Sen no Rikyu

In the 16th century, Sen Rikyu established the foundations of Chado as we know them today. Rikyu was a pupil of Takeno Jo-o and was born in Sakai in 1522. During the approximately 15 years, Rikyu received instruction as Jo-o's pupil and underwent Zen instruction at Shunoku-ji Temple, endeavoring to grasp the spirit of the way of tea. He also went on travels to various areas, was taught by the heads of pottery kilns, and refined his original ideas for new tea vessels.

In 1578, when he was 58 years old, Rikyu was summoned by Oda Nobunaga (Shogun) and was added to his following. After Nobunaga died in 1582, he was taken into the service of Nobunaga's successor, Hideyoshi, who intended to try to use the way of tea in the reconciliation between the warriors and townspeople, to soften the hearts of discontented ordinary people who had been downcast since the time of the warring countries, and the hearts of unrefined generals who had grown wild and dissolute.

On the 7th of October, 1585, Hideyoshi held his first tea party in the Imperial Palace, when a special seat was also assigned to Rikyu on whom the imperial title of Rikyu Koji—"Layman of Buddhism"—was specially conferred. The name comes from a Zen phrase and means "without esteem or riches."

As Rikyu advanced in years he carried out his way of tea with increasingly profound feelings of wabi. Hideyoshi in opposition to this separated from the wabi interpreted by Rikyu. For example, Rikyu was fascinated by the fisherman's creel employed in fishing on the Katsura river and used it as a flower container. He himself cut bamboo and made the tea scoops and flower containers he utilized in the ceremony. Hideyoshi, however built a tea room with walls of gold leaf and triumphantly had all the tea vessels made of gold. This was the essence of Hideyoshi's way of tea, whereas the essence of that employed by Rikyu's wabi tea was perhaps to be found in the objective of gaining popularity with ordinary citizens.

On the 25th of February, 1591, he ordered the death of Rikyu for treason. On the 28th of February, after leaving a farewell poem, Rikyu killed himself with his own sword and so ended a lifetime of seventy years. Rikyu's wabi had in the stillness concealed a new vitality. Such a philosophy of wabi was quite relevant to the people of the time who were rich in vitality.

Information from TEA CEREMONY by Kaisen Iguchi