Cutting Up an Ox, Chuang Tzu, transl. Thomas Merton

Prince Wen Hui's cook

Was cutting up an ox.

Out went a hand,

Down went a shoulder,

He planted a foot,

He pressed with 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 aside his cleaver,

"What I follow is Tao

Beyond all methods!"

"When I first began

To cut up an oxen

I would see before me

The whole ox

All in one mass."

"After three years

I no longer saw this mass.

I saw the distinctions."

"But now, I see 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 natural line,

By the secret opening, the hidden space,

My cleaver finds its own way.

I cut through no joint, chop no bone."

"A good cook needs a new chopper

Once a year–he cuts.

A poor cook needs a new one

Every month–he hacks!"

"I have used this same cleaver

Nineteen years.

It has cut up

A thousand oxen.

Its edge is as keen

As if newly sharpened."

"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 Wan Hui said,

"This is it! My cook has shown me

How I ought to live

My own life!"

Chuang Tzu, The Way of Chuang Tzu, translated by Thomas Merton

"Sensory perception... is the silken web that binds our separate nervous systems into the encompassing ecosystem."
David Abram