Jul 5, 2009

droit, or some things are wrong

in our relentless pursuit of making everyone happy with "doing their best," i find we often lose sight of how there are often right ways to do things and thus, conversely, wrong ways to do things.* someone who is adroit follows an elegant and effective course of action, like odysseus, whose cunning and shrewdness led him to do the right thing (not a coincidence that droit in the original means right or law, per the motto of the windsor crown). a good printer, a good builder, a good furniture maker--they are all adroit in their practice. the same holds for the cook. i found this passage from zhuang zi in the most unlikely of places (fuchsia dunlop, for those who care):

庖丁为文惠君解牛,手之所触,肩之所倚,足之所路履,膝之所倚,砉然响然,奏刀豁然 ,莫不中音。合于桑林之舞,乃中经首之会。文惠君曰:“嘻,善哉!技盖至此乎?” 庖丁释刀对曰:“臣之所好者道也,进乎技矣。始臣之解牛之时,所见无非牛者。三年之后,未尝见全牛也。方今之时,臣以神遇而不以目视,官知止而神欲行。依 乎天理,批大郄,导大髋,因其固然。技(枝)经肯綮之未尝,而况大骨乎!良庖岁更刀,割也;族庖月更刀,折也。今臣之刀十九年矣,所解数千牛矣,而刀刃若 新发于硎。彼节者有间,而刀刃者无厚,以有閒入无厚,恢恢乎其于游刃必有余地矣,是以十九年而刀刃若新发于硎。虽然,每至于族,吾见其难为,怵然为戒,视 为止,行为迟,动刀甚微,然已解,如土委地。提刀而立,为之四顾,为之踌躇满志,善刀而藏之。” 文惠君曰:“善哉!吾闻庖丁之言,得养生焉。
fortunately for you (and me), here is the least egregious of the translations of this passage from zhuang zi:
His cook was cutting up an ox for the ruler Wen Hui. Whenever he applied his hand, leaned forward with his shoulder, planted his foot, and employed the pressure of his knee, in the audible ripping off of the skin, and slicing operation of the knife, the sounds were all in regular cadence. Movements and sounds proceeded as in the Dance of the Mulberry Forest and the blended notes of the King Shou. The ruler said, 'Ah! Admirable! That your art should have become so perfect!' (Having finished his operation), the cook laid down his knife, and replied to the remark, 'What your servant loves is the method of the Dao, something in advance of any art. When I first began to cut up an ox, I saw nothing but the entire carcase. After three years I ceased to see it as a whole. Now I deal with it in a spirit-like manner, and do not look at it with my eyes. The use of my senses is discarded, and my spirit acts as it wills. Observing the natural lines, (my knife) slips through the great crevices and slides through the great cavities, taking advantage of the facilities thus presented. My art avoids the membranous ligatures, and much more the great bones. A good cook changes his knife every year; (it may have been injured) in cutting. An ordinary cook changes his every month; (it may have been) broken. Now my knife has been in use for nineteen years; it has cut up several thousand oxen, and yet its edge is as sharp as if it had newly come from the whetstone. There are the interstices of the joints, and the edge of the knife has no (appreciable) thickness; when that which is so thin enters where the interstice is, how easily it moves along! The blade has more than room enough. Nevertheless, whenever I come to a complicated joint, and see that there will be some difficulty, I proceed anxiously and with caution, not allowing my eyes to wander from the place, and moving my hand slowly. Then by a very slight movement of the knife, the part is quickly separated, and drops like (a clod of) earth to the ground. Then standing up with the knife in my hand, I look all round, and in a leisurely manner, with an air of satisfaction, wipe it clean, and put it in its sheath.' The ruler Wen Hui said, 'Excellent! I have heard the words of my cook, and learned from them the nourishment of (our) life.'
from the inner chapters, translation by james legge
dôgen wrote some instructions for chef monks (actually, "as instruction for accomplished practitioners of the way in the future"); these tenzo kyōkun are worth reading.

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