Daoism
The Way of Wuwei


 
From the Western Zhou...
c. 1044-771 BCE)

 
...to the “Spring & Autumn”...
(722-479 BCE)

 
...to the “Warring States”
(479-221 BCE)

 
The Dao of Confucius
It is humans that make the Way great,
not the Way that makes humans great.
(Analects, 15:29; translated by Brian Hoffert)
 

There is a thing, shaped by chaos, born prior to Heaven and Earth, silent and shapeless! It stands alone, unchanged by exterior forces. Its motion is circular, and it never tires. It [may be regarded as] the Mother of everything under Heaven. I do not know its name, but if forced to, I’ll call it “Dao”; if forced to, I’ll name it “Great.” (Daodejing 25 [with modification by Brian Hoffert])
 
 


 
In the pursuit of learning one knows more every day; In the pursuit of the way one does less every day. One does less and less until one does nothing at all, and when one does nothing at all there is nothing that is undone (wu wei er wu bu wei). (Daodejing 48)
 
 
Cook Ting was cutting up an ox for Lord Wen-hui. At every touch of his hand, every heave of his shoulder, every move of his feet, every thrust of his kneezip! zoop! He slithered the knife along with a zing, and all was in perfect rhythm, as though he were performing the dance of the Mulberry Grove or keeping time to the Ching-shou music.
       “Ah, this is marvelous! said Lord Wen-hui. “Imagine skill reaching such heights!”
Cook Ting laid down his knife and replied, “What I care about is the Way, which goes beyond skill. When I first began cutting up oxen, all I could see was the ox itself. After three years I no longer saw the whole ox. And nownow I go at it by spirit (shen) and don’t look with my eyes. Perception and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it wants. I go along with the natural makeup, strike in the big hollows, guide the knife through the big openings, and follow things as they are. So I never touch the smallest ligament or tendon, much less a main joint.
       “A good cook changes his knife once a yearbecause he cuts. A mediocre cook changes his knife once a month because he hacks. I’ve had this knife of mine for nineteen years and I’ve cut up thousands of oxen with it, and yet the blade is as good as though it had just come from the grindstone. There are spaces between the joints, and the blade of the knife has really no thickness. If you insert what has no thickness into such spaces, then there’s plenty of room more than enough for the blade to play about in. That’s why after nineteen years the blade of my knife is still as good as when it first came from the grindstone.
       “However, whenever I come to a complicated place, I size up the difficulties, tell myself to watch out and be careful, keep my eyes on what I’m doing, work very slowly, and move the knife with the greatest subtlety, until flop! the whole thing comes apart like a clod of earth crumbling to the ground. I stand there holding the knife and look all around me, completely satisfied and reluctant to move on, and then I wipe off the knife and put it away.”
       “Excellent!” said Lord Wen-hui. “I have heard the words of Cook Ting and learned how to care for life!” (The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu, 50-51; cf. Zhuangzi, Chapter 3)