Dojo: Still Point Aikido Center
Location: Austin, TX, USA
Join Date: Jul 2002
Re: The Potter and the Magic Clay
Of the many fine replies I've gotten to my articles over the years, this has to be one of my favorites. I especially like the line
"Every action, interaction, and non-action, shapes who we are. Just as my reading your articles are shaping me, my response likely shape you---if in no other way than you spent this time reading and considering it rather than doing something else."
These words echo thoughts I have put front and center on my own dojo's main page.
You raise many points. It's true that I come from a lineage of innovators. Each of my main teachers has found it necessary to find and establish a new way of doing things. This "tradition" traces back to O-Sensei. By one line of reasoning, we cannot truly follow O-Sensei's example unless each of us discovers, creates, and invents aikido anew. This is quite a different thing to my mind than what people mean when they refer to a ronin. I don't believe O-Sensei was ronin, and by the same logic, I don't think K. Tohei, R. Kobayashi, or the others are rightly characterized as ronin.
(As a side note, I spent some time as a regular assistant instructor in Toyoda Sensei's local Austin affiliate dojo.)
As for my little allegory, I'll comment on a few things that come to mind that are meaningful to me. My voice on the matter is necessarily author-itative, but as you say, it's better if each reader is able to make of it what is most meaningful to them... rather like magic clay.
The Potter in my story is deliberately represented as a Master, even at the beginning of the story. People don't like him, he's not very gracious or kind, but he is gifted and he has worked hard to achieve an unparalleled level of attainment. Working with the magic clay makes him more masterful, not only in his Art, but it profoundly affects his whole way of living. Still, a lesser potter would not have been so transformed.
The clay itself is indeed an empty vessel, or, a floating variable. We can interpret it as life, as aikido, as art, as teacher, as student, or as the relationship between these. The clay is Formlessness. The Potter was the master of form, but it was not until he had truly wrestled with and come to terms with the formless, could his own mastery become more complete.
The allegory is therefore about the the relationship between form and formlessness. Each informs the other, and neither is superior. We see that the Potter does not retire from the world of form -- far from it, his encounter with the formless allows him to become better at establishing form.
It's true that once we have found our own particular Magic Clay, then everything has the potential to enlighten us. All encounters are opportunities to make of them what we will, but only by submitting to a discipline of flexibility, adaptability, and impermanence.
But this is only half the truth. The more enlightened potter becomes better able to mold all of his surroundings because he himself has learned what it means to be molded. Having experienced this "enlightenment," he does not retire. Instead he continues to choose this clay over that, this apprentice over another, this form of creation instead of infinite other choices. In each moment, he establishes only one form, and annihilates all other possibility. The Creator cannot be passive like the clay, for there is no Creation without form. In the world of Form, there is relative value, choices continue to be made, and more is rejected than is accepted.
It's this balance, this interplay, this intercourse if you will, between the solid and the empty that is the underlying theme of all my articles. There is an apparent tension as we try to establish for ourselves which is the right way to be, or if we try to reconcile the opposites. This is just the frisson of lovers who eternally come together while never being other than one. Sometimes I write Izanagi, sometimes it's Izanami. Always I'm aiming for that zone where they intersect in joyous union and play. An attempt at reconciliation is a necessary part of the dance, but really it's the swirl of movement and the changing patterns that matter.
Sincere thanks for your input.