Are You The Clay or The Pebble, or Neither?

Harn Siow Ping (Zhang Ping)  

Which of them are you represented, the clay or the pebble? Before you attempt to answer this seemingly strange question, let me share with you a short poem by William Blake. The Clod &The Pebble “Love seeketh not Itself to please, Nor for itself hath any care, But for another gives its ease, And builds a Heaven in Hell’s despair.”

So sung a little clod of clay
Trodden with the cattle’s feet,
But a Pebble of the brook
Warbled out these metres meet;
“Love seeketh only Self to please,
To bind another to Its delight,
Joys in another’s loss of ease,
And builds a hell in heaven’s despite.”
My answer to this question has undergone some changes over the past
twelve months and at last it has come to a stable state. I am neither the
clay nor the pebble.

Just in case any of the readers mistake me to be rambling about physical composition of earth or some philosophical issue of profound humanity, be rest assured that what I am going to say in a moment is simple and touches every one of us in our daily life. When I first read this poem, I was amazed by its simple and direct style of delivering the poet’s thought through the mouthpiece of clay and pebble in a dialogue. I was also puzzled by the impartiality of Blake on the two opposing views on love. However, I took side with the clay because I was touched by its genuine and selfless love for others. I admired the clay’s courage and willingness to sacrifice itself to provide happiness and comfort to others (eg. offer itself to cushion the cattle’s feet). On the other hand, I was repulsed by the pebble which is selfish and derives “happiness” from others’ suffering. Hence for a period of time, I tried to cultivate the good qualities illustrated by the clay. However, it was frustrating there was an inner voice crying out for justice.

It was crying for its opinion to be heard, for its right to be recognised and for its continuing existence before it vanished in the mist of sacrifice. There are occasions when I felt that others are taking advantage of my newly (but not fully) developed nature of complete sacrifice and selfless love. Very soon, this noble cultivation was abandoned. I took me a long time and a lot of effort before I realized I had unconsciously taken the perspective of the pebble. I put myself at the centre of the stage and tried to arrange others around me so that they could give me their undivided attention and love to make me happy. In another words, I 
emphasize the “I” in me to be pleased and wanted people that I love to be mine. This strong attachment to self and loved ones brings disappointment, dissatisfaction and suffering. Luckily, Buddhist teaching on impermanence and no self has helped me to realise my wrong perception.

Having taken the unsatisfactory perspectives of both the clay and the pebble, I come to the conclusion that the middle path is the best way for me towards a better human relationship. To be able to cultivate selfless love for all living things is the ultimate perfection. However, if our ability falls short of that, the next best thing is to practice give and take. To be tolerant, understanding, thoughtful and considerate but at the same time recognise our right to be treated fairly. I am not advocating that we should forget about selfless love and give up all attempts to cultivate the virtue of great compassion. My message is: we should cultivate this personal development at our own pace and not to feel inferior if we are slow. As the saying goes, slow and steady wins the race.

Hence the question of whether one is the clay or the pebble calls for different response from different individuals. The kind of answer one has for oneself depends on one’s inclination and depth of understanding and practice of the Dharma. Hence I appreciate Blake’s impartiality in the poem as it allows readers to reach their own conclusion and make the poem special to them in their unique way.

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