July 05, 2007


El Cabrero began this week by discussing the late great Bruce Lee, who was quite enamored of Taoist thought.

It occurs to me that this might be as good a time as any to share this nugget from the ancient Chinese Taoist sage Chuang Tzu (aka Zhuangzi), who lived around the 4th century BC. His eponymous book is full of humorous and skeptical parables and dialogues about relativity, simplicity and living in accord with nature and the Way (Tao or Dao).

A basic idea of Taoism that is that we often make things harder on ourselves than we have to through unskillful actions and wasted energy. That's the point of the story of Prince Wen Hui's cook.

It is said that one day the prince observed the cook carving an ox. He was so skillful that the ox seemed to fall apart of its own accord. The Prince complimented him on his skill and got this reply:

The cook laid down his knife and said, "What your servant really cares for is Tao, which goes beyond mere art. When I first began to cut up oxen, I saw nothing but oxen. After three years of practicing, I know longer saw the ox as a whole. I now work with my spirit, not with my eyes. My senses stop functioning and my spirit takes over. I follow the natural grain, letting the knife find its way through the many hidden openings, taking advantage of what is there, never touching a ligament or a tendon, much less a main joint.

"A good cook changes his knife once a year because he cuts, while a mediocre cook has to change his every month because he hacks. I've had this knife of mine for nineteen years and have cut up thousands of oxen with it, and yet the edge is as if it were fresh from the grindstone. There are spaces between the joints. The blade of the knife has no thickness. That which has no thickness has plenty of room to pass through theses spaces. Therefore, after nineteen years, my blade is as sharp as ever. However, when I come to a difficulty, I size up the joint, look carefully, and work slowly. Then with a very slight movement of the knife, I cut the whole ox wide open. It falls apart like a clod of earth, crumbling to the ground. I stand there with the knife in my hand, looking about me with a feeling of accomplishment and delight. Then I wipe the knife clean and put it away."

"Well done!" said the Prince. "From the words of my cook, I have learned the secret of growth."

From the Taoist viewpoint, much of the art of strategy and life consists of learning the cook's lesson.

HEALTH CARE FRENCH STYLE. I love Business Week. You just never know what you're going to find in there, but usually there's something interesting. The current issue has a favorable article about the French system of universal health care, which has been rated the best in the world. Here's the beginning:

Michael Moore's documentary Sicko trumpets France as one of the most effective providers of universal health care. His conclusions and fist-in-your-gut approach may drive some Americans up the wall. But whatever you think of Moore, the French system—a complex mix of private and public financing—offers valuable lessons for would-be health-care reformers in the U.S.

The whole article is worth a look.

DAMN, THAT IS ONE BIG BIRD! They just keep digging up more cool stuff. The latest is the prehistoric bird Argentavis magnificens, which weighed around 150 pounds, had a 23 foot wingspan and could actually fly.

It lived about 6 million years ago in South America and was so big it couldn't take flight just by flapping it's wings but had to glide from high places. Some might consider that a limitation, but who wants to be in a flatlanded place anyway?

Here are some pictures of the critter from Google images.



Hollowdweller said...

My favorite passage from the Tao

Since the world points up beauty as such,
There is ugliness too.
If goodness is taken as goodness,
Wickedness enters as well.

For is and is-not come together;
Hard and easy are complementary;
Long and short are relative;
High and low are comparative;
Pitch and sound make harmony;
Before and after are a sequence.

Indeed the Wise Man's office
Is to work by being still;
He teaches not by speech
But by accomplishment;
He does for everything,
Neglecting none;
Their life he gives to all,
Possessing none;
And what he brings to pass
Depends on no one else.
As he succeeds,
He takes no credit
And just because he does not take it,
Credit never leaves him.

El Cabrero said...

Nice selection, Hollowdweller!

You can kind of see the Tao in action when you live in the sticks.

In case you missed it, here's the link to a series on the Tao Te Ching that ran in may (you have to scroll down to get to the first one):



hollowdweller said...

You really can. Rednecks with bulldozers who attempt to put a ford in the creek using too small culverts always remind me of this one:

"Nothing is weaker than water,
But when it attacks something hard
Or resistant, then nothing withstands it,
And nothing will alter its way.

Everyone knows this, that weakness prevails
Over strength and that gentleness conquers
The adamant hindrance of men, but that
Nobody demonstrates how it is so.

Because of this the Wise Man says
That only one who bears the nations shame
Is fit to be its hallowed lord;
That only one who takes upon himself
The evils of the world may be its king.

This is paradox.

El Cabrero said...

Tao is all about water, isn't it?

Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

I wonder if there are those in our government who understand this:

A master of the art of war has said, 'I do not dare to be the
host (to commence the war); I prefer to be the guest (to act on the
defensive). I do not dare to advance an inch; I prefer to retire a
foot.' This is called marshalling the ranks where there are no ranks;
baring the arms (to fight) where there are no arms to bare; grasping
the weapon where there is no weapon to grasp; advancing against the
enemy where there is no enemy.

There is no calamity greater than lightly engaging in war. To do
that is near losing (the gentleness) which is so precious. Thus it is that when opposing weapons are (actually) crossed, he who deplores (the situation) conquers.

El Cabrero said...

Hi Nick,
Looks like they might have skipped that one...