"Well done!" cried the Prince. "Yours is skill indeed."
"Sire," replied the cook; "I have always devoted myself to Tao. It is better than skill. When I first began to cut up bullocks, I saw before me simply whole bullocks. After three years' practice, I saw no more whole animals.
- Meaning that he saw them, so to speak, in sections.
And now I work with my mind and not with my eye. When my senses bid me stop, but my mind urges me on, I fall back upon eternal principles. I follow such openings or cavities as there may be, according to the natural constitution of the animal. I do not attempt to cut through joints: still less through large bones.
- For a curious parallelism, see Plato's Phædrus, 265.
"A good cook changes his chopper once a year,—because he cuts. An ordinary cook, once a month,—because he hacks. But I have had this chopper nineteen years, and although I have cut up many thousand bullocks, its edge is as if fresh from the whetstone. For at the joints there are always interstices, and the edge of a chopper being without thickness, it remains only to insert that which is without thickness into such an interstice.
- These words help to elucidate a much-vexed passage in ch. xliii of the Tao-Tê-Ching. See The Remains of Lao Tzŭ, p. 30.