King Hoàn Công was reading. (He was known to be a very competent king during the Warring States in China.) His wood craftsman who was fashioning cart wheels came up to him and asked: “What is your Highness reading?”
The king replied: “I am reading up on the sages’ teachings.”
“Are they still alive?”
“No, they are all dead.”
“Then, your Highness is only picking up rejects!”
“How dare you? Explain yourself quickly or else I’ll have your head chopped!”
“I was simply deducing from the way I make wooden wheels. They need to be carved just right: not too small nor too big. Each time is different and one cannot follow any preset process. This cannot be spelled out in detail. That is why I could not teach my children nor could they thoroughly pick it up from me. As a result, even at the ripe age of 70, I still have to fashion wooden cart wheels!
Similarly, the ancients’ deep wisdom cannot be transmitted to later generations. What is written can be considered to be rejected knowledge of the ancients.”
The king loved the logic. He pardoned the wood craftsman and even gave him a generous reward.
* * * * *
Written words cannot convey the essence of the sages’ teachings.
Even the Chan meditation school recognizes that the enlightened beings’ teachings must be conveyed as “not relying on words or languages.” In other words, we train the students to experience it themselves rather than giving them knowledge.
Worldly people overvalue knowledge and views instead of emphasizing the development of real wisdom through personal training.