Since early monks discovered boiling a brew of fermented camellia leaves produced a slow acting but long lasting stimulant, Buddhists have prized tea. Its caffeine helps reach their goal of being fully awake. That’s why it’s often served in monasteries around 4 PM, the time metabolisms begin to flag and meditators start feeling sleepy. Tea drinking spread across Asia as part of Buddhism and probably helped Buddhism spread: the ever practical Chinese quickly accepted it not so much for the spiritual prowess it promised as for the medical help tea provided. It was much safer to drink than water, and easily blended with strong medicinal herbs. Identified as a source of good health and virtue (it was not alcoholic so did not dement the mind), tea became a popular offering to the gods. Elaborate ritual ceremonies were devised for drinking it. The now world famous Zen Buddhist chanoyu or chado, the Way of Tea, was devised in Japan to perfectly depict in the steeping and serving of one cup the union of the primary sacred principles: heaven and earth, many and one, impermanence and transcendence, activity and serenity.
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