Monday Zen: The Parable of the Butcher

person slicing green vegetable on chopping board

There was a fine butcher who used the same knife year after year, yet it never lost its delicate, precise edge. After a lifetime of service, it was still as useful and effective as when it was new.

When asked how he had preserved his knife’s fine edge, he said:

“I follow the line of the hard bone. I do not attempt to cut it, nor to smash it, nor to contend with it in any way. That would only destroy my knife.” 

In daily living, one must follow the course of the barrier. To try to assail it will only destroy the instrument.

It’s easy to read this story and think, “wow, what a masterful craftsman.” But that’s not what it’s about. It’s about how we deal with our mistakes.

The reason the butcher’s knife remained sharp all these years isn’t that he used it perfectly. It’s that, whenever he came against bone, he slowly felt it, moved along, and worked his way around. He didn’t try to force through. He adapted. Like water.

Bruce Lee told this story in Striking Thoughts. It’s another way of saying:

Never learn the same lesson twice. You will only lose your edge.

To do this, we have to be willing to think. To sit with our mistakes.

You can learn the stove is hot by touching it, but you will burn your hand. If you hold it just above, the heat might still hurt, but you won’t take damage. That’s following the course of the barrier.

To some extent, we all must feel the heat to learn. But we don’t have to jump into the fire. We don’t have to blunten our edge.

Our brains are our knives. Let’s keep them sharp. Let’s preserve their balance.

So that, after a lifetime of service, they’ll be as good as new.


About Monday Zen: Most people hate Monday. Why? In a good life, it’s a day like any other. At the very least, it shouldn’t be worse by default. That’s what Monday Zen is for: To make sure you start the week with calm, poise, and determination.

Let’s not derail our trains of thought before they leave the station. Let’s enjoy the journey.

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