While the wheelwright was making a wheel at the lower end of the hall, Prince Huan of Ch'i was reading a book at the upper end. Putting aside his chisel and mallet, the wheelwright called to the prince and asked him what book he was reading. “One that preserves the words of the sages,” said the prince. "Are those sages alive?" -- asked the wheelwright. “Oh, no,” said the prince, “they’re all dead.” The wheelwright responded, “Then what you're reading can be nothing but the dirt and scum of bygone people.”
“How dare you, a wheelwright, find fault with a book that I’m reading? Justify your statement or you shall die,” exclaimed the prince. “Well, speaking as a wheelwright,” said the man, “this is how I look at the matter: When I’m fashioning a wheel, if my stroke is too slow, it cuts deep but is not steady; if my stroke is too fast, it’s steady but doesn’t cut deep. The right pace, neither too fast nor too slow, will not get into the hand if it doesn't come from the heart. It’s something that cannot be put into words; there’s an art to it that I cannot hand on to my son.
That’s why I cannot let him take over my work, so here I am at the age of 75, still making wheels. In my opinion, it must be the same with those who've gone before us. All that was worth handing on, died with them; the rest they put into their books. That's why I said that what you’re reading is the dirt and scum of bygone people." The prince stood transfixed. He tore the pages of the book and left the palace never to return. He became a monk, who never picked up a book till he breathed his last.
“No book is perennially useful to mankind," said English philosopher David Hume. No book, no scripture remains eternally irreproachable. “Give me blank pages, no written words. Give me space, not instructions,” says the protagonist of a story written by Nobel Laureate Nadine Gordimer. Every age, era and epoch has its own unique issues that can only be resolved in a contemporary manner and not in a way suitable to the hoary old past.
Our over-dependence on books, scriptures and written words sucks the excitement out of our lives. Books can’t be compared with pulsating, living existence. What wise men wrote in books speaks of their way of looking at things at that point of time. What Moses, Krishna, Prophet Muhammad and Jesus preached was their way of unifying the warring tribes of that primitive period in human civilisation.
There's a beautiful anecdote about Buddha. One day, Buddha was sitting with his disciples. Sariputra asked him, “Don’t you want to leave behind books to immortalise your wisdom?”
Buddha intently looked at Sariputra and then said, “Son, your very question is wrong. Wisdom needs no help of books and words. And as regards your query to leave behind a book as my legacy, my dear son, this was the very reason for leaving my parental faith. I was disenchanted with those books.”
A wise man can envisage the future, but he's not a trikaaldarshi, one who can see the future. Your truth is your truth. It’s subjective. You cannot find it by reading and imbibing someone else’s experience of enlightenment. You've to find it for yourself.