Cook Ding Cuts the Beef

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"Cook Ding Cuts the Beef" is a Daoist anecdote. This allusion is recorded in the chapter "Essentials of Nourishing Life " ( 養生主 Yangsheng Zhu ) in The Book of Master Zhuang ( 莊子 Zhuangzi ). According to legend, during the reign of Sovereign Wenhui in the Warring States period, cook Ding was good at cutting beef. Well-trained and skillful, he had a miraculous skill in using a kitchen knife. All his movements, such as the touching of his hands, the leaning of his shoulders, and the trampling of his feet, corresponded with certain tunes. The sound of cutting was rhythmic and even matched the movement for the "sanglin" steps in dancing. Sovereign Wenhui highly praised cook Ding's skill, saying, "It's so wonderful! How can one's skill reach this condition?" Cook Ding put down his butcher knife and replied, "What I'm keen on is Dao, which exceeds the pursuit of skill. When I had just started to cut beef, what I saw was a whole ox, but three years later, I never saw an integral ox. Now I don't need to watch with my eyes any more, but merely feel and understand with my mind. At this moment my organs stop functioning, and only my mind is working. When I cut in the direction of the veins of the ox, I find no obstacles. That is why the knife edge still remains sharp although I've used this knife for nineteen years and cut thousands of oxen."


The story "Cook Ding Cuts the Beef" signifies that cultivating Dao should follow nature and reach the state of formlessness, and only in this way can one play the miraculous tune of cutting beef that corresponds with the "sounds of nature".