The King asked the Master Potter to shape a pot with a strong foundation and a thin lip from which to drink. Wu Wei had made many in his time. This was a simple request. He asked to watch the King and his chancellors to see how they used such pots. So Wu Wei attended a banquet where he saw the hard use and breakage of rough living. Then he went to work.
He spun the clay on his ancient wheel. But this pot resisted being brought into the world. It would not center. Wu Wei had to hold the clay for a long time before it would yield to his hands. Once trimmed, it had to dry. The King was impatient, wanting something special to show his court. But Wu Wei said that this pot had to be wood-fired for many days in order to tame its shape.
The King didn’t understand but left the potter to his secret ways. Not wanting to fire it alone, Wu Wei sat the stubborn pot on a shelf in his shed for months till the other potters had enough. Together, they fired the large sleeping giant that was their kiln. For one week, day and night, the fire was fed constantly and the King’s pot waited to be born in the midst of hundreds. Not special in the least.
It took a week for the fire to cool. When opened, many of the pots and urns were warped and brightly flashed. When the King’s pot was handed to Wu Wei, it was still warm and the reddest markings made it seem perfect. The lip was thin as flame itself. But the bottom had a crack. Wu Wei was pleased, but tired. He went to sleep.
The next day, he brought the beautifully cracked pot to the King. At once, the King saw the unrepeatable coloring and the utter thinness of the pot’s fine lip. Then he felt the crack underneath. He gave it back, “You call yourself a Master? This is not finished!” Wu Wei put it back in the King’s hands, “The fire always has the last word, your Highness.” The King was insulted and ordered Wu Wei to try again.
Wu Wei bowed and withdrew. On his way from court, a little boy was dumbstruck by the coloring of the pot. Falling to his knees, the little boy could see the sky through the crack in the bottom. Wu Wei helped the boy up and gave him the pot. Overjoyed, the boy ran home and hung the cracked pot from the edge of his roof. Meanwhile, Wu Wei began again.
It took several months but the Master Potter chose another lump of clay, which also resisted being centered. And after stilling it, and shaping it, and fixing its form, after waiting for the others, after stirring the sleeping giant of the kiln once more—another pot was born. This one even more colorful than the last, its lip even thinner. But in the bottom, another huge crack. Wu Wei was doubly pleased as he let it cool.
The next day he brought the second cracked pot to the King who was more eager than before. The King at once was stopped by its beauty. But as he held it, he quickly felt the Godforsaken crack. He smashed the pot and dismissed Wu Wei.
That night, while Wu Wei dreamt of flames cracking the sky, the King dreamt of being a little boy. And as a little boy, he fell in love with cracks and the pots that reveal them. In his dream, the King was startled to see his heart as a cracked pot hung from the edge of a roof. But this cracked heart was his and not his. Somehow it belonged to everyone. And suddenly, those tired of the world were falling on their knees to drink from the rain that was dripping through the crack in the heart that belonged to everyone.
The King woke in tears and rushed to put the smashed pot back together. He couldn’t and summoned Wu Wei to make him another. After several months, the Master Potter returned. This time, the King closed his eyes and searched right away for the crack in the bottom and was relieved to find it there.
From that day, the King forbid anyone to call him King and when alone, he drank from his knees; accepting a drop at a time through the crack in his heart.