As the melodious strains of the Tzu Chi song, “Jing Si, Jing Si”, filled the Jing Si hall, students from the tea art class carefully walked in, carrying tea pots and cups to brew tea for the audience. This marked the opening of the 2016 graduation ceremony for the Tzu Chi Continuing Education Centre (CEC).
On 22 October 2016, the Jing Si Hall was bustling with life and bursting with people from all age groups. The CEC students were all prepared to share with everyone the joy they had derived from learning at the graduation-cum-exhibition.
Upon stepping into the hall, a breathtaking view of flower displays met the eye. Every flower and leaf had been chosen and presented with the utmost care by the students, and the simple elegance with which the flowers had been styled did not detract from their vibrancy. Every handiwork was imbued with its own meaning and was a form of silent Dharma in its own right.
This year was the second year CEC student Liang Xue Jing attended the event. Holding a camera, the flower arrangement enthusiast was seen busily photographing every pot of flowers. “The flower arrangements seen here differ from the Western style of flower arrangement, with its additional simplicity, elegance and Zen meaning inherent in every display.”
Patience and Focus from Patchwork
On the first floor of the Jing Si Hall, Chinese brush paintings of natural scenery replete with gurgling streams, tall mountains, deep valleys and winding mountain roads, together with Chinese calligraphy artworks transported the visitors to a world rich with humanitarian culture.
A student of Chinese calligraphy for three years Li Jin Xing, shared that painting was his childhood hobby. He works as a taxi driver and paints in his free time. The hobby has allowed him to develop more tolerance and greater peace in his heart. He confessed that he his temper has changed for the better and will now even tell his wife: “I love you”.
At the multipurpose room, a different exhibition was in action—20 patchwork products of the students were on display, including blankets, tablecloths, bags, long skirts and pillow cases etc. From conceptualizing the design, searching for cloth scraps of different colours and shapes, to assembling the scraps in their proper position prior to sewing every stitch, students were trained to develop focus and patience.
A 31-year-old visitor caressed a patchwork blanket as he shared with volunteers that at home, he still has a blanket made for him by his grandmother lying on his bed. Though it is a little tattered now, he treasures it as it was his grandmother’s last gift to him before she passed on three years ago.
The Scent of Zen in a Cup of Tea
At 3.30pm, when the graduation ceremony was about to start, volunteers at the entrance of the prayer hall helped visitors to wash their hands by ladling a scoop of water over them. When they reached their seats, they saw a set of quaint looking antique styled tea utensils ready for use.
Students of the CEC carefully handled their pots and cups as they walked in when the music started. They carefully brewed tea for the visitors as their visitors got a close view of the process, experiencing for themselves the Jing Si tea art culture, which was one of the highlights of the day. From rinsing the pot with warm water and adding tea leaves, steeping and finally pouring and serving the tea, students followed the sequence with care.
“In brewing tea, apart from the appropriate amount of tea leaves, water temperature and timing are the three important components. It goes without saying that the mood of the brewer also matters; a good pot of tea cannot be produced from a bad state of mind.” Student Zhang Zhen Yu said that in the past, although he liked brewing tea, he did not know what goes into making a good pot of tea. As a businessman, his work kept him on his toes, and he was always impatient and unable to settle into a calm state of mind. Learning about tea art has allowed him to find inner peace, resulting in a brighter outlook in the way he perceives situations.
Fellow classmate Lin Guo Qiang explained that the Chinese character for tea is written such that the radical for “man” is sandwiched between the radical for “grass” and “wood,” thus signifying that man learns and develops wisdom from coexisting harmoniously with the environment, people and other sentient beings.
He said that the tea art classroom, being decorated in a manner reminiscent of the classical Chinese style, had a warm and inviting ambience which was conducive for the learning of tea art. Lin also shared that every type of tea has its own unique characteristics, and he feels that among the different types of teas, red tea is the one with the most appeal as its sweetness is immediately detectable upon drinking. It also lends itself well to different methods of preparation, and can be likened to how we need to learn to interact with people from different backgrounds effectively.
The Fragrance of Flowers
Apart from tea tasting, the audience was also treated to a spread of snacks as they watched the performances. Live performances including recitals with the guitar, Guzheng and a partner yoga item by yoga teachers Liao Xiu Tian and Zhou Shao Fen wowed the audience, bringing home the message that learning is a life-long affair in which age is not an obstacle.
There was a piece of good news to share that day — Zheng Rui Lian, who had been learning the art of flower arrangement for the last two years, had received a recommendation from her class instructor to go to Taiwan to further her knowledge as part of the core teaching pool.
The beauty of flowers has accompanied Zheng on her Tzu Chi path. She expressed her gratitude to her class instructor for her quiet support and the way she taught by example. It was also on her instructor’s encouragement that Zheng began teaching the little children at Tzu Chi Great Love PreSchool, sharing with them the beautiful art of flower arrangement and inspiring the love for nature in them. To this end, Zheng remains grateful for her husband’s spiritual support, which makes it possible for her to continue on with her chosen course in the colourful world of flower arrangement.