3rd Generation Gempaku Sotan (1578-1658) 元伯 宗旦, Zen name: 咄々斎
Rikyu’s grandson, Shuri, was born in Sakai on the 1st day of the 1st month, 1578. He began his Zen training at the age of eleven under the priest Shun’oku Soen, head priest of Sangen’in at Daitokuji temple in Kyoto, where he became known by the name Sotan. Later in life, he also used the names Gempaku, Genshuku, Totsutotsusai, and Kan’un.
Sotan became the head of the Sen household in 1596, at the age of eighteen, when his father, Shoan, retired. He had two sons, Sosetsu and Soshu, by his first wife, and two more sons, Sosa and Senso, by his second wife, Soken, a former lady-in-waiting of Empress Tofukumon’in.
Although Sotan shunned public office, he was an important cultural figure of his time, and was well acquainted with many members of the cultural elite, including Hon’ami Koetsu, the talented calligrapher, potter, and sword appraiser, and Empress Tofukumon’in, daughter of Shogun Tokugawa Hidetada and wife of Emperor Go-Mizuno’o, an important patron of the arts.
Sotan is credited with playing a key role in the transmission of Rikyu’s ideals of the Way of Tea; its survival to the present day is thought to be due in large part to his efforts. Sotan lived an austere, refined life based on his belief that the essence of Tea and Zen are the same. His simple tea utensils reflect his deep Wabi philosophy, but he also designed a few gorgeous pieces which reflect the spirit of the exuberant Kan’ei period and his relationship to the imperial court.
In 1646, Sotan retired, and Sosa became the head of the family. At the back of the property, Sotan built a small tea house, Konnichian. When his fourth son, Senso, found a position with the Maeda clan of Kaga, Sotan built the Yuin and Kan’untei tearooms, creating a compound separated from the main house. Sotan died in 1658, at the age of eighty-one. His memorial is annually observed at Urasenke on November 19.
When someone askes you:
What is the nature of tea?
Say it’s the sound
Of the wind blowing through the pines
In a painting.
is conveyed through the mind,
and ear –
without a single stroke of the brush.
Maru-Joku – Round Ikkanbari (black lacquer) tana with two shelves
There was a priest at the Daitokuji temple in Kyoto who happened to see a particularly beautiful camellia blossom in the garden, and he decided to send it to his friend, the tea master Sen Sotan. He carefully picked the flower and gave it to one of his disciples, with strict instructions to handle the gift carefully on his way to Sotan’s residence. Despite the messenger’s best efforts, however, the blossom fell off of the stem before he could give it to Sotan. The messenger wondered what to do, and finally decided to take the flower and its stem to Sotan and offer his abject apologies. Sotan accepted both the apologies and the gift. Instead of throwing the flower away, he placed the stem in a hanging vase on the pillar of the tokonoma (the alcove where the scroll is usually hung and a vase of flowers is arranged), and he placed the blossom beneath the vase as if it had fallen there naturally.