Sen no Rikyu was born in the merchant city of Sakai in 1522. He was given the name Yoshiro at birth. Young
Yoshiro began his study of the tea ceremony at an early age. He initially
studied a traditional style under the tutelage of Kitamuki Dochin. Later, Yoshiro learned a contemporary style, conducted in a
small thatched tea house, from Takeno Jo-o.
Both Shuko and Jo-o had
undergone Zen training at Daitoku-ji Temple in northwest Kyoto. The temple had a long, deep relation with tea and
Yoshiro began his Zen study there as well. Shortly after that, Yoshiro changed his name to Sen Soueki taking the
family name of Sen from his grandfather`s name, Sen-ami.
By the time he reached 58, he was serving as tea master to Oda Nobunaga, the leading daimyo in Japan. After Nobunaga’s assassination, he became the tea master for Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Nobunaga’s successor and military dictator of Japan.
When Hideyoshi hosted a tea at the Imperial Palace in 1585, Rikyu received the Buddhist rank of koji from the Emperor Ogimachi. This was an honorary title for a lay person who had lived a pious faithful Buddhist, and from that time he was known as Sen no Rikyu Koji. This established his preeminence among the leading Japanese tea practitioners.
According to Rikyu there are four fundamental qualities that should be
exemplified in the tea ceremony:
These are the same qualities that practitioners of the tea ceremony endeavor to integrate into their daily lives.
Rikyu taught many things about the tea ceremony. Two of his better known sayings are:
Though many people drink tea,
if you do not know the Way of Tea,
tea will drink you up.
The Way of Tea is naught but this:
first you boil water,
then you make the tea and drink it.
Many of the prescribed behaviors used in contemporary Japanese tea ceremony were introduced by Rikyu. Some of his contributions include:
Although Rikyu’s tea ceremony is closely associated with Zen Buddhism, three of Rikyu’s seven deciples were devote Christians.
Rikyu’s sense of esthetics influenced design as well. He popularized the use of smaller stone lanterns as garden ornamentations. He also designed new utensils for serving tea. Rather than basing them on the formal Chinese designs that were previously used, Rikyu’s designs were wonders of simplicity and typically contained asymmetrical irregularities which gave them a natural quality.
Rikyu’s relationship with Hideyoshi was a complex one and enventually caused his death. Rikyu was more than Hideyoshi’s tea master; he was often an advisor on other matters as well. Yet Rikyu maintained his independence and the relationship was occasionally stormy. When Rikyu refused Hideyoshi’s request to take Rikyu’s daughter as a concubine, the relationship never recovered. Eventually, Hideyoshi ordered Rikyu to commit ritual suicide. While the reasons are not known, tradition holds that Hideyoshi was infuriated when he entered the gate of Daitoku-ji temple (whose construction he had funded) and saw that he was walking under a statue of Rikyu. After Rikyu's death, Hideyoshi was said to have repented, regretting the loss of such a great person.
Just before his death, Rikyu called together his family and disciples. He then composed his death poem.
I raise the sword.
This sword of mine;
Long in my possession.
The time is come at last.
Skyward I throw it up!