The Wisdom of Karate, Tea, and Zen Poetry

There are thousands of bloggers giving us advice on just about everything under the sun. Often, the advice is about how to become more productive or successful from a worldly perspective. In other words, how to get rich and famous as a blogger, writer, musician, or whatever. But within the millions of words published online each day, I’m not sure there is a lot of wisdom shared.

I might be a Christian, but that doesn’t mean that I’m unwilling to seek wisdom in a variety of places. I’ve always had an interest in Eastern philosophies and religions. About eight years ago my daughter and I decided to start taking karate classes. This has led me to studying more about traditional Eastern thought.

Studying the Wisdom of the East

In my last post, we discussed a simple truth: What you practice grows stronger. Although I think most of us grasp this idea, I’ve really come to understand it better through my involvement with karate.

I’ve never been very athletic, so my karate looked pretty bad at the start. I’m still no master, but as I practice more often, I improve. Remember the old saying, 10,000 is equal to one. This idea of practice is not wisdom in itself. But if we choose to practice things that matter, practice becomes the journey that leads to wisdom.

I’m reading a book called, Baisao, The Old Tea Seller: Life and Zen Poetry in 18th Century Kyoto, translated by Norman Waddell. The book tells the story of a Zen priest who chooses poverty over the position of high priest. His reasoning is simple: becoming a high priest would directly contradict the Zen philosophy and lifestyle that he had practiced all of his life.

Comparing Tea and the Universe

In his 50s, Baisao moves to Kyoto and sells tea on the street. He lives in poverty, yet remains ultimately happy. He finds this happiness, not by collecting more, but by living with less. And he offers all who will drink his tea the same enlightenment. He then writes poems about his experience.

Often, when he sets up his tea, no one stops to buy or drink. People rush by him going to and fro. They think he’s just a crazy old man. But it’s not really tea he’s selling. It’s wisdom. Consider the following verses that Baisao wrote. Whenever the word tea is used, replace it with wisdom. Replace water with the word Universe or God. It may help reveal the true meaning of his thoughts…

Brewing Tea at Kodai-ji

Trudging slowly up

the long stone steps

to old Kdoai-ji

through a world of

rust red maples

unfolding like a scroll;

I’ve come to brew tea

with water dipped

from the fabled

Chrysanthemum Spring

just one cup

I now know

clears things up

for all time.


Three Verses on a Tea-Selling Life


I’m not Buddhist or Taoist

not a Confucianist either

I’m a brownfaced whitehaired

hard up old man.

people think I just prowl

the streets peddling tea,

I’ve got the whole universe

in this tea caddy of mine.


Left home at ten

turned from the world

here I am in my dotage

a layman once again;

A black bat of a man

(it makes me smile myself)

but still the old tea seller

I always was.


Seventy years of Zen

got me nowhere at all

shed my black robe

became a shaggy crank,

now I have no business

with sacred or profane

just simmer tea for folks

and hold starvation back.

Sometimes Wisdom Is Found in Unexpected Places

It’s good to learn and become educated. The Internet is overflowing with knowledge. But wisdom is often found in unexpected places. Wisdom is not found in money, fame, or financial success. It’s not found in education or religion. Wisdom is found in simple experience. It’s found in nature. It’s found in letting go. And it’s found it some of the most unique and odd characters we meet, both in the present and in history.

Ultimately, wisdom is the greatest form of success you can achieve in this life.

I have a short eBook to help you to understand how we can become more creative and productive by living more simply. It’s called The Happiness of Simple, and it’s free when you sign up for my newsletter.