Cutting Up an Ox


Tzu, Chuang




Little is known about the life of Chuang-Tzu, a renowned and influential Chinese Taoist philosopher who lived during the fourth century BCE. He is believed to have been from the town of Meng and to have lived as a hermit for many years. Traditionally he is said to have authored the seven "inner" chapters of the collection of writings attributed to him, the "Chuang-Tzu," while his students and others wrote the rest. He is said to have held a minor administrative post and refused King Wei of Chou’s offer to make him chief minister, saying that he preferred to remain free. In "Cutting Up an Ox," a butcher—by doing his work with "Tao beyond all methods"—teaches a prince how to live. This Taoist fable would be useful for conversation about facing challenges and finding joys in service.

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The Way of Chuang Tzu, trans. Thomas Merton. New Directions, 1969


Reading - Short Enough to Read Aloud.


Impact and OutcomesMotives and ValuesServing and Volunteering

Big Questions

What is the impact of our actions - on ourselves and others?What should our goals be? What is the best way to identify them?Can selfish motives result in positive action?Do one’s motives for serving or giving matter? How?Should personal happiness be our ultimate goal? Why or why not?Is my service changing the world or only myself? Is that enough?

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. Why is Prince Wen Hui impressed with his cook’s work? What about the cook’s method is faultless?
  2. Why does the cook say what he does is not a method? What is “Tao/Beyond all methods”?
  3. How is the cook able to prepare the cow with his senses “idle”? Why does he point out that he’s been using the same cleaver for nineteen years?
  4. How is observing what the cook does – and hearing it explained – a lesson for the prince on how to learn his life? What does he believe he has learned?
  5. How do we learn service?
  6. How should we perform service? Should it be something we must think about? Or, should we serve with “senses idle”?
  7. Where do we find the rewards in service?
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