Mindfulness as a Cultural Process—A Japanese Tea Ceremony

Imagine that Krisna was serving Arjuna tea in a cup. The tea is the love, it is the juice, the real message. The cup, of course, is the container. You need the cup in order to serve the scalding hot tea; having it without a cup just does not work. It could be a paper cup or a fancy porcelain cup, whatever serves as the vehicle for delivering the tea will do. Arjuna is fascinated by the container, thinking that the cup is what is important, but Krisna tells him “taste the tea, Arjuna! Don’t worry about the cup.” The direct experience of whatever is being presented (in this case the tea) is what is of import. (Freeman, 2010, p. 132)

Although the three of us agreed on the importance of the experience of meditation, we noted that how we would, and tended to, introduce the practice to students, clients, and/or clients in the sector largely reflected our personal preferences, experiences, and the context in which we found ourselves. In fact, during one conversation, we likened our machinations about the different formats in which meditation could or should be presented to a discussion about how we preferred to consume our tea. Not wishing to diminish Kelly's concerns about her experience of learning this form of mindfulness, like Krisna in the previous story, we generally believed that for us the tea (meditation) itself was probably more important than the container in which it was presented. However, noting that tea can be consumed in a paper cup as a source of sustenance as well as assume traditional importance as in a Japanese tea ceremony, we also admitted that each of us had a preference for a particular vessel to drink tea from depending on such things as our need, time of day, and context for having “that cup of tea.”

Kabat Zinn (2003) notes that “there is nothing particularly Buddhist about [mindfulness]” (p. 145). This may be true within a Western scientific context and for Krisna in the Indian myth described previously, but as social scientists with a strong social justice agenda, we also acknowledge that people's needs and cultural context impact their experience. We recognize that this raises other problematic dilemmas, such as where and how mindfulness is presented and used.

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