B U R E A U O F P U B L I C S E C R E T S
Cook Ting was cutting up an ox for Lord Wen-hui. As every touch of his hand, every heave of his shoulder, every move of his feet, every thrust of his knee zip! zoop! He slithered the knife along with a zing, and all was in perfect rhythm, as though he were performing the dance of the Mulberry Grove or keeping time to the Ching-shou music.
Ah, this is marvelous! said Lord Wen-hui. Imagine skill reaching such heights!
Cook Ting laid down his knife and replied, What I care about is the Way, which goes beyond skill. When I first began cutting up oxen, all I could see was the ox itself. After three years I no longer saw the whole ox. And now now I go at it by spirit and dont look with my eyes. Perception and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it wants. I go along with the natural makeup, strike in the big hollows, guide the knife through the big openings, and following things as they are. So I never touch the smallest ligament or tendon, much less a main joint.
A good cook changes his knife once a year because he cuts. A mediocre cook changes his knife once a month because he hacks. Ive had this knife of mine for nineteen years and Ive cut up thousands of oxen with it, and yet the blade is as good as though it had just come from the grindstone. There are spaces between the joints, and the blade of the knife has really no thickness. If you insert what has no thickness into such spaces, then theres plenty of room more than enough for the blade to play about it. Thats why after nineteen years the blade of my knife is still as good as when it first came from the grindstone.
However, whenever I come to a complicated place, I size up the difficulties, tell myself to watch out and be careful, keep my eyes on what Im doing, work very slowly, and move the knife with the greatest subtlety, until flop! the whole thing comes apart like a clod of earth crumbling to the ground. I stand there holding the knife and look all around me, completely satisfied and reluctant to move on, and then I wipe off the knife and put it away.
Excellent! said Lord Wen-hui. I have heard the words of Cook Ting and learned how to care for life!
Translated by Burton Watson
(Chuang Tzu: The Basic Writings, 1964)
Ting the cook was cutting meat free from the bones of an ox for Lord Wen-hui. His hands danced as his shoulders turned with the step of his foot and bending of his knee. With a shush and a hush, the blade sang following his lead, never missing a note. Ting and his blade moved as though dancing to The Mulberry Grove, or as if conducting the Ching-shou with a full orchestra.
Lord Wen-hui exclaimed, What a joy! Its good, is it not, that such a simple craft can be so elevated?
Ting laid aside his knife. All I care about is the Way. If find it in my craft, thats all. When I first butchered an ox, I saw nothing but ox meat. It took three years for me to see the whole ox. Now I go out to meet it with my whole spirit and dont think only about what meets the eye. Sensing and knowing stop. The spirit goes where it will, following the natural contours, revealing large cavities, leading the blade through openings, moving onward according to actual form yet not touching the central arteries or tendons and ligaments, much less touching bone.
A good cook need sharpen his blade but once a year. He cuts cleanly. An awkward cook sharpens his knife every month. He chops. Ive used this knife for nineteen years, carving thousands of oxen. Still the blade is as sharp as the first time it was lifted from the whetstone. At the joints there are spaces, and the blade has no thickness. Entering with no thickness where there is space, the blade may move freely where it will: theres plenty of room to move. Thus, after nineteen years, my knife remains as sharp as it was that first day.
Even so, there are always difficult places, and when I see rough going ahead, my heart offers proper respect as I pause to look deeply into it. Then I work slowly, moving my blade with increasing subtlety until kerplop! meat falls apart like a crumbling clod of earth. I then raise my knife and assess my work until Im fully satisfied. Then I give my knife a good cleaning and put it carefully away.
Lord Wen-hui said, Thats good, indeed! Ting the cook has shown me how to find the Way to nurture life.
Translated by Sam Hamill
and J.P. Seaton
(The Essential Chuang Tzu, 1998)
Two translations of a story from Chuang Tzu (Chapter 3).
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