The value of tranquility can generate peace of mind by knowing that your surroundings were chosen with real integrity and thoughtfulness. It happens almost automatically like some sort of consciousness transfer. That kind of tranquility is really priceless. It’s about as close as I can imagine to being in the woods directly, where you have the tranquility of the frogs and the crickets all supporting you. If everything in the green building is actively supporting your practice, that can be very inspiring.
Let’s look at the seven rules of tea according to Rikyu—one of the most famous Japanese tea teachers. The first rule is: make a delicious bowl of tea. That is your offering to the guest. If you think of this building as one big teacup, everything about it is a wonderful offering completely in the tradition of generosity. Nothing less.
The second rule is: lay the charcoal so it heats the water. This is where you demonstrate your technical skill as a tea person. This is about proper fuel efficiency. It is a direct translation to the technical choices you make for your pumps, your fuels, generators, HVAC and so on.
Third, arrange the flowers as they are in the field. Now I imagine this as arranging the walls, the windows, the doors as they are in the field, so when you walk in it feels just completely natural. You have the sense that it’s been thought about, that there’s a grace and a beauty with the natural materials just as in a flower arrangement.
Fourth: in summer suggest coolness, in winter warmth. How could they not be talking about a building? A building that works with the seasons is one of the trademarks of green design. The energy system should not labor hard to cool off the building in summer nor labor hard to heat it in winter.
Fifth, do everything ahead of time. In tea this means you are well prepared, you didn’t forget anything, everything is washed properly and so on. In this building project it can mean really good planning—you really thought through the budget, you really thought through the design questions. You’ve considered potential delays, obstacles, and opportunities.
Sixth, prepare for rain. “If there is preparation, there will be no regret.” In terms of the building this can translate to: prepare for commissioning. This is the key. You can build a green building but if no one runs through the official LEED checklist, you won’t be able to claim it’s a green building. Unfortunately this process costs $10,000-20,000 so the funds are often taken out of the budget at the last minute. Prepare for commissioning and keep that in your budget all the way through to the end.
And last, give those with whom you find yourself every consideration. In the tea ceremony this means host and guest in the very broadest sense. It’s the biggest field of play—all beings, not just humans. Central to the way of tea is the concept of kokoro ire. The first character means “heart, spirit, mind” and the second “to put in.” So in tea ceremony you put all of your heart, spirit, mind into it—for the host in preparing for the guests and the guests in receiving the host. And you understand through the whole ceremony that you’re both doing the dance together. You are continually being the guest while you are being the host. And the guest is being the host while being the guest.
Thinking of the building that way makes it something that will inform practice through the entire process of building it and enjoying it and living in it. That is my vision for this green building. I can hardly wait to come and see it and maybe hammer in a nail or two as the walls go up
Stephanie Kaza is Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Vermont where she teaches courses in sustainability, consumerism, and environmental thought. She has written numerous articles and books on Buddhism and ecology, including Dharma Rain: Sources of Buddhist Environmentalism and Hooked: Buddhist Writings on Greed, Desire,and the Urge to Consume.
This article is based on a talk presented at Zen Mountain Monastery in August 2006 and is reprinted by permission of the author.