Two Korean Tea Classics Compared: Yi Mok’s ChaBu and Cho-ui’s DongChaSong
By Brother Anthony of Taize (An Sonjae)
Published in: Comparative Korean Studies Vol. 18 No. 1 (2010) Pages 7-34
1. Introduction: Situating the Comparisons
2. Comparing the Periods
3. The life of Yi Mok
4. The life of Cho‐ui
5. Yi Mok’s ChaBu and its Sources
6. Cho‐ui’s DongChaSong and its Sources in Comparison
1. Introduction: Situating the Comparisons
In the present study, relationships are traced and comparisons of
similarities and differences are made between two texts which arose in
the same geographic area and historical period, namely Joseon-era Korea
(1392 – 1910), texts located within the same general category, namely
classical-Chinese texts on the subject of tea. The texts in question
are Yi Mok’s ChaBu and Cho-ui’s DongChaSong (the
Korean-Chinese character for ‘tea’ is often romanized as ‘da’ but ‘cha’
is the preferred form among Korean tea practitioners). They are
separated by nearly four hundred years. Their authors’ biographies are
very different, the first having been a scholar engaged in the
administrative and political structures of the state, the second a
Buddhist monk with no record of formal studies in the Chinese classics.
The two texts share a familiarity with certain early Chinese writings
devoted to tea, and their treatment of this common source offers a
particularly focussed basis for comparisons.
From early times, Chinese culture
has valued the written text highly as a means of memorializing the
ordinary events of daily life as well as the great moments of history.
It is possible to find works written in classical Chinese about topics
that have never inspired the same level of interest among writers in
Europe, for example. In China, as in the neighboring countries
influenced by Chinese culture, we can find a number of encyclopedic as
well as innumerable poetic writings devoted to tea. The practice of tea
drinking has long since spread from China across the world, but we look
in vain in European or Western culture for any equivalent to this “tea
literature.” Poetry-writing in itself long played a role in
aristocratic, scholarly Chinese culture that is unparalleled in the
West. Educated people would send one another gifts of tea accompanied
by specially composed poems, and celebrate an afternoon spent drinking
tea together by, again, specially composed poems. The same traditions
accompanied the enjoyment of wine.
Still today, people living in
East Asia who cultivate the Way of Tea will usually also be familiar
with a number of essential tea classics, and tend to locate their
practice of tea by reference to these, rather than by a more
spontaneous esthetic or social framework. Since the revival of tea in
Korea after 1945 by such pioneers as the Venerable Hyodang Choi
Beom-sul (1904-1979), author of the pioneering Hangugui ChaDo, it has
been customary for Koreans to cultivate the Way of Tea by studying
ancient texts, while learning a modernized practice of tea-brewing and,
increasingly, developing an interest in the actual preparation of tea
by various methods of drying. The most important texts currently
studied in Korean tea circles are the ChaJing 茶經 Classic of Tea, by Lu
Yü 陸羽 (733-804) composed in China during the Tang dynasty, the
ChaBu 茶賦 Rhapsody to Tea by the Korean Hanjae Yi Mok 寒齋 李穆 (1471-1498),
the ChaSinJeon 茶神傳 A Chronicle of the Spirit of Tea, a Chinese
Ming-dynasty text transcribed by the Venerable Cho-ui 艸衣 (1786-1866),
and the DongChaSong 東茶頌 Hymn in Praise of Korean Tea, an original
poetic composition by the same Cho-ui.
The lack of interest in such
texts in the West is so complete that still now the only English
translation of the Chinese Classic of Tea available is a very defective
one first published in the 1970s. No translation of Yi Mok’s text has
ever been published. The English versions of Cho-ui’s text recently
published are far from satisfactory as English and lack detailed
annotations. At a time when there is all over the world an increasing
interest in tea as something far more than a mere means of quenching
thirst and staying awake, when many tea-drinkers in the West are
turning away from the traditional black teas to various green teas in
the name of “well-being,” and cultivating more‘oriental’ways of serving
tea, too, a few now feel a desire to read what has been written about
tea in the lands where it was first discovered and developed.
Currently, the main concern in the West is still to establish a precise
chronological narrative for the spread of tea-drinking across and
beyond the Chinese-character cultural region.
In Korea, where tea has long been
drunk, most people today know more about varieties of coffee than about
the Korean tradition of tea. The same loss of interest in traditional
Korean culture can be found in all areas, music and the arts,
certainly, but above all in the inability of younger generations to
read the treasures of literature and thought composed in past centuries
by their ancestors in Classical Chinese. It is only a very small
minority in today’s Korea who make the effort required to be able to
understand the Chinese classics, and the use of simplified characters
in China has rendered them inaccessible to ordinary readers even there.
Since the author of this paper has just published an English
translation of the three Korean tea texts listed above, this may be a
good moment to write something about two of them and the differences
between the approaches to tea found in their works.
2. Comparing the Periods
The first point of comparison that has to be made is that the two
writers Yi Mok and Cho-ui lived in very different moments of the same
Joseon Era. With the passage of time and the loss of so many earlier
records, it is difficult to obtain vivid, detailed information about Yi
Mok, who was born in 1471, less than a hundred years after the
foundation of the Joseon dynasty in 1392. His early execution was
caused by the shadows cast by the brutal changes of those years, when
many still harbored a nostalgia for the previous Goryeo dynasty and the
new regime felt threatened by that. We have the long celebration of tea
that he wrote, and other writings, but we know virtually nothing about
the sources he used or his reasons for writing a text that has no
parallel, in Korea or in China.
Cho-ui was born in 1786, very
soon after the first Korean Catholic believers had been baptized in
1784. They were scholars who had learned about Catholicism from books
written in Chinese by such remarkable figures as Matteo Ricci. Those
same books had opened the eyes of a wider community of Korean scholars
to the new possibilities available through other aspects of Western
learning, such as geography, mechanics, astronomy, and the resulting
reform movement was soon to provoke political repression just as
Catholicism, by its rejection of traditional ancestral rites, provoked
The meeting with the exiled
scholar Dasan Jeong Yak-Yong 茶山 丁若鏞 (1763–1836) brought the young
Cho-ui into direct contact with a man who had been deeply marked by
both sides of that equation, scientific and religious. Dasan, together
with his older brother Augustine Jeong Yak-Jong (1760–1801), were among
the early converts to Catholicism but by the time of the first
persecutions in 1801, Dasan seems to have already distanced himself
from the new faith. His brother was martyred, and later his brother’s
son, St. Paul Jeong Hasang (1794/5–1839), followed his father into
martyrdom. Scholars still debate Dasan’s attitude toward Catholicism,
but his mastery of the new engineering technology is well documented.
He supervised the construction of Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon in the
early 1790s. Between the time when Cho-ui lived and today, Korea has
known enormous changes but some of the buildings that Cho-ui saw are
still standing, one or two temples halls still contain paintings made
by him, and the direct descendants of people he knew still boast of
their ancestors’ achievements. In some senses, he can be considered a
pioneer of modern approaches and his close relationships with
aristocratic scholars who would normally have been expected to despise
him as a Buddhist monk suggest the beginnings of a new openness within
late Joseon society.
3. The life of Yi Mok
Hanjae Yi Mok 寒齋 李穆 (1471-1498) was born in the seventh month in the
second year of the reign of King Seongjong 成宗 (r 1469-1495) in
Gageum-ri, in what is now Haseong-myeon, Gimpo city in Gyeonggi
Province, the second son of Yi Yun-Saeng 李閏生 (dates unknown) who had
the title of Chamui 参議, Third Minister. His clan was the Jeonju Yi
clan. In a poem to a younger brother, Mi-Ji 微之 (dates unknown), he
Our Yi clan has long been a studious one
loving books, not wealth.
Our elderly parents are already white-haired
while you and I are still active gentlemen.
The crane dreams of a pine on a cliff
and the steam from tea fills the moonlit valley.
While you tirelessly advance in quest of truth,
do not look up at the clouds on the mountain peaks.
He began schooling in his eighth year, and in his fourteenth year
became the pupil of the scholar Jeompiljae Kim Jong-Jik 佔畢齋 金宗直
(1431-1492). It seems that his teacher was a tea lover who communicated
his enthusiasm to his pupils. In 1489, he passed the First State
Examination (Chinsa-kwa 進士科) and entered the Confucian Academy
(Seonggyun’gwan 成均館). At that time, the scholar Sayun Kim Su-Son 士允 金首孫
was teaching there and, recognizing his qualities, arranged for him to
marry one of his daughters. While he was studying, the king fell sick
and his mother, the queen-mother, ordered a shaman to pray for his
recovery. As Confucians, the students disapproved strongly; they went
and drove the shaman away with clubs. The king, furious, ordered a list
of the students to be made and all but Yi Mok ran away; impressed by
his sincerity, the king is said to have praised him and sent a gift of
wine. However, Yi Mok was later sent in exile to Gongju for a time,
returning to Seoul in his 21st year.
In his 25th year he went to study
in Beijing for a short period. While he was in China he may well have
been in contact with scholars who introduced him directly to the Ming
dynasty practices of tea and to the main Chinese texts about tea, which
clearly influenced his writing. There is no indication as to when or
why he composed the ChaBu, which is unlike any other text
devoted to the Way of Tea found in Korea or China, although the
influence of the Classic of Tea and other Chinese tea texts is evident
in it. On returning from China, he took the Daegwa 大科 Higher State
Examination in 1495 and was awarded the highest place. In his 26th year
he was appointed to a junior administrative position over the military
in what is now South Hamgyeong Province (North Korea) but in the
following year he was given leave and continued his studies in private;
in this year his son Yi Se-Jang 李世璋 (1497-1562 ) was born.
In 1494, the ill-fated Prince
Yeonsan 燕山君 (r. 1494-1506) came to the throne. 1498 saw the Muo Sahwa
戊午士禍, one of twelve violent “literati purges” caused by power struggles
between different factions within the ruling class. In the Muo purge,
the deceased Kim Jong-Jik was Yeonsan’s prime target, because Kim had
written a veiled attack on the prince’s great-grandfather, King Sejo 世祖
(r 1455-1468), who instituted the purges of 1453-1455. The body of Kim
was exhumed and decapitated and on the 26th day of the 7th month in
1498 Hanjae Yi Mok, one of his most cherished pupils, was executed. He
is reported to have behaved with great courage, writing a final poem,
then calmly going out to execution as if nothing special were happening
Song at the end of my life
To that place where black crows gather
no white seagull should go.
Those crows in anger
will be jealous of its whiteness
and that body washed clean in pure river water
will be fouled, I fear, by impure blood.
Closing the book and opening the window
I saw a white gull playing on the pure river.
I thoughtlessly spat,
leaving a mark on the back on the white gull.
White seagull, do not be angry.
I spat because those worldly people are so foul.
In 1504, after Prince Yeonsan learned that his mother had been executed
by being forced to drink poison in 1482, he went berserk and ordered
the Gapcha Sahwa 甲子士禍 purge, in which officials of both rival groups
were executed. A second condemnation was delivered against the deceased
Yi Mok and his bones were dug up, his grave demolished. Later in the
year, Yeonsan was deposed, sent into exile and died. After a change in
factional power in 1552, Yi Mok’s reputation was restored. In 1717-22
various posthumous titles and honors were bestowed on him, including
the title Ijopanseo 吏曹判事 (Minister of Personnel). In 1726, under King
Yeongjo 英祖 (r 1724-1776), permission was given for him to be honored in
a special shrine as well as in a Confucian academy in Gongju and
another shrine in Jeonju. His cenotaph-grave with its memorial shrine
in Gimpo is still the site of regular ceremonies by his descendants.
Recently a grove of tea bushes has been planted there, from which tea
is made for offerings in his shrine.
The writings left by Yi Mok were
first collected by his son Yi Se-Jang and printed in the Yipyeong-sajip
李評事集 A Collection of Commentaries by Yi Mok in 1631 by his grandson Yi
Cheol 李鐵 (1540-1604). In modern times, an edition was published by his
descendants in 1914 and this was republished in 1981. The most recent,
very fully annotated edition and Korean-language translation of the ChaBu is that by Yi Byeong-In and Yi Yeong-Gyeong (Seoul: Cha wa saram, 2007).
4. The life of Cho-ui
Unlike Yi Mok, there is no indication that Cho-ui’s family had
aristocratic (yangban) status. The Venerable Cho-ui 艸衣 (1786-1866) was
born on the 5th day of the 4th lunar month, 1786, in Singi Village,
Samhyang District, Muan County (新基里 三鄕面 務安郡) in what is now known as
South Jeolla Province. His family name was Jang 張, his original name
was Ui-sun 意恂. In his 16th year he first became a monk at Unheung-sa
temple (雲興寺) on the slopes of Deokyong-san in Dado District, Naju
County, South Jeolla Province, under the guidance of the Venerable
Byeokbong Minseong 碧峰 敏性. In his 19th year, after an enlightenment
experience on Wolchul-san in Yeong’am, he received ordination from the
Seon (Zen) master Wanho Yunu 玩虎 倫佑 at the temple of Daedun-sa 大芚寺 (now
known as Daeheung-sa 大興寺), receiving the name Cho-ui. In addition to
scholarly learning, Cho-ui was a skilled painter in both scholarly and
Buddhist styles, and a noted performer of Beompae 梵貝 Buddhist ritual
song and dance.
In 1806 he first met Dasan, who
was living in political exile in his mother’s native country of
Gangjin, only seven or eight miles away from Daedun-sa, and Dasan’s tea
master, the Venerable A’am Hyejang 兒庵 惠藏, the head monk of the nearby
Baegnyeon Temple 白蓮寺. In 1809, he is reported to have spent several
months in Gangjin, learning the YiJing 易經 Book of Changes and classical
Chinese poetry from Dasan, who seems to have learned more about tea
from him in return. This was probably the starting-point for Cho-ui’s
knowledge of the Confucian classics. The two men became very close,
despite Dasan being socially superior and a Confucian scholar who had
been deeply influenced by the Seohak 西學 Western Learning that included
Catholicism. Usually such men had little or no sympathy with Buddhism.
It is a testament to Cho-ui’s human and scholarly qualities that he won
the admiration of Jeong Yak-Yong and other literati.
In 1815, Cho-ui first visited
Seoul and established strong relationships with a number of highly
educated scholar-officials, several of whom had been to China, who
became his friends and followers. These included the son-in-law of King
Jeongjo 正祖 (r 1776-1800), Haegeo Doin Hong Hyeon-Ju 海居 道人 洪顯周
(1793-1865) and his brother Yeoncheon Hong Seok-Ju 淵泉 洪奭周 (1774-1842),
the son of Dasan, Unpo Jeong Hak-Yu 耘逋 丁學游 (1786-1855), as well as the
famous calligrapher Chusa Kim Jeong-Hui 秋史 金正喜 (1786-1856) with his
brothers Sanchon Kim Myeong-Hui 山泉 金命喜 (1788-1857) and Geummi Kim
Sang-Hui 琴糜 金相喜 (1794-1861). It was most unusual for a Buddhist monk,
who as such was assigned the lowest rank in society, together with
mudang 巫堂 shamans and kisaengs 妓生 courtesans, to be recognized as a
poet and thinker in this way by members of the Confucian establishment.
As a monk, Cho-ui was not allowed to enter the city walls of Seoul and
had to receive visits from these scholars while living in Cheongnyang
temple 淸涼寺 outside the capital’s eastern gate or in a hermitage in the
hills to the north.
Once he was in his forties, he
withdrew to the mountain above Daedun-sa, in the far south-west region
of Korea, built a hermitage known as Ilchi-am 一枝庵 in 1824, and lived
there alone for the next forty years, practicing meditation in a manner
he developed and wrote about, provoking a methodological dispute that
lasted long after his death. In 1828, during a visit to Chilbul
hermitage 七佛庵 in Jiri Mountain, Cho-ui transcribed a Ming Chinese text
on tea. Two years later on his return to Ilchi-am, he made clean copies
of that text, producing the ChaSinJeon 茶神傳 Chronicle of the
Spirit of Tea destined to serve as a simple guide to the basic
principles involved in making and drinking tea.
In 1831 he once again visited his
friends in Seoul, reading and writing poems with them. In the same
year, he published a now lost collection of his own poems with prefaces
and postscripts by four leading scholar-administrators in which they
show their personal interest in Seon 禪 Zen practice and the drinking of
tea. He then returned to his hermitage, where he wrote and painted. In
1837 he composed the DongChaSong 東茶頌 Hymn in Praise of Korean
Tea, at the request of Hong Hyeon-Ju. In 1838 we find him climbing to
the topmost peak of the Diamond Mountains, Biro Peak, before visiting
the hills around Seoul. In his fifty-fifth year, he received the title
Daegakdeunggyebojejonja Cho-ui DaeJongSa 大覺登階普濟尊者 草衣 大宗師 the Great Monk
Cho-ui, Master of Supreme Enlightenment, from King Heonjong 憲宗 (r 1834
- 1849). In his 58th year he visited his childhood home and saw his
parents’ graves covered with weeds, an evocative event he marked in a
From 1840 until 1848, Chusa Kim
Jeong-Hui was exiled to the southern island of Cheju and during those
years, Cho-ui visited him no less than five times, once staying for six
months, teaching him about tea and Buddhism. When Chusa was freed, he
visited Cho-ui at Ilchi-am as soon as he arrived on the mainland on his
way back to Seoul. Kim Jeong-Hui died in the 10th month of 1856, and a
little later, Cho-ui, already 71, visited his friend’s grave near Asan,
to the south-west of Seoul.
Cho-ui remained vigorous and
healthy to the end, all the time practicing Seon meditation. Early in
the morning of the second day of the seventh month of 1866 he called
his attendant to help him get up, sat in the lotus position and entered
A number of paintings by Cho-ui
have been preserved. The text of the ChaSinJeon has come down in three
ancient copies, none of them in the handwriting of the author. One of
these copies is preserved in the Amore Museum in Yongin, Gyeonggi
Province. The text of the DongChaSong was originally distributed in six
copies. Those belonging to the author and Hong Hyeon-Ju are lost, one
is preserved in the Amore Museum, the others or copies derived from
them are in private collections.
5. Yi Mok’s ChaBu and its Sources
The contents of Yi Mok’s ChaBu can be divided into eight
sections: 1) Preface, 2) the names for tea, 3) tea-growing regions, 4)
Tea-Forest Landscapes, 5) Seven Bowls of Tea, 6) the five merits of
tea, 7) the six virtues of tea, 8) Epilogue. It is a strange mixture of
contents and styles, and one might wonder if the text is in its final
form. Perhaps, if he had lived, Yi Mok might have continued to develop
it. The first thing that strikes the reader is the complete lack of any
direct quotation from the Classic of Tea by Lu Yü, although the
opening lines clearly state that it was the Classic that first opened
Yi Mok’s eyes to the value of tea: “I was not familiar with tea, but
after reading Lu Yü’s Classic of Tea I discovered something of its
true nature and came to value tea immensely”(ChaBu page 1). Parts of
the text are ‘encyclopedic,’ the second and third sections being simply
uncommented lists of names, of various kinds of (mostly caked) Chinese
teas, and of the regions in China producing tea. There is not a single
reference in the ChaBu to Korea. The sections about the five
merits and the six virtues of tea are also in a sense ‘encyclopedic,’
in that they are lists, but they are made complex by their stream of
references to characters and events from the Chinese classics,
references which are mostly limited to the names of persons, the reader
being expected to be familiar with the stories evoked.
The four sections titled Preface, Tea-Forest Landscapes, Seven Bowls of
Tea, and Epilogue are essentially lyric in tone. There are no detailed
descriptions of the ways in which the different kinds of tea are dried,
and only the briefest indication, at the start of Seven Bowls of Tea,
of how tea is brewed. That is presumably because Yi Mok did not wish to
repeat what had already been fully expressed by Lu Yü. The
lyricism of the Tea-Forest Landscape section is remarkable, coming
immediately after the arid enumeration of the lists of tea-names and
place-names. Here for the first time we realize how intensely Yi Mok
has absorbed the Taoist vision of nature that gave birth to Chinese and
Korean landscape painting:
Only yonder beautiful tea tree, ahead of
all the rest, advances toward early spring, monopolizing the heavens.
Russet, light green, dark green, yellow, early, late, short, long,
issuing from the roots, rising through branches, sending out leaves,
offering shade, spitting out shoots of pure gold, lushly jade-green,
forming forests luxuriantly dense, sensuously beautiful, wonderful and
stately, like clouds rising and mists thickening, truly the most
glorious sight under Heaven! I pick and pluck the tender
buds. Buds plucked and gathered and loaded on my back, I return
to the valley, playing my flute. (ChaBu Section 4)
The most interesting echo of an earlier poetic celebration of tea is found in the Seven Bowls of Tea section:
On drinking the first cup, the withered entrails are washed clean.
On drinking the second cup, the lively soul desires to be immortal
On drinking the third cup, the sick body awakes,
headaches vanish, and the mind is in accord with the ideals and
moderation of the lofty Old Man of Lu (Confucius) and the great Old Man
of Zou (Mencius).
On drinking the fourth cup, cares and rancor
vanish, a vigor ensues like that of Confucius climbing Taishan and
declaring that the world is small. It is unlikely that such a gift as
this is so easily acquired.
On drinking the fifth cup, lust suddenly
disappears; like listening to a corpse, it is blind and deaf. The
release is like being dressed in a coat of clouds and feathered robes,
and urging on the flight of the white Luan to the Moon.
On drinking the sixth cup, sun and moon seem to
have entered one’s heart, all that exists is here on this bamboo mat,
the wonder of it is like following ahead of the sages of old Chaofu and
Xu You, walking behind Boyi and Shuqi, rising into the Mysterious Void
and bowing before the Celestial Emperor.
On drinking less than half of the seventh cup,
emotions swell on a fragrant, pure wind, wafting towards the Gates of
Heaven very near the majestic forests on the borders of Penglai. (ChaBu Section 5)
This celebration of the seven bowls is clearly inspired by famous lines
from a letter-poem that a Chinese Taoist recluse and tea-lover, Lu Tong
陸仝 (775-835), wrote to Meng Jian 孟簡 (?-824), the Grand Master of
Remonstrance, an imperial advisor whose duty was to correct and
admonish the emperor on policy and matters of state, thanking him for a
large package of exceptionally rare Yang-hsien tea, normally reserved
for the Emperor in person. The original title was 走筆謝孟諫議寄新茶 (Writing
Thanks to Imperial Grand Master of Remonstrance Meng for Sending New
Tea) but it is usually simply called the “Song of Tea.” The most
famous, central portion, which is often quoted in isolation, lists the
effect of successive cups of this very rare tea:
The first bowl moistens my lips and throat.
The second bowl banishes my loneliness and melancholy.
The third bowl penetrates my withered entrails,
finding nothing except a literary core of five thousand scrolls.
The fourth bowl raises a light perspiration,
casting life’s inequities out through my pores.
The fifth bowl purifies my flesh and bones.
The sixth bowl makes me one with the immortal, feathered spirits.
The seventh bowl I need not drink,
feeling only a pure wind rushing beneath my wings.
Where are the immortal isles of Mount Penglai?
(Song of Tea lines 21-31)
Lu Tong and Meng Jian were only a few decades younger than the author
of the Tea Classic, Lu Yü, whose great work was published when Lu
Tong was five years old, in 780. The most important link between the
two Chinese tea masters and the Korean Yi Mok is their knowledge of
esoteric Taoism, most clearly expressed by the way both Lu Tong’s lines
and Yi Mok’s end with a mention of Mount Penglai, the island home of
the (Taoist) immortals. The quest of Taoist hermits such as Lu Tong was
to attain such a perfect harmony with nature through elixirs and
meditation that the result would be immortality. Lu Tong and Yi Mok
both make it clear in their songs that by the seventh cup they feel
they are on the verge of fulfilling that quest, thanks to tea. Steven
D. Owyoung has explained that, although normally tea is expected to
yield only three cups or brews before its qualities are exhausted, the
figure three was far more symbolic than that:
Three was the perfect number in tea and
Taoism. As a prime, three was especially potent in the Taoist naming of
fundamental things: Three Primordials, Three Primary Vitalities, Three
Powers, Kinship of Three, and so on. Lu Yü favored the number in
the Ch’a-ching by using three as a mystical constant. For instance, the
bronze brazier he used as a tea stove was a tripod with three legs,
three vents, three inscriptions, three trigrams, three elements, and
three cardinal animals. By using the number three, Lu Yü adhered
to Taoist practice and faith in numerological power. (ChaDao blog)
Lu Tong’s poem, by listing up to seven bowls prepared from a single
portion of tea (the number is followed by Yi Mok’s), stresses the
extraordinary quality of the imperial tea he has received by showing
how its magical powers continued to purify him as he drank on and on,
up to an unimaginable seventh cup, by which time he did not even have
to drink, so spiritual he had become. It should be noticed that Yi Mok
explicitly places the great Confucian figures Confucius and Mencius
rather low down on his scale, with their state of moral and mental
perfection being equaled at the third cup and the highest mystical
insight of Confucius at the fourth cup. Equally interesting is the way
in which Yi Mok imitates the older poem by introducing the seven cups
by a brief description of tea-brewing:
Bring out a jade bowl and wash it
yourself, boil water from a rocky spring, then observe how the pale
steam brims at the lip of the bowl like summer clouds issuing from
mountain streams and peaks, and white billowing waves form as if
dashing down a swollen river in spring. The sound of water boiling
blows, whistling like a frosty wind through bamboos and pines, while
the fragrance of the brewed tea drifts like a ship of war, flying
towards the Red Cliff. (ChaBu Section 5)
This seems clearly to echo the prescriptions for tea-brewing found in
the Tea Classic, and is paralleled by Lu Tong’s shorter but similar
description of the perfect cup of tea:
The brushwood gate is closed against
vulgar visitors; all alone, I don my gauze cap, brewing and tasting the
tea. Clouds of green yielding; unceasingly, the wind blows; radiantly
white, floating tea froth congeals against the bowl. (The Song of Tea
lines 17 – 20)
Both texts recall the stress also found in the Tea Classic on
the beauty of the contrast between the green of the liquid and the
white foam floating on it. The Taoism of Yi Mok is equally clear in the
evocations of the five “merits” and six “virtues” of tea that follow
this section, again using Taoist criteria of medical efficacity
connected with the various elixirs thought to produce immortality. The
five merits are connected with the physical, curative properties of tea
for people who study too hard (their teeth fall out), who are
imprisoned for political reasons, who meet for diplomatic negotiations,
for hermits striving to control their passions, and for courtiers with
hang-overs after too much wine. The six virtues of tea are higher,
By allowing people to enjoy long lives,
it has the virtue of longevity of the Emperors Yao and Shun; by curing
diseases, it has the virtue of benevolence of the doctors Yu Fu and
Bian Que; by easing people’s minds, it has the noble integrity of Bo Yi
and Yang Zhen; by making people’s hearts glad, it has the virtue of the
Two Old Men and the Four Greybeards of Mount Shang; by enabling people
to become immortal, it possesses the lofty virtues of the Yellow
Emperor and Laozi; by providing people with ceremony, it bestows the
virtue of civility of Ji Dan and Confucius. (ChaBu Section 7)
The lists of names taken from classical sources without any summary of
the stories associated with them is characteristic of the scholars of
this time, who were writing for a community of aristocrats sharing the
same education and therefore familiar with the same figures and tales.
Yi Mok ends his celebration of tea on a note of high rapture that
stands in stark contrast with the senseless, undeserved violence that
was to end his life almost before it had begun, in his twenty-eighth
Wisdom is to float like an empty boat on
water; Benevolence is to admire the trees and fruit of the mountain.
When the spirit moves the heart, it enters the Wondrous, even without
seeking pleasure, pleasure arises. This is the tea of my heart, it is
needless to seek another. (ChaBu Section 8)
It is impossible to know what impact, if any, Yi Mok’s text had at the
time it was composed. It was preserved together with his other writings
thanks to his immediate descendants, and so transmitted until the
recent Korean tea revival brought it to light. We can only wish that a
comparable text centered on the tea produced in Korea from the same
early period had been written and preserved.
6. Cho-ui’s DongChaSong and its Sources in Comparison
When Cho-ui wrote his DongChaSong, his great celebration of Korean tea, in 1837, there is no indication that he had ever read Yi Mok’s ChaBu.
He did, however, know the Chinese Classic of Tea very well, as can be
seen by his quotations from it. One fundamental difference between the
two Korean texts is formal. The ChaBu is in prose, whereas Cho-ui
writes his main text in stanzas of four 7-character lines. In order to
introduce additional contents without being too constrained, he
frequently interrupts his stanzas with prose notes of varying length.
His tone is far from the high-flown rapture of Yi Mok and his world
view is far less markedly Taoist, as would be expected in a Buddhist
monk, although he too is familiar with Chinese mythology, which is
usually Taoist in origin.
Quite near the start, in the
third stanza, the poetic line “The Emperor Yandi tasted it, then he
wrote about it in his Classic of Food” is given the commentary: “The
Emperor Yandi wrote in his Classic of Food: ‘If a person drinks tea for
a long time, it gives him strength and contentment of mind’.” We note
that Cho-ui never uses the character for “tea” in his poetic lines,
only in the commentaries. This commentary might seem somewhat pedantic
and of limited interest, unless we realize that it is in fact borrowed
directly from the Classic of Tea, the seventh chapter of which is
titled “Writings on Tea” and forms an anthology of quotations about tea
from ancient authors. The Emperor Yandi was also known as Shen Nong,
the Divine Farmer, and is a legendary ruler who is said to have first
taught agriculture to the Chinese some 5000 years ago, after testing
hundreds of herbs on himself. He was an essentially Taoist hero, intent
on discovering the life-giving treasures hidden in nature.
The same is true of the source of
the story that follows immediately after this, of two princes visiting
a Buddhist monk and amazed by his tea. The second line of Cho-ui’s
fourth stanza celebrates Yan Ying of Qi, the commentary explaining that
his frugal lifestyle included tea, again a detail taken from the
Classic of Tea’s seventh chapter, as are the two following lines that
evoke Yü Hong and Qin Jing, figures from two Taoist stories about
mortals who are shown where fine tea grows by Taoist hermits or
immortals encountered in the hills. The commentary to a line in the
fifth stanza, “Fragrant tea stills the six passions, the spreading
taste fills the whole space under Heaven” sounds much like something we
might find in Yi Mok, but it too is in fact taken from the Classic of Tea.
In all there are at least six such echoes of lines from the Classic of
Tea and each of them to a greater or lesser extent imparts a Taoist
flavor to Cho-ui’s text.
There are multiple references to
other writings, too, as he weaves a network of allusions to the
literature celebrating tea written in China before turning, in the
middle of stanza eleven, to Korea and his own community of tea friends.
The abrupt transition from remote and abstruse literary references to
personal experience is startling: “I have a rock spring, so I brew
Excellent Blue and A Hundred-Year Life. How shall I offer some to Old
Hae at the foot of Mongmyeok Mountain?” “Old Hae”is Haegeo Doin Hong
Hyeon-Ju (1793-1865), the aristocratic friend to whom the whole poem is
dedicated. He was a great lover of tea and composed many tea poems.
Mongmyok Mountain is an older name for Mount Namsan in Seoul. The rest
of the poem remains firmly located in the Korea of Cho-ui’s time.
What might have been Cho-ui’s purpose in writing the DongChaSong?
The title suggests a celebration of Korean tea, and certainly there are
lines in what follows where he claims that Korean tea is as good as any
produced in China. But a commentary in stanza 12 perhaps indicates a
more satiric or pedantic purpose:
In Jiri Mountain’s Hwagae village, tea
trees grow in profusion for forty or fifty ri over a wide area. I
believe there to be no larger tea field in our country. Above Hwagae
village lies the Jade Floating Terrace, and below it is Chilbul
Meditation Hall. Those meditating there often picked tea late, old
leaves and dried them in the sun. Using firewood, they cooked them over
a brazier, like boiling vegetable soup. The brew was strong and turbid,
reddish in color, the taste extremely bitter and astringent. As
Jeong-So said : ‘Heaven’s good tea is often ruined by vulgar hands’.
(DongChaSong stanza 12)
Nobody knows who that sensible Jeong-So was, perhaps a simple servant
or novice, but he clearly echoes Cho-ui’s own feelings on being offered
such a noxious brew in the name of tea. After so much time spent in the
timeless spheres of Chinese myth and poetry, it is strange to be moved
suddenly to places that remain familiar, Hwagae and Chilbul Temple, and
to a less than idyllic tea experience. Remarkably, the method used by
the monks to prepare their tea is recognizably that which is still
practiced by ordinary people living in the parts of Korea where wild
tea is found, around Jiri-san in particular. There, the disagreeable
taste is seen as a guarantee of the medical efficacy of the brew, which
is usually prepared when people feel that they have caught a cold or
need to be fortified. Cho-ui’s poem seems designed at least in part, as
his ChaSinJeon was, to teach its readers that tea can be prepared,
brewed and drunk in a far more rewarding, spiritual manner.
The following lines return to a
higher, poetic tone as they evoke a very different level of tea culture
and they rise to an unexpected climax: “When I drink one cup of Jade
Flower, a breeze rises beneath my arms, my body grows light and I
ascend to a state of supreme purity.” So at last Cho-ui joins hands
with Yi Mok as he in turn offers a variation on the last cup in Lu
Tong’s “Song of Tea” with those lines. The image of the breeze rising
beneath the arms can surely have no other source. It is a breath-taking
claim, in any case. Where Lu Tong was obliged to drink six if not seven
cups of the rarest imperial tea to reach such a high spiritual state,
Cho-ui says that he is there with the first sip of the first cup! In
the light of that echo, we may claim that the concluding lines of the DongChaSong
contain a particularly resonant declaration that the Sŏn-Buddhist state
achieved by drinking a cup of tea alone in peaceful surroundings is far
superior to the ‘immortality’ sought so laboriously by the Taoists:
The bright moon becomes my candle, my friend,
a white cloud becomes my cushion, my screen.
The sound of bamboo oars and wind in pine trees, solitary and refreshing,
penetrates my weary bones, awakens my mind, so clear and cool.
With no other guests but a white cloud and the bright moon,
I am raised to a place far higher than any immortal.
(DongChaSong stanza 17)
However, the claim made in the last line takes us back to Lu Tong’s
“Song of Tea” and suggests that Cho-ui considers his own practice of
Buddhist Sŏn (Zen) meditation to be a far better way than that of the
Taoist hermits with their elixirs and their yoga. What unites the two
Korean writers, though, is the delight they experienced before a simple
cup of tea, by which the individual human person attains harmony with
nature and a state approaching poetic rapture, if not actual
immortality and enlightenment.
The comparison between Yi Mok and Cho-ui makes clear
the very strong continuities of classical-Chinese literary culture. For
both men, Lu Yü’s Tang Dynasty Classic of Tea was the
fundamental textual reference by which to approach the Way of Tea; in
addition, both were familiar with Lu Tong’s “Song of Tea” which dates
from the same period. However, within China, the way of preparing tea
described in the Tang texts disappeared with the start of the Ming
Dynasty, after which tea was no longer prepared as caked tea but as
loose dried leaves, while the method of brewing changed from boiling
ground caked tea in a cauldron to infusing leaves in a tea pot. Such a
radical change in Chinese tea practice is known to have reached Japan
by the later 18th century but both Korean texts refer to the methods
described in the Classic of Tea as if they were still followed to the
letter in Korea, which they may have been, even in the 19th century.
The main conclusion must be that
both Korean writers were deeply influenced by the Taoist language of Lu
Yü’s text; in particular, the anthology of quotations forming its
seventh chapter was a vital source for Cho-ui. The vision of tea common
to both Korean writers is expressed in terms of the harmony between the
human subject and the cosmic world exemplified in the Taoist
‘immortals’ and for both writers drinking tea is seen as offering a
purification superior by far to the often poisonous and always
laboriously manufactured diets of elixirs practiced by many Taoist
hermits. In the strongly Confucian world of Joseon Dynasty culture, it
seems that the practice of tea, combined with the study of the Classic
of Tea and Lu Tong’s “Song of Tea” led both aristocratic, Confucian
scholars like Yi Mok and Buddhist ascetics like Cho-ui to adopt the
language of Taoist mysticism, in their attempts to express their
experience of the benefits they derived from refined tea-drinking. For
both men, the experience of tea could only be adequately expressed
through poetic images evoking an ultimate transcendence that neither
Confucianism nor Buddhism had a language for.
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Two Korean Tea Classics Compared: Yi Mok’s ChaBu and Cho-ui’s DongChaSong
This paper sets out to compare two texts written about the Way of Tea
(차도) during the Joseon Dynasty. Both were composed in classical Chinese
and both refer explicitly to the Tang Dynasty Classic of Tea by Lu
Yü as well as to other ancient Chinese texts. However, Yi Mok
lived in the later 15th century, while Cho-ui flourished during the
first half of the 19th century.
The ChaBu by Yi Mok is a strange combination of arid lists and lyrical
prose. The poetic sections evoking the landscapes in which tea grows
and the ways in which tea raises the drinker to high levels of
spiritual attainment in harmony with nature, are clearly strongly
influenced by Taoism. In this the ChaBu is closely related to the
Chinese tea texts of the Tang Dynasty.
In contrast to the ChaBu, the main text of Cho-ui’s DongChaSong is in
verse. In it, Cho-ui seems to be affirming that the Buddhist monk who
practices “Seon” meditation is already on a far higher spiritual level
than the Taoist hermit. However, Yi Mok and Cho-ui both employ Taoist
terminology in order to express the spiritual benefits derived from
drinking tea, inspired as they both were by the great Tang masters.
This suggests a great similarity between the two writers, despite the
difference in their historical contexts and life histories.
Key words : tea, Chinese classics, Yi Mok, Cho-ui, ChaBu, DongChaSong, Lu Yü, Lu Tong, Taoism, Sŏn, Buddhism