A monk once asked Chinese Zen Master Zhaozhou, "What is Buddha?" Zhaozhou answered, "Go drink tea!" The monk then asked, "What is Dharma?" Zhaozhou answered, "Go drink tea!" The monk persisted, "What is Sangha?" Zhaozhou again said, "Go drink tea!"
Koans are used in the zen tradition to help you wake up to the present moment and to awaken to the world right in front of your eyes. Koans are like riddles designed to baffle the intellectual mind so you can break free of all concepts and attachments once and for all. In this case the Zen Master who are known to teach in the most unconventional of ways simply told the monk to go drink tea. Why did he tell the monk to go drink tea instead of answering his question you may be wondering.
Zen masters are clever teachers and are aware of the state of mind of their monks. This monk was probably still a novice monk. He was answering his question to What is Buddha by telling him to go drink tea. The zen master was not ignoring his questions or dismissing the monk because he didn't want to be bothered. He simply told the monk to drink tea. If the monk understood this he would've realized the answer to his questions was to go drink tea. The simple act of drinking tea was his response to what is the Buddha, what is the Dharma and what is the Sangha. The Three Jewels of Buddhism is the Buddha, Dharma, and the Sangha. These are the essence and the qualities of the Buddha. It is also the essence and the qualities of drinking tea. There is a gentle power behind the act of simply drinking tea.
The wisdom of Buddhist teachings is to help you wake up to the present moment. Waking up to the present moment is to wake up to any moment whether it is good, bad, or mundane. Go drink tea! It's more than just drinking tea yet it just drinking tea. To drink tea you must boil the water, find a cup, pour the cup with water and then drink the tea. That is it. But each act is to be done mindfully, skillfully and performed in present awareness. Is your mind thinking about something else and are you enjoying your tea or are you just going through the motions. In the zen tradition green tea ceremonies is almost considered a sacred ritual and performed regularly in zen temples. The simple act of drinking tea itself is considered practice when done mindfully. There is a zen saying that when you eat just eat when you sleep just sleep. And in this case Go drink tea just drink tea. Nothing else nothing more. When drinking tea in this way you will discover pure enjoyment in the present moment while enjoying the simple pleasures of life. Life dosen't have to be complicated. Go drink tea!
Rey Mestidio is the administrator of buddhimudra.com He practices zen and works with koans. He considers himself a lazy zen student but is always constantly trying to improve. He drinks green tea everyday as part of his practice.