I have watched several of the Kungfu Panda movies. I like them. They are entertaining, but they also carry some deeper meaning which can be traced back to the Tao Te Ching. The script writers know Chinese philosophy. One sequel to the Kungfu Panda features Po’s father’s secret recipe for making noodle. He is very secretive about it. Eventually Po discovers that his father actually has no secret recipe. In Chinese culture and in martial arts novels, there is often referral to a “sacred book without words.”
I can relate to this Wordless Recipe very well. I was a math professor. I have often urged students not to depend on a memorized formula to solve math problems. The boiler-plate approach kills creativity. Worse, it encourages laziness. If you have a formula or recipe for everything, you don’t have to think. I taught math for many years. It was a struggle for me to teach college students that higher level math cannot be approached using a formula or some well-established procedure. But it is difficult to change students’ mindset. Lower level math relies so much on memorizing formulas and facts. Modern math education, however, puts a premium on creative problem solving. In most authentic problems in real life, there is no “canned solution.” You’d have to find the solution from scratch.
The Diamond Sutra says that although Buddha taught for 40 years, he actually taught nothing. Many Buddhists cannot understand this. What could it possibly mean? It sounds very mysterious.
Buddha’s teaching of no-teaching and the Taoist’s “sacred book without words” are very similar ideas. They are both ways to force us to face each problem of life anew. Each situation is different. There is no fixed recipe for solving life’s problems. The fact that you don’t have a formula to go by means that you have to tap into your core, your inner creativity.
The highest dharma has no fixed teaching. That is for the best. We are not asked to be followers. We are asked to become creators and artists.