Chuang Tzu. Chapter 3. Argument: Life
too short. Wisdom unattainable. Accommodation to circumstances.
Liberty paramount. Death a release. The soul immortal.*
My life has a limit, but my knowledge is without limit. To drive
the limited in search of the limitless, is fatal; and the knowledge
of those who do this is fatally lost.
In striving for others, avoid fame. In striving for self, avoid
disgrace. Pursue a middle course. Thus you will keep a sound body,
and a sound mind, fulfil your duties, and work out your allotted
Prince Hui's cook was cutting up a bullock. Every blow of his
hand, every heave of his shoulders, every tread of his foot, every
thrust of his knee, every whshh of rent flesh, every chhk of the
chopper, was in perfect harmony, rhythmical like the dance of
the Mulberry Grove, simultaneous like the chords of the Ching
'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. 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.
'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 chopper
being without thickness, it remains only to insert that which
is without thickness into such an interstice. By these means the
interstice will be enlarged, and the blade will find plenty of
room. It is thus that I have kept my chopper for nineteen years
as though fresh from the whetstone.
'Nevertheless, when I come upon a hard part where the blame meets
with a difficulty, I am all caution. I fix my eye on it. I stay
my hand, and gently apply my blade, until with a hwah the part
yields like earth crumbling to the ground. Then I take out my
chopper, and stand up, and look around, and pause, until with
an air of triumph I wipe my chopper and put it carefully away.'
'Bravo! cried the Prince. 'From the words of this cook I have
learnt how to take care of my life.'
When Hsien, of the Kung-wen family, beheld a certain official,
he was horrified, and said, 'Who is that man? How came he to lose
a foot? Is this the work of God, or of man?
'Why, of course', continued Hsien, 'it is the work of God, and
not of man. When God brought this man into the world, he wanted
him to be unlike other men. Men always have two feet. From this
it is clear that God and not man made him as he is.
'Now, wild fowl get a peck once in ten steps, a drink once in
a hundred. Yet they do not want to be fed in a cage. For although
they would thus be able to command food, they would not be free.'
When Lao Tzu died, Ch'in Shih went to mourn. He uttered three
yells and departed.
A disciple asked him saying, 'Were you not our Master's friend?'
'I was', replied Ch'in Shih.
'And if so, do you consider that a sufficient expression of grief
at his loss?' added the disciple.
'I do', said Ch'in Shin. 'I had believed him to be the man of
all men, but now I know that he was not. When I went in to mourn,
I found old persons weeping as if for their children, young ones
wailing as if for their mothers. And for him to have gained the
attachment of those people in this way, he too must have uttered
words which should not have been spoken, and dropped tears which
should not have been shed, thus violating eternal principles,
increasing the sum of human emotion, and forgetting the source
from which his own life was received. The ancients called such
emotions the trammels of mortality. The Master came, because it
was his time to be born; he went, because it was his time to die.
For those who accept the phenomenon of birth and death in this
sense, lamentation and sorrow have no place. The ancients spoke
of death as of God cutting down a man suspended in the air. The
fuel is consumed, but the fire may be transmitted, and we know
not that it comes to an end.'
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from the Chinese by Herbert A. Giles. First edition, 1889; second