For Bruce Lee the notion of compassion extends beyond the common definition that compassion is “allowing ourselves to be moved by suffering and wanting to alleviate or prevent suffering.”
Bruce Lee was a huge admirer of Kuan Yin, the goddess of compassion and mercy. Kuan Yin shows up in many different cultures in East Asia. In Bruce’s home he had a huge, full-size statue of Kuan Yin and as a kid Shannon used to sit in her lap. Bruce had a great relationship with Kuan Yin and he believed in compassion because he believed humankind as One Family. He believed in living in relationship and understanding of our surroundings and everyone you come into contact with, living the oneness of things.
Compassion is acceptance of others for who they are and where they are. It’s freedom from judgment and acceptance of your whole experience.
Bruce Lee was an integrated masculine and feminine energy. As an esteemed athlete in a highly masculine practice of martial arts, Bruce balanced that with his inclusion of Kuan Yin in his home and life. Kuan Yin has her own balance of masculine and feminine as in her origin story she started as a man and then transformed into a woman. She became known as the goddess of compassion and mercy.
Many years later, Shannon asked one of her father’s friends what was something about her father that really stood out. Bruce’s friend replied that it was how much Bruce cared about people.
“I’m not one of those people who can just brush people off. I feel that if I can just take a second to make someone happy, why not do it?”
The story of Bruce’s life is filled with many instances where he tried to help as many people as he could. From helping his friend and partner in the Oakland school James Lee write a book because James was dying of cancer and needed money. To taking Ted, Shannon’s sifu, out to buy new clothes and get a haircut so Ted could find a girlfriend. Later, when he was more famous, Bruce went on the telethons to help raise money.
Bruce Lee was genuinely interested in humans and the human condition because he was interested in his own human condition. This is a part of the Bruce Lee compassion message that the more that you understand about yourself and the world, the greater and deeper your connection will be with everything around you.
As a martial artist, Bruce had the physique, look and skill of a serious warrior and combative person, but he wrote this: “My father never struck me and I’m not planning to strike my children either. I think as a father I can control the situation by just swinging with it.”
In his generation and culture, it was very commonplace to discipline your children by hitting them. There isn’t any judgment in the culture when that type of discipline happens, but in Bruce’s day-to-day practice of compassion he made the decision not to physically discipline his children. This is also in line with his philosophy of being in relationship and going with a problem instead of resisting a problem aggressively. Bruce’s outlook was about understanding and working with the problem.
Having compassion is not just having compassion for others, but also for yourself. Self-compassion is key in all the work that Bruce Lee was doing. If we cannot have compassion for ourselves, then we will not have compassion for other people.
If we think harshly about ourselves, we will project that onto other people. The judgments we pass on other people are usually the judgments we have about ourselves. Often people do not notice when they are projecting, try to practice awareness and notice when you are projecting.
“Please do not take the finger to be the moon, or fix your intense gaze on the finger and thus miss all the beautiful sight of heaven. After all, the usefulness in the finger is in pointing away from itself to the light that illuminates.”
This is a great metaphor for compassion; that in the seeking and looking at something outside ourselves, we can be illuminated about ourselves and everything around us. Then we can experience that oneness and which helps us feel connected, which helps us feel compassion.
It can be easy to be compassionate if you are only practicing compassion for people who are suffering. The real test of compassion is practicing compassion for someone who you are challenged by.
You do not want to come from the framework of judgmental compassion. This is when you look at someone’s differences, their different point of view or stance in the world, and categorize them as suffering because they have a different opinion from you.
Everyone in the world is dealing with their own issues. We do not know the depths of anyone else’s story. As humans, we have all been through trials in life. If we disagree with someone, can we respond in the framework of humanity?
Remember that we all want to be happy, to be loved, to feel joy, we are the same on this human level.
Instead of engaging in meaningless small talk, try asking a deeper question. Are you in love? What are you really into at the moment? These types of questions are intimate, but engage people on a deeper level in a real moment of humanity.
Instead of looking at people with negative judgment on the differences between you and them, look at how they are similar to you. Acknowledge that this way of thinking is challenging.
Bruce Lee on self-mastery:
“The ability developed through self-work, to be calm, fully aware, and completely in tune with oneself and one’s surroundings.”
You have to be right with yourself in order to be right with others. If you are not right with yourself, you will project your issues on to others.
“A man is at his worst when he does not understand himself. He will work to accumulate external securities rather than do the inner work that will bring true security and rootedness. So cultivate and school yourself.”
Practice approaching the world through the lens of kindness. Work on yourself, look for connection and acceptance, free yourself from judgment. Take that compassion out into a challenging situation.
We'd love to hear how you're doing with the experience of "you." If you’d like to share how you’re doing with this action item you can email us at email@example.com.
(Awesome Asians and Hapas)
This week listener Jude nominated Ahn Do.
Ahn Do is a Vietnamese born Australian author, actor, comedian, and artist. He and his family fled to Australia as refugees in 1980. In 2010, Ahn wrote his autobiography The Happiest Refugee: A Memoir where he tells of how his family survived five days in a leaky fishing boat with 40 Vietnamese refugees. During the trip the boat was attached by two different bands of pirates. The first stole one of the two engines and the second stole the second engine, but the second group threw a gallon of water onto the boat which helped all but one refugee survive the trip. Finally, a German merchant ship rescued the boat. The Happiest Refugee: A Memoir has won many awards including the 2011 Australian Book of the year, Biography of the Year, and Newcomer of the Year as well as the Indie Book of the Year Award 2011. He has appeared on many Australian TV shows and has a Business law degree. Ahn Do, we think you’re awesome!
Our #BruceLeeMoment comes from Listener Brian E.:
“Hello Shannon Lee,
I'm writing you today on a day from a year ago that my life changed. It changed in a positive way but I'm in a position now where I'm not where I'd think I'd be which I will soon get to.
I have been a fan of your father's since I was a kid. He was my first idol. I would often mimic his cool moves from the screen. It was because of him that I started martial arts with my first style being Tae Kwon do. Throughout life and primarily in my 20s, I always used his quote "Take things as they. Punch when you have to punch and kick when you have to kick." Within the past 10 years I started training in the new concept of Martial Arts which is MMA. I believe your father was the first to really start this concept. The UFC even stated that he is considered to be the father of MMA.
Now back to my year ago story. A year ago, I proposed to my girlfriend at the time of 4 years on the top of the Eifel Tower in Paris. She said yes of course but then 2 months later, the unexpected happened. We are already living together at the time and one day came home to a completely empty house. It was the most shattering times in my life because nobody or myself expected this. I felt as if we were happily ever after and that this life was meant to be for us. I was in complete shock and didn't show any emotion at the time. I remember just sitting in one spot for 4 hours. It wasn't until the next day where the pain started to settle. The road to recovery seemed to be lost. For the first time, I contemplated suicide. I had to seek counseling because it was affecting my performance at work. I tried keeping myself busy by training at the MMA gym I trained but that seemed to just numb the pain temporarily. I started drinking heavily, which caught the attention of some close friends.
Just when I thought all was lost, I turned to your father for guidance. I remember watching "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story" and remember him severely injuring his back. I said to myself "If Bruce Lee can recover from a broken back, then I know I can recover from a broken heart." I purchased "Striking Thoughts: Bruce Lee's Daily Wisdom for Living" and started to read from that every day. I soon discovered your podcast and the Bruce Lee store. I started to decorate my home with Bruce Lee wisdom to include the Self-cultivation set. I have the term "Walk On" on top of the front door so I can remind myself to walk on every day. "Using No Way as Way. Having no Limitation as Limitation" in my kitchen. The "Be Like Water" quote in my bedroom to remind myself to adapt every day. I started going back to the basics of martial arts to learn the philosophies. So, I started learning Wing Chun which is the style your father first learned. So here I am, having a Bruce Lee moment every day. Who would've known that 30 years later, your father would again inspire me to "strike back twice as hard" at life? I'm not 100% there, but I know I will be. I have forgave my now ex-fiancé for what she did and I wish her the best because "under the heavens, under the sky, there is but one family." I know in the movie Dragon and in Chinese philosophies, they talk about conquering your "inner demons" and thanks to your father's words, I am able to do just that.
Before all this, my co-workers saw me as a leader as I was always trying to teach leadership among the workplace. Now, I often use your father's philosophies in my leadership teachings. I will continue to read your father's words and listen to your podcast as that is something I share to my leadership group to listen to as I continue to walk on this path of life.
Thank you for continuing your father's legacy and foundation. Know that what you're doing is making a difference in the world.
WALK ON! With the deepest appreciations, Brian E."
The Bruce Lee Podcast is now on Nerdist.com.