The Secret of Caring for Life

This is from my teacher…

And here’s the story of Cook Ding.  It’s in a section of the Zhuangzi.

Cook Ding was cutting up an ox for Lord Wenhui.  At 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 Jingshou music.

"Ah, this is marvelous!" said Lord Wenhui. "Imagine skill reaching such

Cook Ding 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 don’t 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 follow 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 – be¬cause he hacks. I’ve had this
knife of mine for nineteen years and I’ve 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 there’s plenty of room – more than enough for the
blade to play about in. That’s why after nine¬teen 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 I’m 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, com¬pletely satisfied and reluctant to move on, and then
I wipe off the knife and put it away."

"Excellent!" said Lord Wenhui. "I have heard the words of Cook Ding and
learned how to care for life.”


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