535 BCE: Buddhism and Tea

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As Buddhism grew, so did the Buddhist habit of drinking tea. Traditionally, Buddhist monks were never allowed to consume animal products or the animals themselves, and were thus left with only vegetation to eat. Alcohol was also off the table, as its very nature violated their principles. Tea, however, was a different story. As a vegetative drink itself, it was considered quite okay to consume for Buddhist monks – even preferable. The caffeine found within the brew was a useful aid to meditation, providing a natural lift in awareness and a helpful way to combat accidentally falling asleep during a meditative state.

It is told that many tea shrubs were nurtured and cared for around ancient Chinese Buddhist temples; the drink was also seen from a somewhat metaphorical viewpoint. The suffering of a Buddhist monk was represented in the bitterness of tea, and calmness was in much the same way linked to the tea’s clear, translucent liquid. Many teas were apparently cultivated around the temples, with enormous amounts of variety.

One of the creation myths of tea names the creator of the tea plant as the founder of Chan Buddhism, Bodhidharma. This tale details how, in his frustration at falling asleep during a long meditation session, Bodhidharma cut his own eyelids off in order to make up for his weakness. These eyelids, according to myth, grew into the first two tea plants.

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