We find truth by following the way in simplicity, as symbolized in a story by Taoist philosopher Chuang-Tzu.
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 knee, zip! 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 now—now I go at it by spirit 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 year, because 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 would 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!”
This story has surreal touches (the knife with no thickness that never gets dull) indicating that it is not to be taken literally; rather the story is about how to “care for life.” Life is something like cutting up an ox: a large task, involving work for others, requiring tools and skill, and offering the possibility for three levels of growth.
We begin caring for life on the level of perceptual fact, advance to philosophical reflection, and then ascend not just to ideas about spiritual realities but to spiritual realization and relating. The way the ox (life) looks when we are living mainly on the material level is different from the way the ox looks when reflective thinking has matured; and the intellectual level is quite different from the spiritual level of relating. A person who lives mainly on the spiritual level continues to engage in problem-solving that requires attention primarily on the material or intellectual agenda; but the spiritual way of engaging in those activities differs from how we would do things in the early stages of growth. Freely interpreting, we can read the story of Cook Ting as a story of the integrated experience of living the truth.
(“Zhuangzi” is the increasingly common way to transliterate the philosopher’s name.)
 Chuang Tzu, Basic Writings, trans. Burton Watson (New York: Columbia University Press, 1964), Section 3, “The Secret of Caring for Life,” pp. 46-47.