Live in the Dao - Practice Everything, Nurture Life, and Savor the Now


The Tale of Cook Ding 

Cook Ding was carving an ox carcass for Lord Wenhui. With each touch of his hand, heave of his shoulder, step of his feet, thrust of his knee – whop! whish! – he wielded his knife with a whoosh, and every move was in rhythm. It was as though he were performing the Dance of the Mulberry  Grove or keeping to the beat of the Constant Source music.

“Ah, marvelous!” said Lord Wenhui. “Surely this is the acme of skill!” Cook Ding laid down his knife and replied, “What your servant loves, my lord, is the Dao,  and that is a step beyond skill."

“At the beginning, when I first began carving up oxen, all I could see was the whole carcass.  After three years I could no longer see the carcass whole, and now I meet it with my spirit and don’t  look with my eyes. Perception and understanding cease and spirit moves as it will. I follow the  natural form: slicing the major joints I guide the knife through the big hollows, and by conforming to the inherent contours, no vessels or tendons or tangles of sinews – much less the big bones – block my blade in the least."

“A good cook changes his knife once a year, but this is mere slicing. An ordinary cook  changes his knife once a month, because he hacks. I’ve been using this knife now for nineteen years;  it has carved thousands of oxen, yet the blade is as sharp as one fresh off the grindstone. You see,  there are gaps between these joints, but the blade edge has no thickness. If a knife with no thickness  moves into a gap, then it’s wide as need be and the blade wanders freely with plenty of leeway.  That’s why after nineteen years the blade of my knife is as sharp as one fresh off the grindstone."

“But nevertheless, whenever a tangled knot lies ahead, I spot the challenge and on the alert I  focus my sight and slow down my hand – then I flick the blade with the slightest of moves, and before you know it the carcass has fallen apart like earth crumbling to the ground. I stand with knife  raised and face all four directions in turn, prancing in place with complete satisfaction. Then I wipe off the knife and put it away.”

“How fine!” said Lord Wenhui. “Listening to the words of Cook Ding, I have learned how
to nurture life!”

~ Zhuangzi: The Inner Chapters - 3.2 The Tale of Cook Ding

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