Fundamentals for Nourishing Life
There is a limit to our life, but to knowledge there is no limit. To pursue what is unlimited with what is limited is an exhausting undertaking. If we, knowing this, still seek to increase our knowledge, we will be depleted. When doing what is good, keep away from fame. When doing what is bad, avoid punishment. Following the middle course is the way of preserving the body, maintain one’s nature, preserving health and completing one’s natural span of life.
A cook was cutting up an ox for Wen Hui. Wherever his hand touched, his shoulder leaned, his foot tread and his knee thrust, there was the sound of ripping and the sound of slicing, which kept time with the rhythm of the dance of Mulberry Grove and were as melodious as the music of Jingshou.
“Ah! Very good!” Wen Hui said, “How did you achieve such perfection in your skill?”
The cook put down his knife and replied, “What I love is the Tao, which is more advanced than skills. When I first began to cup up an ox, I saw nothing but the whole ox. Three years later, I saw no more the whole ox. Now I deal with the ox in my mind instead of my eyes. The senses stop functioning, but the mind is activated. Following the ox’s natural veins, my knife slips through openings between its muscles and slides through crevices in the joints. I take advantage of what is already there. The knife has never hesitated at the juncture of blood vessels, not to mention the big bones. A good cook changes his knife every year because he uses his knife to cut. An ordinary cook changes his knife every month because he uses his knife to hack. My knife has been in use for nineteen years and has cup up several thousand oxen, and yet its edge is still sharp as if it were newly whetted. There are crevices in the joints, but the blade of the knife ahs no thickness. There is certainly plenty of room for the blade of a knife without thickness to enter the joints where there are crevices. This is why the blade of the knife that has been in use for nineteen years is still sharp as if it were newly whetted. Nevertheless, when I come to a complicated joint and see that there will be difficulty, I proceed cautiously, fixing my eyes on it, moving slowly and cutting gently until the part is quickly separated and drops like a clod of earth to the ground. Then standing with the knife in my hand, I look all around with triumphant satisfaction. I then clean the knife and put it away.”
Wen Hui said, “Very good! From the cook’s words I have learned the way of nurturing life.”