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A HERMIT IN THE HIMALAYAS
He cut off the offending eyelids and threw them away. They took
root on the spot where they fell and a plant, hitherto unknown,
grew up out of them* The leaves of this plant were endowed with the
virtue of keeping man wakeful.
The fable is delightful enough, but the only certain thing about
it is that the tea-plant did originate in South China, where Bodhid-
harma landed. He became in time the founder of a great philosophic
school, the Cha'an school, or the Zen, as the Japanese call it, whose
followers even- today drink a great deal of tea along with their
imbibing of wisdom, and whose very name embodies the Chinese
ideograph for tea.
That the mere steeping of a few leaves should have such stimu-
lating results to both body and mind when drunk so impressed
those early tea addicts that one of them, Luwuh, put into poetic
prose a veritable Scripture of Tea Drinking. His work, The Choking^
has led the Chinese tea merchants for a thousand years to adppt
him as their patron mascot, such is the profound philosophy he has
stirred into the simple act of drinking a cup of tea It is a pity that no
one has yet had the discernment to translate this book into one of the
Western tongues, for Luwuh has said the last word about tea, from a
botanical study of the plant itself to the ideal colour for a porcelain
tea-cup, from the assertion that mountain-springs provide the
finest water for tea-making to rebukes for the inartistic vulgarity of
common methods of tea-drinking.
We who are likewise votaries of the delectable drink would like
to have met this man, of whom it was said that the Emperor sent for
him several times because one could detect a cup of tea made by
him out of all others, so exquisite was its flavour.
Another thing that I like to remember is the Chinese claim to
the origin of the custom of offering tea to a guest or visitor. It is said
to have begun with Kwanyin, one of the chief disciples of my
favourite Oriental philosopher, Lao-Tse. When the latter resigned
his Royal service and reached the gate of the Han Pass on his
westward journey (after which he disappeared), Kwanyin presented
him with a cup of tea—an act of symbolical value, for thereafter it
•was introduced into social life throughout the Empire. I like to
think that the last act of my wise bearded sage was to sip the golden
liquid before disappearing from civilization into that simpler life
close to Nature which he sought. He was a great soul and nothing
but a great drink was fit for him.
In the fifteenth century the Japs even founded an aesthetic
cult in its honour, with the most elaborate rituals and ceremonials.
In fact the cultivation and preparation of the tea-plant was practi-
cally a monopoly of the priests for a long time. The amber-coloured