Peter A Goldsbury
But if we read his writings, courtesy of Prof Stevens, we can see that O Sensei's essential message has not changed at all and is exactly the one so tirelessly proclaimed by Kisshomaru Doshu and now by his son.
My gut feeling is that we deserve better than this.
I agree wholeheartedly. What we get of O-Sensei is highly filtered. I was lucky to have many first hand accounts from Saotome Sensei but that was from one individual and a small spectrum of the time the Founder was teaching.
Something gets lost when a person starts to attain "mythic" status. I remember talking to Kuroiwa Yoshio Sensei back in the 90's. We were discussing Kisshomaru Ueshiba, the Doshu at the time. He said that "we (he and Kisshomaru) used to go out drinking together. Now he's important." I think Kuroiwa Sensei actually felt sorry for the Doshu because he was trapped by the role.
The problem with the "mythic" aspect of the Founder is that it separates him from us as practitioners. It may be why we started or it may inspire our practice and investigations but it aslo implies that we can't ever attain that level of ability.
The ideas of O-Sensei's spirituality are put out there with little understanding of how he arrived at them. So an understanding of what he really meant is extremely difficult. It's a lot like talking about modern physics. We can discuss certain concepts but really, if you don't have the math, you can't really understand them because they simply aren't really describable using verbal methods.
O-Sensei's views had far more complexity and depth than the existing, out of context, versions allow for. If you don't really understand where his spiritual ideas came from, if you don't have any experience training using the same methods he did, you won't be able to reach a full understanding of the man's teachings.
The academic gaps can be addressed more easily than the experiential ones I think. There simply aren't very many folks around who incorporate much of the training O-Sensei did into their own training regimen. Abe Sensei and his students do, the Shingu folks still do I believe. Rev. Koichi Barrish here in Washington State is doing so. Gleason Sensei runs a week long intensive training every year that focuses on this. But still one has to go out of ones way to get it.
So, in the absence of any way to really get at the Founder's experience as he understood it, we do bounce back and forth between the a) and b) as you stated. In the end how we structure our studies and how we approach our training will shape our understanding. Which is why we will all have our individual ideas about the whole thing. I don't see "general agreement" happening any time soon.