– Paul Reps (1895 – 1990) (USA)
First, some background on this haiga:
“In the early ‘50s, Reps, who was in his forties, had traveled to Japan en route to visit a respected Zen master in Korea. He went to the passport office to apply for his visa and was politely informed that his request was denied due to the conflict that had just broken out. Reps walked away, and sat down quietly in the waiting area. He reached into his bag, pulled out his thermos and poured a cup of tea. Finishing his tea, he pulled out a brush and paper upon which he wrote a picture poem. The clerk read the poem and it brought tears to his eyes. He smiled, bowed with respect, and stamped Reps’ passport for passage to Korea.”
– Excerpt from Living in Balance, by Joel & Michelle Levey
This short, intense poem has two aspects that make it interesting and deep in many ways. One aspect is related to our desire to calm our head after fatigue or mental stress. The green tea acts as a pacifier that brings the poet’s chaotic mind to peace. I believe in “tea meditation,” as it helps us to change our intense feelings that are usually a result of our shallow thoughts.
Keeping the background of this poem in mind, I think it is about fatigue due to the person feeling irritated or frustrated. It may be due to his long journey to another country, where he is not getting proper assistance. The tea brought soothing effects to his mind and he started thinking rationally about the situation.
Another deep aspect of this poem is spiritual, where a drink is the central part of the meditation practice. It is said that drinking green/herbal tea not only changes our biochemistry, but also helps us to filter/purify certain thoughts/feelings that are toxic in our nature. Every single sip of a drink works to simmer down our intense emotions and eventually facilitates us to clear our mind.
Besides these two aspects, I also see a deep connection between the person and nature, where green tea acts as fresh air in the chaotic life of a person, and helps him to get rid of the war that usually takes place in his mind.
– Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)
From the time we are little babies, we learn to simmer down by drinking milk. To drink is a way to get in touch with our mother, and in the beginning, our mother is all of our world, so we begin to make experiences of the world by sipping. Soon, we learn also that tensions can be released by sipping milk from our mother’s breasts, and the link is that we need to sip to settle down mental or physical pain.
Later on, we can lose this habit. Usually, we find a substitute with our favorite drink and take a pause from the world, and quite often from its bitterness, by drinking it… many people unfortunately make use of alcohol, trying to relax themselves … in Italy we have the “coffee break,” which i would rather call the “tea break”… Seriously talking, a tea, even if we focus only on the water by which it is made, it has electrolytes which help the nervous system to calm down and to work in its best way.
The “cha no yu” or tea ceremony in Japanese culture has its sovereignty in the green powder melted in hot water with elegance, calm gestures, and clean movements, which add magic to the rite. There’s no doubt the monks can meditate at their best after a cup of it.
The poet uses a four-line structure, reproducing the interruptions caused by sipping, opening the second line with “of” as if he is talking and suddenly he has to stop and sip before going ahead with the poem…
To accept a conflict and not to let it steal our energies means to have the third chakra, in the area of the stomach, well balanced. People who practice meditation know that wars are probably started by people with problems with the third chakra…. Furthermore, we can move on from bad experiences if we can “digest” them, and a hot cup of tea in our hands, or better, a bowl, can really make the difference for this chakra, helping to relieve any difficulty in the process of metabolism of difficult feelings we need to cross, accept, and also let go of …
I’m amazed by the spirituality very well conveyed by Reps in his ink drawing. The perfection of the lines recalls an ensō in my mind, and reminds me of how important it is to stop and look inside, in the circle of our inner world, to find a clean, simple but powerful thought of purity and peace. The meditation of the author sounds like it is activated by the green tea’s molecules, which could set forth a chemical change soon perceived by his neurons, and felt as the strong inner movement of stopping something dangerous, a war. If only we could all do this, and together, there would be no more wars in the world… A very touching poem, with a wise and powerful message.
– Lucia Fontana (Italy)
This Zenku is beloved for its simplicity. The pacing of the poem, the starkness of the painting, and the surprising last line creates many feelings and interpretations. We often forget that the commonplace can solve world problems. Moments of peace can add up to world peace.
The sense of sound works effectively too. The “o”s in “bowl,” “of,” and “stop” give a sense of vastness, in my opinion. Also, the “r”s in “drinking,” “green,” and “war” provide a feeling of roundness, like a whirring.
Sometimes things are inexplicable, but not, at the same time. I think this applies to this haiga.
– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)
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