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Showing posts from March, 2015

The Tea Lady and the Fox

Women who ran tea houses in China appear often in Zen koans and stories. The tea lady often holds the role of the trickster, cleverly disguised as not-a-teacher, magically making certainty disappear.

There was a woman who ran a tea shop near where the Zen master Hakuin lived. She knew a lot about tea, he told his students, and her understanding of Zen was very good too. Many of them wondered about this and went to the village to see for themselves. Whenever the woman saw them coming, she could tell immediately whether they had come for the tea or for the Zen. Those wanting tea she served graciously. For the others, she hid until they came to her door and then she attacked them with a fire poker. Only one in ten managed to escape the beating.

I used to live in Seattle and one of my favorite places to go hang around was the International District. That’s what other cities call “Chinatown”. One day, some years ago, I wandered into a tea shop with some of my family on Chinese New Year’s D…