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The Chef Cuts the Ox- Chuang Tzu

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1 The Chef Cuts the Ox- Chuang Tzu on Tue Mar 09, 2010 12:10 pm

As you can see I'm going through a Taoism phase. This story is very good.. See if you can find what it means.

If you do not know what the Tao is, think of it as the universal flow of energy.
It was late afternoon in ancient China. Duke Wen Hui walked into the kitchen to inspect the preparations for dinner. He saw that the Royal Chef was cutting up the ox for the main entree. Everything was as he expected.

The Duke was about the leave when a movement of the Chef caught his attention. There was something about it that was surprisingly smooth and graceful. The Chef's hands were gentle and confident as he touched the ox and leaned against it. Even the placement of his feet and knees seemed practiced and assured. There was an art to it that the Duke did not expect at all.

In fact, the Duke thought, this man moved in a way that reminded him of the Mulberry Woods Dance. As he slashed his blade in and out, it was as if he was playing music, making sounds that never fell out of rhythm. His attention was focused; his expression serene. Everything about the scene felt choreographed - although butchering seemed like the farthest thing in the world from such refinements.

The Duke stared transfixed. When the cook was done, he could not help but applaud. "Excellent!" He called out. "I never imagined I would see such transcendent skills applied to such a mundane task!"

The Chef put down his knife and turned to the Duke to bow deeply: "Your Highness."

"How did you do that?" The Duke felt compelled to ask. "How did you advanced your skill so such an incredible level?"

"It is not a skill, Your Highness," the Chef replied. "What I follow is the Tao, which goes beyond all skills."

The Duke did not understand this answer. "I know about the Tao," he said, "but I fail to see any connection between the Tao and what you do. Please explain."

The Chef collected his thoughts: "Your Highness, one of the foremost lessons from the Tao is to look beyond the physical. In the beginning, when I first started doing this, I did not understand that lesson and saw the ox just as most people would. After three years, I mastered the lesson and began to realize what it meant to not look at the ox in the conventional way."

"There is only one way to look at it - with the eyes!" The Duke asked: "What other way is there?"

"With the mind, sire," the Chef told him."The eyes are only a small part of one's perception, so I meet the ox with my mind rather than my eyes. In fact, when I reach out with my feelings and direct my mind's movement, my physical senses are inactive."

"I see," the Duke mused. "How about your hands? Do you also guide your hands with your mind instead of your eyes?"

"Yes, Your Highness," the Chef nodded. "When the mind is in tune with the totality of the situation, the hands will move in accordance to the natural flow. They intuitively know where to seek the large gaps in the structure of the ox. These are the places that come apart easily, almost without resistance."

"Well, the lack of resistance is due to the sharpness of your blade," the Duke pointed out. "You can't give all the credit to your mind."

"I can, in a manner of speaking." The Chef explained: "An average cook goes through one knife a month, because he hacks. A good cook goes through one knife a year, because he cuts. I have used this knife for nineteen years. It has butchered thousands of oxen, but the blade is still as sharp as new."

"How can that be?" The Duke shook his head. "You are cutting through sizable animals, and they are hardly made of paper. Even you must encounter bones every now and then."

"Indeed I do," the Chef admitted, "but the bones have joints and the joints have openings, which are huge compared to the thinness of the blade. With precise guidance, the knife can swish right through such an opening, with room to spare."

"So that is why your knife is as good as new after nineteen years!" The Duke laughed, delighted by this insight.

"Let us be careful to not make it seem simpler than it really is." The Chef continued in a solemn voice: "Joints can be quite complex, so every time I come across them, I note the parts that can be tricky. I make use of caution by focusing my attention and slowing down my movements. Sometimes, it takes only one small, exact movement of the knife. The ox comes apart, and may not even realize it's dead as it hits the ground."

"You certainly seem to enjoy this work," the Duke observed.

"Yes, sire." The Chef reflected: "When I'm finished, I survey my handiwork knowing it was a job well done. I put away my knife and feel a profound sense of satisfaction I cannot easily express."

"Thank you," the Duke clasped the Chef's hand. "You have given me much to think about with your words. What we have discussed here goes beyond cutting up the ox. Today I have learned a priceless principle about living life!"

We are that which transcends all possible thought and perception, the fruit of the tree that never dies.
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