How Tea Became Vital to Zen Intermittent Fasting and Mindfulness

How Tea Became Vital to Zen Intermittent Fasting and Mindfulness

How Tea Became Vital to Zen Intermittent Fasting and Mindfulness


The Oldest Continuous Daily Intermittent Fasting Tradition

Intermittent fasting has risen in popularity so quickly that it’s easy to assume that it is brand new. However, the practice is actually thousands of years old and understanding the origin and evolution is key to successfully implementing it in our modern lives. Although Zen intermittent fasting, tea drinking and mindfulness originated from Buddhist teachings, these practices evolved and now help people of all religious backgrounds in East Asia live long and stay fit.

Let’s begin.

The Search for Enlightenment

The root of Zen intermittent fasting began around 2600 years ago, when a young aristocrat named Siddhartha, in what is now Nepal, renounced his riches and left his palace in search of enlightenment. Like many other enlightenment seekers of his era, Siddhartha experimented with extreme self-discipline. This included the avoidance of indulgence, pleasure and food.

These journeys often included prolonged fasts. During an especially long fast, he passed out next to a river and nearly died. Siddhartha was found by a young woman who nursed him back to health with milk. After he recovered, he realized the dangers of extremism and developed a philosophy of moderation known as the Middle Way.

After years of further practices, Siddhartha further built upon his philosophy based on moderation, non-attachment and living in the present. He developed and taught a wide body of ideas and meditative practices to train the mind for these purposes. Because of the effectiveness of his teaching, Siddhartha soon attracted a large following of students in northern India. And he became known as the Awakened One, or Buddha.

One of Buddha’s teachings was daily intermittent fasting. He told his followers to refrain from eating from noontime until dawn, some 16 to 17 hours later. Buddha’s daily fasting of skipping dinner and snacks became a part of his followers’ lifestyle. Because of his once near-fatal experience with prolonged fasting, Buddha discouraged against it. Although other religious traditions have advocated periodic fasting, Buddha’s 2600 years-old fasting tradition is the oldest and one of the most widely followed daily intermittent fasting practices.

Buddha died at age 80 and his followers continued to spread his teachings, including intermittent fasting. In the millennium following Buddha’s passing, even as Buddhism declined in India, his ideas spread to China, Japan and other parts of Asia.

Zen and Tea

During the 6th Century AD, Buddhism spread to China and merged with some of the Taoist philosophy already there, giving birth to Zen Buddhism. Taoism added naturalism, balance and minimalism — elements that can aid mindfulness training — to Zen philosophy.

Unlike other forms of Buddhism, Zen focuses on living in the present through mindfulness training, direct experience and personal insight. Zen practitioners believe that mindful attentiveness can be applied to physical wellness, which is just as important as elevating the mind. These early Zen monks settled in Shaolin Temple and trained in martial arts to get fit. 

At the time, tea was indigenous to China but not found in India. Like most people practicing intermittent fasting and meditation, early Zen monks had difficulty with hunger pangs and often fell asleep during meditation. They soon learned that drinking tea helped them overcome hunger pangs and stay alert while they fasted and meditated. Thereafter, tea drinking, along with intermittent fasting and meditation, became an integral part of the Zen lifestyle. In Japan, the convergence between Zen, fasting and tea was taken to the next level.

Zen Mindfulness Grows in Secular Japan

Zen Buddhism was introduced to Japan from China in the 12th century by Eisai, a Japanese Buddhist monk who returned from his studies in China, bringing with him Zen teachings as well as high quality tea seeds. Eisai is considered the founder of the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism in Japan, which believes that enlightenment can be attained outside of traditional meditation.

Although tea had already been introduced to Japan in the 8th century from China, it wasn't until Eisai's arrival that the culture of tea began to evolve. The seeds he brought grew into green tea plants, giving rise to unique Japanese tea varieties like Gyokuro and Macha.

As Zen Buddhism gained popularity in Japan, so did the tea culture. Over time, the tea culture began to spread among the aristocracy and samurai class, who appreciated its aesthetic and spiritual aspects. It was during the Muromachi period (1336–1573) that tea ceremonies began to evolve, in part due to the influence of Zen Buddhism.

Celebrated 15th century Zen master Murata Juko played a crucial role in the development of the Japanese tea ceremony, Wabi-cha. From Kyoto’s renown Daitokuji Temple, Juko infused Zen teachings and aesthetics into the practice, aiming for simplicity and a deep appreciation of the present moment. Tea ceremonies were no longer solely about tea consumption but also about personal growth and self-reflection. Juko famously pronounced that “tea and Zen taste as one.” 

Centuries of Refinement

Over the centuries, tea and Zen continued to shape and refine each other. Through the blending of their traditions, Zen and tea have shaped Japan's cultural landscape, inspiring not only spiritual growth but also expression in other every day activities such as gardening, interior design, martial arts, poetry and eating. Unlike in China, where Zen mindfulness practice never broadened much beyond its monastic roots, the Japanese took mindfulness applications to other areas of life to help them focus and attend to the task at hand, whatever it may be.

Today, Zen culture has evolved beyond Buddhism and become an integral part of Japanese society. Application of mindful attentiveness to industrial manufacturing helped establish modern Japan as global leader in making high-quality, mass-produced goods. The Zen concepts of naturalism, moderation and mindful eating helped Japan’s population live longer than people of other nationalities.

Regardless of where you are or your belief, you can adapt these same Zen concepts to your lifestyle. Join ZenGolden Tea Club today and we will show you how to live long and fit with our proven methods and delicious tea.

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