This is a compilation of Bruce Lee’s quotations, organised around topics such as life, death and everything in between.
It’s tough to read because the quotations stand alone without context. And much of it is deep.
The quality of his thinking means it’s worth struggling through and re-reading. Perhaps one day when I’m ready, the master will appear.
You must travel light
“I have to leave now, my friend. You have a long journey ahead of you, and you must travel light. From now on drop all your burden of preconceived conclusions behind, and “open” yourself to everything and everyone ahead. Remember, my friend, the usefulness of a cup is in its emptiness.”
Some years ago, I decided to travel light. I bought a carry-on backpack (Porter 46) and packed minimally. That meant doing laundry every night but I enjoy the experience of doing with less and wouldn’t have it any other way.
Bruce Lee though is talking about a different thing. He’s saying in the journey of life, we mustn’t let our prejudices, traditional beliefs and preconceived notions prevent us from embracing new ideas.
He asks, “Why do you as an individual depend on thousands of years of propaganda?”
What a great way of looking at some traditions – “thousands of years of propaganda”.
A person who follows tradition mindlessly is a slave, no longer an individual but a product with a mind that “is the result of a thousand yesterdays”.
When we “hold on to the sameness”, we do not grow.
Lee and I share the same beliefs in organisations – “I never believe in large organisations, with their domestic and foreign branches, affiliations, etc. To reach the masses, some sort of a system is required; as a result, the members are conditioned according to that system.”
Instead of these things, Lee wants us to “be alert, to question, to find out, so that your own initiative may be awakened”.
There is another burden Lee speaks of – striving to be somebody else. When we do that, we’re dishonest.
“Truth comes when your mind and heart are purged of all sense of striving and you are no longer trying to become somebody; it is there when the mind is very quiet, listening timelessly to everything”.
To decrease daily
“It is not daily increase but daily decrease – hack away the unessential.”
Common things that are hard to do
“Live content with small means; seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion. Be worthy, not respectable, wealthy, not rich; study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly; bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never. In a word, let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common.”
Make no mistake – these are spiritual acts. They transcend the physical, oppose the worldly and require discipline and restraint.
But Lee tells us not to regard these things as spiritual but rather as common things.
For me, this is also what it means to travel light. To not be encumbered by sacrificial acts of piety and the need to accomplish extraordinary goals, but just doing ordinary, common things is enough.
An astonishing claim
“There is no need to exert oneself in special cultivation outside the daily round of living.”
Is this true?
If we get enough sleep; eat right; exercise; are kind to others; work smart and hard; habitually unwind; express ourselves with humility and without fear; are calm and content, what other “special cultivation” do we need?
Something to think about
“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.”
The obstacle is the way.
“I don’t like to wear stuffy clothes and be at places where everyone is trying to impress each other.”
“As for alcohol, I think it tastes awful. Don’t know why anyone should want to drink the stuff.”
Mark Zuckerberg inspired me to start an annual personal project – read a non-fiction book every week and write about it. Subscribe to my newsletter.