Prince Wen Hui's cook was cutting up an ox.
Out went a hand, down went a shoulder. He planted a foot.
He pressed a knee. The ox fell apart with a whisper. The bright cleaver murmured like a gentle wind. Rhythm! Timing! Like a sacred dance. Like the mulberry grove.
Like ancient harmonies!
"Good work!" the Prince exclaimed. "Your method is faultless!"
"Method?" said the cook, laying down his cleaver.
"What I follow is Tao. Beyond all methods!
When I first began to cut up oxenI would see before me the whole ox, all in one mass. After three years, I no longer saw this massI saw distinctions.
But all I see now is nothing with the eye. My whole being apprehends. My senses are idle. The spirit free to work without plan follows its own instinct guided by a natural line.
By the secret opening, the hidden space, my own cleaver finds its own way. I cut through no joint, chop no bone. There are spaces in the joints. The blade is thin and keen. When this thinness finds that space, there is all the room you need. It goes like a breeze. Hence, I have this cleaver nineteen years as if newly sharpened.
True, there are sometimes tough joints. I feel them coming. I slow down. I watch closely, hold back, barely move the blade.
And whump! the part falls away Landing like a clod of earth.
Then, I withdraw the blade. I stand still and let the joy of the work sink in. I clean the blade and put it away."
Prince Wen Hui said, "This is it! My cook has shown me how I ought to live my own life!"