A Wise Wheelwright

[We had Cook Ting’s story, in that story, Cook Ting acquired Tâo by cutting ox; here we have another workman who was a wheelwright, he learnt Tâo by making wheels. To him, books are just collections of words, words convey some ideas, while ideas are sequence of something else. Words are not sufficient to covey the real nature of the Tâo, the books of sages are ‘just the dregs and sediments’ of some old men died long ago. How could he make this conclusion? because during his seventy years of making wheels, he could only know just how to make wheel, but he couldn’t tell the technique by words of mouth.]

Duke Hwan, seated above in his hall, was (once) reading a book, and the wheelwright Phien was making a wheel below it 2. Laying aside his hammer and chisel, Phien went up the steps, and said, ‘I venture to ask your Grace what words you are reading?’ The duke said, ‘The words of the sages.’ ‘Are those sages alive?’ Phien continued. ‘They are dead,’ was the reply. ‘Then,’ said the other, ‘what you, my Ruler, are reading are only the dregs and sediments of those old men.’ The duke said, ‘How should you, a wheelwright, have anything to say about the book which I am reading? If you can explain yourself, very well; if you cannot, you shall die!’ The wheelwright said, ‘Your servant will look at the thing from the point of view of his own art. In making a wheel, if I proceed gently, that is pleasant enough, but the workmanship is not strong; if I proceed violently, that is toilsome and the joinings do not fit. If the movements of my hand are neither (too) gentle nor (too) violent, the idea in my mind is realised. But I cannot tell (how to do this) by word of mouth; there is a knack in it. I cannot teach the knack to my son, nor can my son learn it from me. Thus it is that I am in my seventieth year, and am (still) making wheels in my old age 1. But these ancients, and what it was not possible for them to Convey, are dead and gone:–so then what you, my Ruler, are reading is but their dregs and sediments!’

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