Sunday, September 12, 2010

Meditation on Mastery: J R Worsley and Wang Fengyi

As part of things coming full circle (see my blog of June 1st), I am now in touch with Heiner Fruehauf, who has very kindly sent me a copy of his interesting article, All Disease comes from the Heart – The Pivotal Role of the Emotions in Classical Chinese Medicine. In our email correspondence, Heiner mentions Wang Fengyi, master of the lineage he studied under in China. Wang Fengyi practised in Manchuria during the 1930s, when the region was occupied by the Japanese, who, Heiner says, “imported some of this system to Japan”. Heiner describes JR Worsley as “a Western Wang Fengyi”, and wonders whether there could be a connection between what he calls “these two masters”. After all, JR received some of his training from Japanese masters.

Apart from offering a fascinating insight into the possible transmission of the five element system, his comment also set me thinking about what exactly we mean by the word master, and in particular upon what kind of person I myself bestow this accolade. (Mistress seems never to have been used in this context, as far as I can see, though somebody out there may correct me on this!) I am very clear in my own mind that JR is the only master of acupuncture I have so far encountered, and that I cannot at the moment attach this designation to any other acupuncturist. No doubt there are other living masters of acupuncture whom I have not met, or acupuncturists I have met who other people would call masters, but each of us must have our own concept of what mastery means. I must therefore draw on my own experience of just one acupuncture master to help me try and fathom what I personally see as the nature of mastery.

I do not regard mastery as being obtained through the acquisition of a particular skill or set of skills or the result of any kind of particular dexterity, nor as arising simply from a level of intelligence applied to a particular discipline. It is certainly not what is attained by gaining a prescribed qualification. It implies something far deeper and more complex than that. Buried within it is always the sense of something which connects this person to the deeper mysteries of life, and thus to the spiritual, and to what may well lie beyond the reach of those who are non-masters or not-yet-masters. When I think of the word, I have a picture before me of a disciple bowing humbly before his/her master. It is therefore associated with a level of reverence accorded by one person to another, implicit in the term “revered master”. And reverence can never be bestowed lightly; it always has to be earned.

I do not think you can work your way to mastery. You can work towards proficiency, so that you become increasingly competent at what you do, but mastery is not an acquired skill. It is, in my view, something in the nature of a gift, a God-given gift, I would like to add, from whatever God or power or force created the awesome powers which can reside within one human being, a gift which is only vouchsafed a very rare few. And such people touch those they encounter in very special ways, opening doors that without them would remain forever shut.

I was fortunate to be one of the many whom the mastery of JR in the field of acupuncture touched with its inspiring touch. And there was no better illustration of this for me than the time when I heard him going through a list of all the points from his Point Reference Guide, one of the five element bibles without which, even now, I could not practise. He talked the class through each point on each official, thus the whole mythical 365, and addressed each point as though offering a greeting to them in hushed tones of love. Hearing this I felt I was being allowed a glimpse of a world in which he wandered at will, but which I could only venture into with his help. I understood then that points spoke to him and communicated with him in ways I could myself only dimly perceive, and which bore little relation to the lists of point functions in the many books now vying with each other to offer often dubious insights into point selection.

I certainly do not think that I can aspire, or will ever want to aspire, to the title of master, nor am I sad about this, having a good appreciation of my own limitations as acupuncturist. A good, competent, hardworking acupuncturist I may be, but the magic of mastery will always elude me. It makes it all the more precious that I have encountered mastery once in my life.

For details of videos and lectures given by Heiner Fruehauf, particularly in relation to Wang Fengyi, see his website

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