Moving Towards Stillness


stillnessI was reading an interview with the wonderfully talented potter Toshiko Takaezu the other day, and one of her comments was the sort of observation that stays in your mind, a thought so simply and yet eloquently stated that you recognize it has implications far beyond the matter the person happens to be talking about at just that moment. Ms. Takaezu, a Japanese-American, was describing the time she spent studying the tea ceremony in Kyoto in an effort to polish her understanding of the ceramic utensils that are used as part of that art. One day, while attending to some chores in the offices of the school, she overheard Sen Soshitsu, the current headmaster of the Urasenke ryu, who was talking to a Buddhist priest who was interested in beginning a practice of tea. Soshitsu spoke with the priest at length, Takaezu recalled in the interview, and then Soshitsu told the man bluntly, “You are not ready as a person to make tea.”

That is a thought-provoking comment, isn’t it? From the conversation Sen Soshitsu had with the priest, the potter Toshiko Takaezu learned a lesson she considered extremely important for her work in ceramics. “I realized,” she said in the interview,”that in order to make good tea bowls, manual skill is not enough. One must turn inward and try to develop inner human qualities for this work.”

By her own account, Ms. Takaezu was well into middle age before she began this journey inward. As I admired her work at a recent exhibition, it was easy to see that her efforts at improving herself had contributed to the perfection of her art. Her insights should be of interest to all artists. We who are on the path of pottery should be asking ourselves, from time to time, “Am I ready as a person to create pots?”

(From Moving Toward Stillness, with editorial rewrites by Vera)