Daoism / Taoism Zhuangzi Use the Force






Nourishing the Lord of Life:
A Cook Dissects His Oxen
Alternative title: Use the force

Written by Zhuangzi (Daoism); Translated by Edward Tsang; Proofread by Gilli Robson and Ben Wright; 2008.12.25

Ruler Wen Hui’s cook dissected an ox for him. Wherever his hands touched, his shoulders leaned, his feet landed, his knees pressed, the separation between skin and bones became audible; it became more so when the knife entered the ox. The sounds were all in cadence, resembling classical dance and rhythm.

Ruler Wen Hui said, “Ah, Excellent! How did you manage to perfect your technique like that?”

The cook laid down his knife and replied, “What your servant studies is Dao (the way), which goes beyond techniques. When I started, all I saw was the ox. Three years later, I ceased to see the ox as a whole. Now I no longer use my eyes; all I use is my spirit. My senses know when to stop and my spirit drives the operation. By observing the force of nature, I run my knife through crevices and cavities as that is the only way. My knife does not have to confront membranes and ligaments, let alone bones. Good cooks normally change knives yearly, as they are used for cutting. Average cooks normally change knives monthly, as they are used for chopping. I have been using my knife for nineteen years. I have dissected thousands of oxen, yet its blade remains as new. Interstices exist between all joints, while the blade has little thickness. There is plenty of room to manoeuvre the thin blade between the interstices. That explains why my knife is as new after nineteen years. Nevertheless, whenever I encounter a complicated joint, I shall proceed in alert; I shall abandon my vision and my movements will slow down. The slightest movement would be sufficient to separate the joint, as naturally as soil falling down. I shall then stand up with my knife, look around, fill myself with satisfaction, carefully clean my knife and put it back.”

Ruler Wen Hui said, “Excellent! My cook’s words have nourished my life.”

Maintained by Edward Tsang; Last updated 2009.06.26