Duke Huan was in his hall reading a book. The wheelwright P'ien, who was in the yard below chiseling a wheel, laid down his mallet and chisel, stepped up into the hall, and said to Duke Huan, "This book Your Grace is reading - may I venture to ask whose words are in it?"Language can point in a certain direction, but to understand something fully, we must actually experience it ourselves. The wheelwright P'ien can instruct us on the proper ways to chisel a wheel. He can provide step-by-step instructions replete with pictures and snazzy diagrams. Maybe even an instructional dvd! But until we actually start to chisel a wheel and make novice mistakes as we do it, we can't fully understand the art of chiseling wheels.
"The words of the sages," said the duke.
"Are the sages still alive?"
"Dead long ago," said the duke.
"In that case, what you are reading there is nothing but the chaff and dregs of the men of old!"
"Since when does a wheelwright have permission to comment on the books I read?" said Duke Huan. "If you have some explanation, well and good. If not, it's your life!"
Wheelwright P'ien said, "I look at it from the point of view of my own work. When I chisel a wheel, if the blows of the mallet are too gentle, the chisel slides and won't take hold. But if they're too hard, it bites in and won't budge. Not too gentle, not too hard - you can get it in your hand and feel it in your mind. You can't put it into words, and yet there's a knack to it somehow. I can't teach it to my son, and he can't learn it from me. So I've gone along for seventy years and at my age I'm still chiseling wheels. When the men of old died, they took with them the things that couldn't be handed down. So what you are reading there must be nothing but the chaff and dregs of the men of old."
~ Burton Watson translation ~
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