Name: Soren Michael Christian Bisgaard
Age: 69
Nationality: Danish
Occupation: Tea master
Likes: Clean air, nature, music, peace, intelligence, the brightness of summer, variety and biodiversity, natural food,
Dislikes: Smoking, air pollution, noise,stupidity, TV entertainment, the darkness of a northern winter, processed snacks, war

1. What first brought you to Japan? A philosophical and aesthetic interest. I wanted to make a scholarly comparison of an Indian school of philosophy, Advaita Vedanta, and Zen in the belief that the philosophical foundation and practise of both actually didn’t differ. I am still working on this after having found archaeological evidence in Kanchipuram, the birthplace of Bodhidharma, who brought what was to become Zen to China.

2. What’s keeping you here? The mild climate, pure and plentiful water, the best food you can enjoy, the wonderful people and, not least, my deep engagement with Japanese tea ceremony.

3. Did tea find you, or did you find tea? I grew up in a tea-drinking family and already as a child I took an interest in preparing it. I read “The Book of Tea” by Okakura Kakuzo at the age of 19 and it has determined my lifestyle ever since.

4. What’s your favorite Japanese word or phrase? Wa (harmony, the goal of Taoism), kei (respect, the goal of Confucianism), sei (purity, the goal of Shintoism) and jaku (tranquillity, the goal of Buddhism). The Japanese tea ceremony synthesises these four principles.

5. Who has most influenced you in your life? My Indian spiritual teacher, Swami Narayanananda.

6. Does the Japanese tea ceremony still have relevance in our busy, disconnected lives? Chadō (Japanese tea ceremony) evolved in a chaotic time of upheaval. The tea space provided a much-needed sanctuary of peace and tranquility, where people could leave the uncertainties and hustle bustle of everyday life behind. The need for such a sanctuary is as necessary and relevant today as it was in the past.

7. Intelligent Life magazine once called the tea ceremony “the most tedious of pastimes.” How would you respond to this criticism? There is more to chadō than meets the eye. It is both a transforming and confirming ritual with an underlying deep unifying philosophy.

8. You travel and work in China a lot. Can tea bring these two nations closer? Even though tea is drunk every day by most Chinese, they have lost the traditions of earlier ceremonial tea presentations and are looking to Japan and Taiwan for guidance. We are, therefore, in the unusual situation of a reversal of the flow of culture from Japan back to China. The increasing visits both ways of especially young people aware of these things are very encouraging.

9. Where do you go to relax? I relax strolling and sitting in nature, and not least in my tea room, enjoying the quiet of a cup of tea alone or with friends.

10. If you could share a cup of tea with anyone from history, who would it be? Lu Yu, who in the ninth century wrote the first treatise on tea. One should always go to the source for undiluted purity.

11. When was the last time you cried? People laugh at me when I cry. I cry often.

12. What’s the most exciting thing you have ever done? Leaving it all behind.

13. Name three uses of a stapler without staples. A paper weight; a percussion instrument; a pair of pliers.

14. What do you think about while standing on the train? Whatever is pertinent.

15. Tell us a quick joke. There was a club of jokers who entertained each other with jokes. Instead of repeating an old joke they just referred to them by number. Someone would say “No. 9” and they would all laugh, knowing the joke very well. One day, a man said “No. 127.” After they had laughed a little, there was a guy, who was rolling around, laughing hysterically. Eventually they asked him “Why are you laughing so much”? “Because,” he replied, “I’ve never heard that one before!”

16. If you could ask your future self one question what would it be? “Do you feel any difference between then and now”? I expect the answer to be: “Absolutely none.”

17. What does tea have that coffee doesn’t? Tea and coffee have one thing in common: caffeine, a stimulant. Tea, however, contains another psychoactive substance: theanine, a relaxant that works directly on the central nervous system and counteracts the side-effects of caffeine, while not preventing the stimulant effect that is experienced as alertness.

18. What’s the best advice you ever got? My grandfather’s advice: “Don’t postpone to the morrow what can be done today.”

19. Who would win a fight between a lion and tiger? On equal terms, I think the lion would win because its mane would give it a little more protection against throat bites than the maneless tiger.

20. Do you have any words of advice for young people? Travel as far away as possible from what you were born into and get to know yourself — your strengths and weaknesses, your abilities and talents — and determine your goal, set your aim as high as possible and then go straight for it.

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