Chadö Will Soon be Included in Pacific Buddhist Academy’s Required Curriculum
Kristen Nemoto Jay
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Today’s millennials can often be found with their heads buried in their laptop computers or mesmerized with their thumb-happy smartphone devices. So words such as “silence” or “mindfulness” in a classroom setting are often totally foreign to them.
That’s changing at the Pacific Buddhist Academy, the only Jodo Shinshu Buddhist high school in North America, where the “social media generation” is breaking away from their electronic devices and learning how to be “still” by participating in the formal Japanese practice of preparing and serving tea. The practice is known as chadö, the way of tea.
The course is proving to be an asset in the students’ curriculum. Josh Hernandez Morse, PBA’s head of school, says teaching chadö to students is in keeping with the school’s mission: “To prepare students for college through academic excellence, enrich their lives with Buddhist values and develop their courage to nurture peace.”
“I believe chadö has taught our students to slow down and become more mindful of the present moment,” Hernandez Morse said. “Obviously, this stems from Japanese cultural values, but I think American students can benefit a lot from the practice.”
Hernandez Morse believes that while American values — and teenage culture, in general — encourages individualism, determination and competition, there is value also in teaching humility and enjoying life’s simple things. From observing the beauty of the outdoors from within the tea room, to being mindful as a host, chadö can create great opportunities for learning.
“Some may not understand its mannerisms and formulaic methods, but I believe it builds knowledge for mindfulness and teaches wisdom about the present moment,” he explained. “Overall, I believe chadö teaches about the importance of the relationships that you build with one another, to be mindful of someone’s company and how your actions, or inactions, can affect them.”
Originally offered as an elective, chadö will become a required course for all incoming freshmen next year at PBA. The opening of the school’s new 12,000-square foot Harry and Jeannette Weinberg learning facility last fall made that possible. It included space to host chadö classes in a tatami-matted tea room that was dedicated last month. The tea room was given the name “Seifu” after consulting with the iemoto (grand master) of the Omotesenke School of Tea and the Omotesenke Domonkai Hawaii. The students put their learning into practice by preparing and serving tea to the guests at the opening program.
Kano Hashimoto, a PBA senior and third-year chadö class participant, is happy to be able to practice chadö classes in a dedicated space. Prior to the construction of the tea room in the Weinberg Building, the students held their lessons in the cramped student lounge, or sometimes even doubled up in the Japanese language classroom.
“This is so much better,” Hashimoto said as she quietly glided into the tea room. “I love this new space. It’s really nice and allows us to better practice our tea ceremonies.”
Hashimoto said the classes have taught her the importance of utilizing one’s energy in serving tea. Teacher Marion Yasui, or “Yasui-Sensei,” as the students refer to her, taught Hashimoto about the value of having a “pure heart” when serving tea to guests.
“Sensei says that when you come into this room, you need to forget about any of the drama that’s going on outside of the space,” Hashimoto said. “If you get frantic, then the tea is no longer good; you disturbed the peace. It’s like dripping water into a pot, which will cause a ripple effect.”
Hashimoto said the dedication to repetition to perfect the chadö ceremony has taught her the value of resilience.
“I’ve learned that whatever you perform is your own style and that’s completely fine,” Hashimoto said. “Whatever is the result during chadö, you and your guests have to accept it and move on. That’s the heart of tea.”
The purposeful actions that occur in the tea room are also conducive to its overall design. The specifics of the tea room’s design were discussed in committee meetings that involved the architect, the general contractor, the craftsman and leadership representatives from Omotesenke Domonkai Hawaii.
Hernandez Morse said he especially enjoys having the option of entering the tea room from the side of the building, which opens to the outside environment along Lusitana Street. While most traditional tea rooms allow its participants to observe the outdoor environment, PBA went a step further in creating fluidity between the room’s interior and exterior environment, a design feature that also intertwines with PBA’s mission.
The tea room’s design “conveys to students that they are a part of the neighborhood,” Hernandez Morse said. “That they are not removed or sequestered away from the community.”
Rüdiger Herzing Rückmann, PBA’s director of advancement, is delighted to have the tea room as part of the school’s learning environment so that students can further their educational aspirations.
“When they were building the tea room, the students were coming in and out of the Weinberg Building, so they could see what went on to create the room,” Herzing Rückmann said. “They could therefore see and all the more appreciate the work that went on to create this space.”
He believes the tea room is just another example of why Pacific Buddhist Academy is such a special school.
“The students at PBA have a range of activities and classes to choose from, which makes their experience here so unique,” Herzing Rückmann said. “To have a school that offers this tea room, just like we offer calligraphy classes here, or only one of two schools in the state that offers a German language course, or excellence in taiko, I think this tea room is reflective of our character. And we could not have done it without the support from our community. Our people who made the school happen have deep roots within the community and we’re so very grateful to all of them.”
Kristen Nemoto Jay was born and raised in Waimänalo. She recently left her job as editor for Morris Media Network’s Where Hawaii to pursue a freelance writing career. She also tutors part-time at her alma mater, Kailua High School, and is a yoga instructor at CorePower Yoga. Kristen earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology from Chapman University and her master’s in journalism from DePaul University.