Cook Ting was cutting an ox after a sacrifice to be used as food for Lord Wen of Hui. At every touch of the hand, every heave of the shoulder, every move of the feet, every bend of the knee, he slipped the knife along effortlessly and all was in perfect rhythm as though he were performing the dance of the mulberry grove to the flow of the melody of Yao’s music.
“Ah, this is marvelous,” said Lord Wen of Hui. “Imagine skill reaching such heights!”
Cook Ting laid down his knife and replied, “What I care about is the natural path which goes beyond skill. When I first began cutting oxen, all I could see was the ox itself. After three years I no longer saw the whole ox. Now I go at it through intuition. Perception and understanding have come to a stop and intuition moves where it wants. I go along with the natural construction, strike in the big hollow places, guide the knife through large openings, and follow things as they are. So I never touch the smallest ligament or tendon, much less the main joints.
“A good cook changes knives once a year, because he cuts. A mediocre cook changes his once a month, because he hacks. I’ve had this knife of mine for nineteen years and I’ve cut thousands of oxen with it, yet the blade is as good as new.
“There are spaces between the joints, and the blade of remain in peace. Undeveloped people cannot do this; there the knife is just as if it had no thickness really. 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. And 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 spot, I size up the difficulties, tell myself to watch out and be careful, keep my eyes on what I am doing, work very slowly and move the knife with the greatest subtlety until the whole thing comes apart like a clod of earth flopping to the ground. I stand there holding the knife and look all around me, my mind completely full with the satisfaction of accomplishing a perfect job, and then I wipe the knife and put it away.
“Excellent,” said Lord Wen of Hui. “I have heard the words of Cook Ting and learned how to solve the problems of life!”
Entering the Tao: Master Ni’s Teachings on Self-cultivation
by Hua-Ching Ni
Cutting Up An Ox about.com