The purpose of fish traps is to catch fish. When the fish are caught, the traps are forgotten. The purpose of rabbit snares is to catch rabbits. When the rabbits are caught, the snares are forgotten. The purpose of words is to convey ideas. When the ideas are grasped, the words are forgotten. Where is the man who has forgotten all words. He is the one I would like to speak with.
— Chuang Tzu
Chuang Tzu was a Chinese philosopher and a major thinker in Taoism who lived during 360 BC – 275 BC.Truth and wisdom are rare gifts, a privilege of only the very few enlightened souls that walk upon this planet. Chuang Tzu was undoubtedly one such soul. His thoughts, his ideas, have travelled through the ages but they still remain fresh and relevant.
Here’s a quote that I absolutely love. It’s the essence of all enlightened people. Chuang Tzu is saying what all enlightened men and women have said: words are a feeble attempt to explain something that is beyond the realm of explanation. Chuang Tzu’s analogies drive home the point quite convincingly. He says that the purpose of a fish trap or a rabbit snare is to catch the fish and the rabbits. Don’t we forget the traps once their purpose is served? This is what we should do with wise words too. Their purpose is to explain. And once you have understood, the words should be forgotten. Authentic understanding is independent of words. It resonates deep within you—it’s an experience, a knowing.
It’s like swimming. No amount of theory can teach you to swim. The only way to learn swimming is to dive in the water. Yes, some advance information and warnings help. But once you have learned swimming, you need not remember the advice you received before you began.
Chuang Tzu says he’s looking for such a man, who has forgotten all words. The way he says it, it appears that such men are rare and I concur with him. Most of us, most of the times, hold on to the words and forget the intention or essence behind the words. In doing so, we remain ignorant about the truth—because truth cannot be asserted in words, it can only be experienced. If we shift our focus to the idea behind the words and the experience that the words are leading us to, then we can begin to live with greater clarity and awareness, which is the pathway to fulfilment.