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Tea in the EBTs

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#1

Is there any indication that the Buddha knew about tea, hot or cold, or other similar drinks? For example grinding roots or leaves into water in order to achieve a taste.

I have not been able to find any such references, if there are none, would it be reasonable to assume that the Buddha never had a cup of hot tea? :slight_smile:

Would it be reasonable to assume that the Buddha would have rejected tea or other ways of inducing flavor into water? Maybe the Buddha would have thought that it was unnecessarily seeking after sensual pleasures, rather than just sustaining the body? Are there any EBTs that deal with similar topics that would give some pointers as to what the Buddha would have thought about this? For instance, if there is an EBT that says that the Buddha explicitly rejected spices on his food since it was overindulging in sensual pleasures that would, maybe, point to him also having a similar attitude towards tea.

Or is it the complete opposite? That the Buddha would recommend people to drink tea in order to help them relax? Either way, I’m interested in hearing what people think and especially what EBTs can be used to back up the different views.


#2

In AN3.93 Seclusion, the Buddha remarks about how followers of other paths concern themselves with seclusion regarding alms-food:

Wanderers who follow other paths advocate this kind of seclusion in alms-food. They eat herbs, millet, wild rice, poor rice, water lettuce, rice bran, scum from boiling rice, sesame flour, grass, or cow dung. They survive on forest roots and fruits, or eating fallen fruit. This is what the wanderers who follow other paths advocate for seclusion in alms-food.

And then the Buddha gives his own direction:

In this teaching and training, there are three kinds of seclusion for a mendicant. What three? Firstly, a mendicant is ethical, giving up unethical conduct, being secluded from it. They have right view, giving up wrong view, being secluded from it. They’ve ended defilements, giving up defilements, being secluded from them. When a mendicant has these three kinds of seclusion, they’re called a mendicant who has reached the peak and the pith, being pure and grounded in the essential.

From this I think we might conclude that the Buddha and his disciples would have accepted what was offered (tea or otherwise). Practice is more important than rituals of food or drink.

What do you think?


#3

In contemporary society, “tea time” is a time to relax but, ironically, tea is a stimulant which puts a sort of different spin on what it means to “relax.” In my conversations with the monks at my local Wat, it has been said that individuals practicing the Buddha’s teachings should bring energy and zeal to their practice, as well as work against torpor and laziness in approaching meditation. To the extent tea acts as a stimulant and overcomes sleepiness, it could be part of a person’s intake not because of its pleasing aromatic and taste qualities, but because it abets the zeal one brings to one’s practice. I suppose it’s also worth noting that the stimulant qualities of tea would not violate the precept against alcohol and other intoxicating substances inasmuch as tea consumption does not result in intoxication or otherwise impair mindfulness.


#4

Thank you very much for the nice replies. After looking even more I still have not found any reference to tea in the EBTs, so it is quite possible that the Buddha lived his whole life without even tasting tea :slight_smile:, as for coffee it would be basically 100% certain that he never tasted it I would say. I think this is quite an interesting thing to consider, especially these days when people such as myself rarely go a couple of days without having a cup of tea or coffee.

I think you make a good point. The Buddha often emphasizes ethical conduct over the letter of rules or over rituals of food or drink. Sometimes though, he does make rules that are to not be broken. One example would be for instance never eating human flesh. My best guess would be the same as yours, that the Buddha would have accepted it and drunk it, but I’m far from an expert on these things, which is why I’m happy to hear the opinion from people here.

I had never thought about it in this way before. I have never taken tea or similar things before a meditation to try to arouse more energy. In some ways it could make sense. While working it can be helpful to take a cup of tea / coffee to help focus, if you are doing some kind of problem solving work which includes a lot of mental activity. It could maybe be similarly useful for meditation. I certainly have drunk tea when studying suttas. Thank you for this viewpoint.


#5

Not to get too far afield from EBTs, but at my first meditation retreat, unaware of the admittedly informal rules set by one of the instructors, I took a nap during time set aside for rest and personal reflection. The instructor gently informed me that napping was not appropriate at the retreat, and instead suggested that drinking coffee or tea might be a better way to keep up my energy. Personally, I am of the opinion that sleep science is onto something when researchers find that humans experience a tendency towards sleep following the midday hour. Before the advent of mechanized production and the Industrial Revolution most societies incorporated a early- or mid-afternoon period of rest/sleep into their cultural habits.

Frankly, I think my meditation would aided by following my bodily and mental inclinations to sleep midday rather than using a stimulant, even a naturally occurring one such as caffeine. Part of what I am practicing in my meditation is to note how my body, feelings, and mind operate.

On the other hand, I could see that maybe noting how I feel is only the first step and that napping might represent lingering attachments. The most venerated monastic at the Wat I attend sleeps very little. In fact, his dedication to his practice has been well chronicled and it has been noted by those who admire his practice that he seemingly has been able to liberate himself from drowsiness by practicing at all hours of the day and night.

I wonder if the suttas say more about sleep cycles and meditation than they do about substances one might imbibe to aid in meditation. This one in particular appears to support the notion that seeking freedom from attachment entails sustained energy and little sleep:


#6

You can get good chai in India these days but, not 2600 years ago. The Chinese grew tea but there doesn’t appear to have been intercultural exchanges with China way back then. As to when the Chinese started tea cultivation, it may be worth a wiki-search?

I heard that monastics picked up the habit somewhere along the silk-road? The silk road trade - in goods and ideas - did not connect India and China in the ancient world. Is China - or the Chinese people - even mentioned in the EBT’s?

It’s possible that the Buddha didn’t know anything about Chinese civilization or, much about other distant cultures and their ways of life.

Alexander’s conquests post-date the Buddha but, I believe the Greeks do get a mention in the EBT’s?

It appears, that the Chinese already had written language at the time and the Buddha was probably illiterate, like everyone else in that neighbourhood.


#7

Fun fact: The Chinese quasi-legendary monk Bodhidharma is closely associated with the introduction of tea drinking; in fact, he qualifies as a culture hero in a way similar to Athena introducing the olive to Greece, or Osiris the beer to Egypt.

Needing to stay awake for meditation, he cut off his own eyelids and threw them to the ground, hence his typical depiction with bulging eyes:

Meanwhile, the cast off eyelids took root, and sprouted as the tea plant. Which explains why tea leaves are shaped like eyelids!


#8

Indeed, there is no textual or material evidence for tea drinking in India in the Buddha’s time.

As for caffeinated tea in contemporary Theravada retreat settings, my experiences around the world have been mixed: some centres/teachers couldn’t care less (asking only for you to be mindful of your changing experience when drinking it), some ban it (on the grounds it causes at least some agitation).

I think it is firstly wise to distinguish actual tiredness/fatigue from the defilements of sloth and torpor. The latter tend to disappear very quickly (when, say, the bell goes at the end of a sitting period) and, counterintuitively, can actually be associated with a lot of energy.

I would question if using caffeine to try to overcome the defilements is a skilful means.

That said, I’m English, and dearly love a cuppa.


#9

According to Wikipedia, tea didn’t arrive in India until the British introduced it in a move to break China’s monopoly on the stuff.


#10

“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” - Mark Twain. :thinking:


#11

The Buddhists who lived in the silk-road kingdoms must have drunk some - the closer they got to China. When the Chinese monastics came to Nalanda and, were on pilgrimage, some may have had a secret stash. As many of the Chinese Buddhists were vejjoe’s they may have been health-freaks and shunned the wicked brew?


#12

I think important to be aware that sometimes we find claims inside books which are addressed to modelate our views. This is no strange thing in all times. Every new empire of this world should rewrite the History in order to conquer the minds of the people and not only their lands. And every new Empire always should be the best force of civilization for other peoples, which automatically become barbars, primitive, inferior, uncivilized, heretical and so on. And sometimes, these reflections are projected to the History of the little or common things

Inside books or the Wikipedia we find the traditional Histories of the origin of tea are labeled like “myths” or “legends”. However, truth is the infusion of plants was a common activity at very old times; in Mesolithic and Neolithic ages. For medicinal, flavouring, insecticide and other purposes. Specialists in this area claims the distinction between food and medicine it is just a very modern invention. Fortunately it seems there is a new popular and growing trend to put some remedy.

All together, it sounds quite incredible the claim about the Hindu people were ignorant of the infusion of plants until the arrive of the British empire. And even thinking in the specific case of the camellia sinensis, it would be better to be cautious, because a globalized commercial activity in those old times was not a rare thing. Specialists have found tea laves even in the imports of the Roman Empire:

(do a search for “Camellia sinensis”):
http://www.archaeobotany.de/database.html

For an added interest in this issue one can search about “archaeobotanical” in Google. This is an interest field with health, medical, and other implications. .

About China and the camellia sinensis, there is archaeology from 2150 years ago.

then it invalidates the introduction of the Wikipedia and many other books which talks about the 3rd century AD or later times.

And of course, when we think in “tea” including other herbal varieties, then we should go further back in time, thousand years ago. So old like thinking in having a lot of free time, boiling water in a fire, and the human wish to taste new things.


#13

Would it be reasonable to assume that the Buddha would have rejected tea or other ways of inducing flavor into water?

I don’t think so. We have a good amount of episodes with invitation to the Sangha for meals which are described in quite luxury terms.

A coup of green tea can give20-30 mg of caffeine. This is not relevant regarding what is an intoxicant. Or maybe the contrary thing if you have an special sensibility to the caffeine

All what we eat can be an intoxicant because all the food have some impact in our mind state in a neurological level. It will depend of the person.

However, here the substance is not the point. I believe the best definition of intoxicant is: what can put to yourself in risk of breaking the rest of precepts.

The word “intoxicant” is not about a catalogue of substances.


#14

We know that the Buddha taught as part of the Eightfold Path samma sati.

Here’s a variant that might make one unmindful. :slight_smile:


#15

I believe you are muddling the two meanings of ‘tea’. ‘Tea’ generally refers to a drink made from the tea plant. Confusingly, since this is by far the most popular infusion in the English speaking world, the word ‘tea’ has also come to mean ‘infusion’. This is of course very confusing when someone offers you a ‘tea’, or you offer them one, and the speaker may be using one meaning while the listener understanding the other meaning!

No-one is saying the British introduced infusions to India. They’re talking about tea as in the tea plant, and infusion of tea leaves - the British introduced tea to India.


#16

yes… I understand the point.

However, genetics and true historical data don’t show that. For some added interest, the Tea plant diverged in two main families 22.000 years ago. One was located in south China, in the Yunnan region. The other one in India, in the Assam area.

domestication of the plant is very old. For this reason it is common to find explanations about tea conssumption in India is documented in older dates, around 750 BCE:

“Historical records indicate the prevalence of tea drinking in India since 750 BC. In the 16th century, a vegetable dish was also being prepared using tea leaves with garlic and oil. However, the credit for rediscovering tea and cultivating it at a commercial level goes to the British.”

http://www.tea.in/history
https://www.teacoffeespiceofindia.com/tea/tea-origin

British introduction of tea in India was for a commercial and productive sense. It doesn’t mean the tea infusion was unknown in India. Also, at those times of the British productive introduction, it was already known for the Europeans that the tea infusion existed in India from long time ago:

“In 1598, a Dutch traveller, Jan Huyghen van Linschoten, noted in a book about his adventures that the Indians ate the leaves as a vegetable with garlic and oil and boiled the leaves to make a brew.”
The Origins of Indian Tea
Key to the East: Jan Huygen van Linschoten’s ‘Itinerario’ | Special Collections - Utrecht University Library

After knowing these facts, then one can ask from where arose our common idea about the British were the first introducers of tea in India.
And from here my comment about being aware of the cultural influences in our common acceptance of the History. Because many times this was modelated to support a new paradigm of civilization which is carried for every new arising empire. It can ends influencing also the History of little and common things.

Regarding Buddha times, if we accept the ancient origin of the tea plant in the Assam region, it would be no so strange the knowledge of tea beverage for the Buddha and disciples. Of course, we don’t have this certainty neither we know if tea was already spreaded in those areas in where the first Sangha was present. Just I point this possibility doesn’t sound so strange after knowing more exact facts about the History of the tea plant (and its infusion) in India.

(Thanks for your comments, it drive me to look more things in this issue. I’m sorry my alias is Puerh then I’m forced to extend myself in this issue. Hope you are not sleeping at this point :wink:)


#17

Interesting. Not quite nominative determinism given that you picked your username yourself, but close! :wink: As an aside, a very common slang term for tea here in Ireland (we do love our tea) is “cha”, as in “I’d love a cup of cha”, which I presume comes from the Chinese. :slight_smile:


#18

haha… nice link! :grinning:


#19

I would love to know which ‘historical records’ are here being referred to.


#20

it seems the claim is referred to the apparition of a tea inside the Ramayana. Although here if we apply the word “tea” referred only to camellia sinensis then sure it won’t apply