claim to greatness. This quality requires more than talent, skill or commitment. To achieve greatness requires the vision of applying one's skill on a broad scale and the confidence to carry it out.

Last Sunday, Hawaii reaped the blessings of an individual whose work fits the bill to a tee. Genshitsu Sen, a grand master of “;chado,”; or the Japanese tea ceremony, has taken his country's cultural practice and applied it internationally for the cause of peace.

Sen, the 15th generation of the Urasenke lineage of chado masters, held a blessing ritual at the state Capitol to commemorate Hawaii's 50th anniversary of statehood and perpetuate his quest for “;peacefulness through a bowl of tea.”; He performed the “;okenchashiki,”; a tea ritual that has served as an offering to the gods and spirits for hundreds of years.

“;The ceremony was a symbolism for world peace,”; Sen later explained through a translator. “;It's ritualistic, like Mass for Catholics or Islamic practices. All religions have ritual prayers for peace. Green tea has them, too.”;

The green tea Sen refers to is matcha, a powdered tea that is blended with hot water in the practice of chado, often referred to as the Way of Tea. Chado's roots in Zen Buddhism infuses the practice with spiritual meaning.

Chado is concerned with four ideals: “;wa,”; meaning harmony between people, people and nature and the manner in which tea utensils are used; “;kei,”; respect based in gratitude for all things; “;sei,”; purity, which applies to both worldly and spiritual cleanliness; and “;jaku,”; tranquility, a state of spiritual peace.

The cultivation of these ideals in an individual comes through the practice and discipline of performing the tea ceremony.

“;In tea, the host who is making the tea makes it with his whole heart and soul,”; Sen explained. “;He fervently desires world peace; the practice is full of prayer. There is no prejudice in tea. There are no distinctions between foreigners or classes.”;

THE CEREMONY, held in the Senate chambers, came with much pomp and circumstance, thanks to the efforts of Hawaii's former first lady Jean Ariyoshi, Sen's friend and a student of chado.

Gov. Linda Lingle, former Govs. Ben Cayetano, John Waihee, George Ariyoshi and their wives were in attendance, as well as the mayors of all the counties and the consul general of Japan, Toshio Kunikata.

The U.S. Pacific Command Color Guard delivered a presentation of colors, Kaupena Wong offered a welcome chant and Keola Beamer collaborated with koto master Bernice Hirai for a beautiful musical piece that reflected flavors of Hawaii and Japan.

Speeches by Lingle, Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, Kunikata and Sen, plus remarks by emcee George Ariyoshi, took up most of the 90-minute affair. The tea ceremony was completed in about 15 minutes.

Those unaccustomed to stately affairs were fidgeting in their seats by the time Sen finally approached his tea bowl. But Jean Ariyoshi said the grand master's presence warranted all the fuss.

“;This was a very special tea ceremony, and we were very blessed to have Dr. Sen come and do it,”; she said. “;I thought this was an appropriate way to commemorate the 50th anniversary, and the setting turned out to be perfect. It wasn't too big. You could still capture that spiritual journey that was going on.”;

SEN, 86, has a long history with Hawaii that began in 1951 when he attended the University of Hawaii. The tea master developed such a love for the isles that he established the first international branch of the Urasenke Foundation here. Today, Urasenke has more than 80 branches worldwide, including in the United States, Mexico, Peru, Italy, Great Britain, France, Brazil and Australia.

Sen has become a globetrotter in his mission for peace. Much of his work involves performing the tea ceremony for dignitaries, but he also promotes chado academically. Through his influence, UH was the first university internationally to offer a credit course involving chado, and the grand master, who's earned two doctorates—from Nankai University in China in 1991 and Chung-Ang University in Korea last year—visits universities worldwide to lecture. He's also endowed chairs in Japanese studies at UH and Columbia University.

The grand master visits Hawaii several times annually, and his lectures and demonstrations are often open to the public. Because he's such a familiar presence, local folks might not realize how exalted a figure Sen is in Japan, said Wayne Muromoto, an art instructor at Leeward Community College who studied chado in Japan through an Urasenke program for foreign students.

“;In Japan a person can study chado for years and years and never even get to shake his hand,”; he said.

Muromoto added that Sen's son is married to a princess, an extended relation of the imperial family.

“;That's the circle he walks in.”;

Given Sen's stature, those who meet him are disarmed by his engaging personality.

“;He's such a warm, caring, open person, which is unexpected in a tea master, I would say. He adds a different dimension to it all through his personality,”; Jean Ariyoshi said. “;I think he loves Hawaii so much, and he's such a giving person, that it all comes out when he's in Hawaii.”;

Sen's affection for this state is rooted in his admiration of Hawaii's ability to “;coexist peacefully”; amid diversity. Our multicultural lifestyle embodies the goal of his peace mission.

“;I personally believe that if people can realize what Hawaii is capable of, many countries can be inspired to do the same,”; he said.

He also believes that through chado the best qualities of Japanese culture can assist with cultivating peace.

“;Japan is a small country, but people there are taught to respect others and to be kind. The art of tea is a way to learn these principles,”; Sen said. “;I get many requests to teach about tea in China, because (leaders) there have said the Chinese are losing some of their etiquette.

“;I've made more than 100 visits—it's a big country, you know. But now I go and notice that as they learn the Way of Tea, they're becoming more open and accepting.

“;Tea helps purify the heart,”; Sen continues. “;Usually when you give something, you expect something in return. But in the practice of the Way of Tea, you give and give with no attachments.

“;If the three major countries of the world—China, the United States and Russia—practiced tea, that would help the world to be a softer, sweeter place.”;