[FOUNTAIN]Giving tea its place back on the table

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[FOUNTAIN]Giving tea its place back on the table

The Chuseok holiday is approaching. On Chuseok morning, Koreans pay tribute to their ancestors through memorial rites called charye. Charye originally was the formality of offering tea during an ancestor memorial service. Today, charye refers to the entire ritual. However, Koreans no longer offer tea, but give liquor. Why was tea replaced by liquor?
Charye originates in Buddhist ceremonies. According to “Baizhang Qinggui,” a book of Zen monastic regulations from the Yuan Dynasty, “When a cup of tea is offered to Buddha and the person holding the service drinks a cup from the same pot, Buddha and the man become one.” The tea ceremony from the Buddhist tradition has been adopted into the ancestor memorial services, and as the services were held at home instead of in temples, liquor came to replace tea.
The origin of charye illustrated in “Samguk Yusa,” the legends and history of the Three Kingdoms era of Korea, is also linked to Buddhism. It is recorded that the monk Chungdam had made and dedicated tea to Maitreya Buddha in Samhwa-ryeong, Mount Nam of Gyeongju, on New Year’s Day and Chuseok every year in the reign of King Gyeongdoek of the Silla Dynasty. Also, “Samguk Sagi,” the chronicles of the Three Kingdoms era, records that Queen Seondeok enjoyed drinking green tea, which clarifies the body and soul.
The peak of Korea’s tea culture came during the Goryeo Dynasty, when Buddhism was the state religion. The word dabansa was first used at this time. Chaban means a dining table or traditional side dishes. The word, dabansa originates from daechaban, meaning a well-prepared feast table. The word came to mean “as easy as having a meal” in the vernacular. Koreans also use the word gaechaban, or “dog’s meal,” to refer to a lowbred person. In the last days of the Goryeo Dynasty, the tea ceremony for the ancestor memorial service became extravagant and complicated. When the Joseon Dynasty was established, the tea ceremony was banned. However, Koreans continue to call the memorial rites “charye.”
Koreans’ consumption of hard liquor is rated fourth in the world. We even deride ourselves with the moniker “drunken Korean.” As alcohol consumption increases, the number of “gaechaban” lives is bound to increase. The Joseon-era philosopher Jeong Yag-yong, who was so fond of tea he adopted the penname Dasan, or “tea mountain,” said, “People who drink tea will be prosperous, but those who drink alcohol will be ruined.” This year, we can try offering tea along with liquor on the charye table. How about substituting one or two of the frequent bouts of drinking with a tea break once in a while?


by You Sang-chul

The writer is the head of Asia news team of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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