Lessons in Zen with Bruce Lee

The word zen has been thrown around in spiritual circles for some time now. Have you ever wondered what zen actually means? I have, so I did some research. Zen is essentially the pathway to deeper understanding of oneself. Philosophy means knowledge, so Zen Philosophy is the knowledge of deeper understanding.

Bruce Lee

Through my ongoing journey of self-awareness I have had many teachers. Bruce Lee is one of these individuals. Like many of us, I grew up watching him even though he passed away 10 years prior to my birth. Many people remember him as the elusive martial artist and movie star, but what some may not know is that he was a philosophy major at the University of Washington. I started immersing myself in whatever teachings he has left behind and I often think about the potential impact he could have had if it wasn’t for his untimely death at 32 years of age. I don’t put much emphasis on this sentiment because it’s been commonplace to see the influential and timeless masters of the human idea pass on too soon, all the while leaving their legacy embedded in our hearts.

His philosophies, interviews, and books have had profound influences on me, and today I wanted to share some of his wise words that have helped me through my journey. Although we are loners with different paths, we are also illuminated lanterns for each other so we can travel consciously, and my hope is that I can spark something in you.

“Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.”

Why does Bruce Lee’s legacy still live on? It’s because we have never seen anything like him. He never tried to be anyone else because that would entail diluting who he really was. If you think about anyone in history that has done something noteworthy, they are remembered because they embraced their individuality. I believe one should look at others as a means of inspiration, but believing and creating your own mark is essential. We all have the tools/gifts that are specific to us. Spend this lifetime (because who knows if there is another) cultivating and harnessing what is timeless in you and share that with the world.

“To hell with circumstances, I create opportunities.”

Whether it’s politics, our superiors, family, friends, diet, current situation in life, etc..we can create excuses about why we are not getting what we desire in life. I do believe in manifestation because we do it everyday. If it is pizza you seek today you are manifesting it, and then it becomes a reality when you actually taste it. Is chasing your dreams really as easy as ordering a pizza? I have two answers for you. It is, if you think it is, and it isn’t if you think it isn’t. Perspective is huge, and those that see the world as a hallway of open doors tend to be rewarded. Bruce Lee came to stardom at a sensitive time in our human history. The civil rights era was in full effect, we were at war with Vietnam, and the few asian actors and actresses that did grace hollywood often played stereotypical roles. Mr. Lee saw this as an opportunity to change the way we think about the East, and decided he was going to leave his own mark, but he had to create it as it wasn’t going to be given to him. If you want something in life, go get it. PERIOD. Every moment you make an excuse you are negating the potential that could be.

“If you always put a limit on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. there are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.”

Have you ever started something that you loved and simply stopped? I’m sure many of us have and I am no different. At 21 I started a website on motivation, then another on finance, then another on beagles. During college I started an ebay business selling macbook adapters that was generating a thousand dollars a month, and I was also selling protein powders to students that I got from a connection at a wholesaler from the trunk of my car. Any one of these ventures could have paid off in dividends if I stuck with it. Instead, what I did, and what many do is we quit and simply stop because we feel we reached a limit. External situations will always come up, but think about this. When you run and are out of breath, do you stop running? No, because that would be irrational. Instead we run slower or walk until we can run again. I have stopped time and time again, but with wisdom, age, and people like Bruce Lee guiding me, I understand that I will never see how high I can fly if I don’t attempt to jump. We have to jump!

“It’s not the daily increase but the daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.”

Since I was young I was always getting rid of things my parents bought and no longer used, which was quite often. Today I can pretty much wash all my clothes in one load of laundry. However, I do believe life is short, and if it’s a nice car, beautiful house, yacht, nice clothes, etc. you seek, you should get it, but I have no such desires at all. There is absolutely nothing humbling, or admirable about living a kind of minimalistic life. The material world just doesn’t hold much precedence in my life anymore. I will say it does feel liberating to not want much. Take a look at your life, and see what is needed, and if your happiness is incumbent upon material items. If it is, realize that these are just temporary glimpses of true joy. Eternal joy resides in the simple fact of being alive. Gratitude is essential. Check out a past article I wrote, 5 Mindful Practices to get your day Started. I go more into detail on gratitude here.

“One can function freely and totally if he is “beyond system.” The man who is really serious, with the urge to find out what truth is, has no style at all. He lives only in what is.”

When you are conditioned to think as though nothing can change, you might as well be in jail because you have enslaved the mind to dogmatic thinking. Bruce Lee suffered a lot of slack, criticism, and hate from his own people because he taught a specific type of martial arts to anyone who wanted to learn. He understood that he’s human and so is his neighbor (irrespective of race, age, and sex) and if his neighbor wants to learn from him, he will teach. He didn’t believe in specific styles of martial arts and wanted to share the beauty of his culture with others because he saw no seperation. You can take this lesson further, deeper and understand its subtleties. Being free from religion, political affiliation, race, and sex can be bliss. I am simply an observer of the world and my time will be gone too soon so why be attached to thinking that perpetuates form? Just as a tree must change it’s trajectory of growth when confronted with an unmoving giant rock, so must we, or else we can grow no longer.

“I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.”

If a bee stung you when you tried to take it’s honey, would you still try again? Expectations almost always cause heartache yet it is behavior that we don’t stop and we know we should because it hurts!! With politics we expect one side to win, and when they don’t we are upset. When our children grow up not becoming what we wanted them to, we become upset. When the love we give is not reciprocated, we get upset. Do you see a pattern here? I’ve learned to expect the best out of myself because that is the only thing I can count on, and if I am not true to myself than I have no one to blame. Let people be the way they want to be. Help when you can, be a shoulder to cry on, and love without expecting anything in return. A mother loves her child without expectation. Why? It’s because she understands that this living individual that she created is a part of her. What if we took note of this simple relationship and extrapolated it to all humanity, what then? A persian poet by the name of Hafez once said, “Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth you owe me. Imagine what a love like that can do. It can light up the whole sky.” Be like the sun, always shining, always bright, and forever giving without expectation.

“All fixed set patterns are incapable of adaptability or pliability. The truth is outside all fixed patterns. Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless like water. If you put water into a cup it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend.”

For the longest time I had a rigid workout schedule. Now I can care less about a uniform way of getting exercise as long as I am using my body to its optimum level of exertion. I have introduced Yoga into my life and aside from the mental benefits which is reason enough to take on this practice, I never thought I could sweat as much as I did while standing in one place for an hour and half. Truth is, we are not robots, we are all artists painting the canvas that is our life. Have goals in mind but be elusive, adaptable, and open to different ideas that are in line with what you want to accomplish. You are the river, and the ocean is where you want to be, and all rivers don’t yield or stop at the sight of a giant mountain, instead they find a way to maneuver and create new pathways and eventually merge with the ocean.

A lot of the lessons of Bruce Lee can be boiled down to presence. He lived in the moment, and it’s these moments that still take our breath away. The agony of seeing a day go, and the rejoice that is encompassed with the birth of a new one and everything in between is all the reason to enjoy the here and now. How can you enjoy the sun of today, if you are still getting soaked from the rain from yesterday?

Check out this short clip from an Interview on Bruce Lee. I loved when he said, “Running water never grows stale, so you gotta keep on flowing.”

I am currently reading Tao of Jeet Kune Do which serves as guide to all that he knows in martial arts with principles on zen philosophy. It’s worth the read if you are into some of things mentioned in this article and Martial Arts.


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