Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant, they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let not this blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore, be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams; it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful.
In Buddhist philosophy, anything that is perceived by the mind did not exist before the mind perceived it; it depends on the mind. It doesn’t exist independently, therefore it doesn’t truly exist. That is not to say that it doesn’t exist “somewhat”. Buddhists called the perceived world relative truth – a truth that is measured and labeled by our ordinary minds. In order to qualify as ultimate truth, it must not be fabricated, it must not be a product of the imagination, and it must be independent of interpretation.
“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 and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” ~Bruce Lee
Bruce Lee is well-known for his comment about water, which described the essence of his personal journey toward self-actualization. He was not alone in this realization, however, for in the 2600 year-old classic text, The Tao Te Ching, the qualities of water were elucidated in the poetry of Lao-Tzu.
In Tao Te Ching number eight, water, as it relates to our world, is described as such:
“The supreme goodness is like water. It benefits all things without contention. In dwelling, it stays grounded. In being, it flows to depths. In expression, it is honest. In confrontation, it stays gentle. In governance, it does not control. In action, it aligns to timing. It is content with its nature and therefore cannot be faulted.” ~Lao-Tzo, The Tao Te Ching
In a recent TED talk, Raymond Tang talks about the hectic and overwhelming nature of our technologically connected society, and how even in the presence of such chaos, one can find fulfillment by relating to the simple and elemental forces of nature.
He discusses the nature of water, drawing out three useful lessons that have been known to the Chinese for millennia.
The first lesson is about humility, and he notes the lowly, yet supportive nature of water as a life-giving force.
“If we think about water flowing in a river, it is always staying low. It helps all the plants grow and keeps all the animals alive. It doesn’t actually draw any attention to itself, nor does it need any reward or recognition. It is humble. But without water’s humble contribution, life as we know it may not exist.”
Secondly, he draws out the lesson of harmony, and how water always achieves it’s aim effortlessly in spite of any obstacles along its path.
“If we think about water flowing towards a rock, it will just flow around it. It doesn’t get upset, it doesn’t get angry, it doesn’t get agitated. In fact, it doesn’t feel much at all. When faced with an obstacle, somehow water finds a solution, without force, without conflict.”
The third lesson regards openness and our tendency to resist change along the path of life.
“Water is open to change. Depending on the temperature, it can be a liquid, solid or gas. Depending on the medium it’s in, it can be a teapot, a cup or a flower vase. In fact, it’s water’s ability to adapt and change and remain flexible that made it so enduring through the ages, despite all the changes in the environment.”
Relating these three lessons to the modern pursuits of business and education, he explains how the lessons offer us a perspective on life that allows for greater fulfillment in everything we choose to take on.
Dylan Charles is the editor of Waking Times and co-host of Redesigning Reality, both dedicated to ideas of personal transformation, societal awakening, and planetary renewal. His personal journey is deeply inspired by shamanic plant medicines and the arts of Kung Fu, Qi Gong and Yoga. After seven years of living in Costa Rica, he now lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where he practices Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and enjoys spending time with family. He has written hundreds of articles, reaching and inspiring millions of people around the world.
“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us.”
In every life, there comes a time when we are razed to the bone of our resilience by losses beyond our control — lacerations of the heart that feel barely bearable, that leave us bereft of solid ground. What then?
“In art,” Kafka assured his teenage walking companion, “one must throw one’s life away in order to gain it.” As in art, so in life — so suggests the American Tibetan Buddhist nun and teacher Pema Chödrön. In When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times (public library), she draws on her own confrontation with personal crisis and on the ancient teachings of Tibetan Buddhism to offer gentle and incisive guidance to the enormity we stand to gain during those times when all seems to be lost. Half a century after Albert Camus asserted that “there is no love of life without despair of life,” Chödrön reframes those moments of acute despair as opportunities for befriending life by befriending ourselves in the deepest sense.
Writing in that Buddhist way of wrapping in simple language the difficult and beautiful truths of existence, Chödrön examines the most elemental human response to the uncharted territory that comes with loss or any other species of unforeseen change:
Fear is a universal experience. Even the smallest insect feels it. We wade in the tidal pools and put our finger near the soft, open bodies of sea anemones and they close up. Everything spontaneously does that. It’s not a terrible thing that we feel fear when faced with the unknown. It is part of being alive, something we all share. We react against the possibility of loneliness, of death, of not having anything to hold on to. Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.
If we commit ourselves to staying right where we are, then our experience becomes very vivid. Things become very clear when there is nowhere to escape.
This clarity, Chödrön argues, is a matter of becoming intimate with fear and rather than treating it as a problem to be solved, using it as a tool with which to dismantle all of our familiar structures of being, “a complete undoing of old ways of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and thinking.” Noting that bravery is not the absence of fear but the intimacy with fear, she writes:
When we really begin to do this, we’re going to be continually humbled. There’s not going to be much room for the arrogance that holding on to ideals can bring. The arrogance that inevitably does arise is going to be continually shot down by our own courage to step forward a little further. The kinds of discoveries that are made through practice have nothing to do with believing in anything. They have much more to do with having the courage to die, the courage to die continually.
In essence, this is the hard work of befriending ourselves, which is our only mechanism for befriending life in its completeness. Out of that, Chödrön argues, arises our deepest strength:
Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us.
Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.
Decades after Rollo May made his case for the constructiveness of despair, Chödrön considers the fundamental choice we have in facing our unsettlement — whether with aggressive aversion or with generative openness to possibility:
Life is a good teacher and a good friend. Things are always in transition, if we could only realize it. Nothing ever sums itself up in the way that we like to dream about. The off-center, in-between state is an ideal situation, a situation in which we don’t get caught and we can open our hearts and minds beyond limit. It’s a very tender, nonaggressive, open-ended state of affairs.
To stay with that shakiness — to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge — that is the path of true awakening. Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic — this is the spiritual path. Getting the knack of catching ourselves, of gently and compassionately catching ourselves, is the path of the warrior. We catch ourselves one zillion times as once again, whether we like it or not, we harden into resentment, bitterness, righteous indignation — harden in any way, even into a sense of relief, a sense of inspiration.
Half a century after Alan Watts began introducing Eastern teachings into the West with his clarion call for presence as the antidote to anxiety, Chödrön points to the present moment — however uncertain, however difficult — as the sole seedbed of wakefulness to all of life:
This very moment is the perfect teacher, and it’s always with us.
We can be with what’s happening and not dissociate. Awakeness is found in our pleasure and our pain, our confusion and our wisdom, available in each moment of our weird, unfathomable, ordinary everyday lives.
Remaining present and intimate with the moment, she argues, requires mastering maitri — the Buddhist practice of loving-kindness toward oneself, that most difficult art of self-compassion. She contrasts maitri with the typical Western therapy and self-help method of handling crises:
What makes maitri such a different approach is that we are not trying to solve a problem. We are not striving to make pain go away or to become a better person. In fact, we are giving up control altogether and letting concepts and ideals fall apart. This starts with realizing that whatever occurs is neither the beginning nor the end. It is just the same kind of normal human experience that’s been happening to everyday people from the beginning of time. Thoughts, emotions, moods, and memories come and they go, and basic nowness is always here.
In the midst of all the heavy dialogue with ourselves, open space is always there.
Another Buddhist concept at odds with our Western coping mechanisms is the Tibetan expression ye tang che. Chödrön explains its connotations, evocative of Camus’s insistence on the vitalizing power of despair:
The ye part means “totally, completely,” and the rest of it means “exhausted.” Altogether, ye tang che means totally tired out. We might say “totally fed up.” It describes an experience of complete hopelessness, of completely giving up hope. This is an important point. This is the beginning of the beginning. Without giving up hope — that there’s somewhere better to be, that there’s someone better to be — we will never relax with where we are or who we are.
Suffering begins to dissolve when we can question the belief or the hope that there’s anywhere to hide.
Decades after Simone de Beauvoir’s proclamation about atheism and the ultimate frontier of hope, Chödrön points out that at the heart of Buddhism’s approach is not the escapism of religion but the realism of secular philosophy. And yet these crude demarcations fail to capture the subtlety of these teachings. She clarifies:
The difference between theism and nontheism is not whether one does or does not believe in God… Theism is a deep-seated conviction that there’s some hand to hold: if we just do the right things, someone will appreciate us and take care of us. It means thinking there’s always going to be a babysitter available when we need one. We all are inclined to abdicate our responsibilities and delegate our authority to something outside ourselves. Nontheism is relaxing with the ambiguity and uncertainty of the present moment without reaching for anything to protect ourselves.
Hopelessness is the basic ground. Otherwise, we’re going to make the journey with the hope of getting security… Begin the journey without hope of getting ground under your feet. Begin with hopelessness.
When inspiration has become hidden, when we feel ready to give up, this is the time when healing can be found in the tenderness of pain itself… In the midst of loneliness, in the midst of fear, in the middle of feeling misunderstood and rejected is the heartbeat of all things.
Only through such active self-compassion to our own darkness, Chödrön suggests, can we begin to offer authentic light to anybody else, to become a force of radiance in the world. She writes:
We don’t set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people’s hearts.
“The ego-shell in which we live is the hardest thing to outgrow.”
By Maria Popova
Alan Watts may be credited with popularizing Eastern philosophy in the West, but he owes the entire trajectory of his life and legacy to a single encounter with the Zen Buddhist sage D.T. Suzuki (October 18, 1870–July 12, 1966) — one of humanity’s greatest and most influential stewards of Zen philosophy. At the age of twenty-one, Watts attended a lecture by Suzuki in London, which so enthralled the young man that he spent the remainder of his life studying, propagating, and building upon Suzuki’s teachings. Legendary composer John Cage had a similar encounter with Suzuki, which profoundly shaped his life and music.
In the early 1920s, spurred by the concern that Zen masters are “unable to present their understanding in the light of modern thought,” Suzuki undertook “a tentative experiment to present Zen from our common-sense point of view” — a rather humble formulation of what he actually accomplished, which was nothing less than giving ancient Eastern philosophy a second life in the West and planting the seed for a new culture of secularized spirituality.
But by 1940, all of his books had gone out of print in war-torn England, and all remaining copies in Japan were destroyed in the great fire of 1945, which consumed three quarters of Tokyo. In 1946, Christmas Humphreys, president of London’s Buddhist Society, set out to undo the damage and traveled to Tokyo, where he began working with Suzuki on translating his new manuscripts and reprinting what remained of the old. The result was the timeless classic Essays in Zen Buddhism (public library), originally published in 1927 — a collection of Suzuki’s foundational texts introducing the principles of Zen into secular life as a discipline concerned first and foremost with what he called “the reconstruction of character.” As Suzuki observed, “Our ordinary life only touches the fringe of personality, it does not cause a commotion in the deepest parts of the soul.” His essays became, and remain, a moral toolkit for modern living, delivered through a grounding yet elevating perspective on secular spirituality.
Suzuki begins at the beginning, laying out the promise of Zen in our everyday lives:
Zen in its essence is the art of seeing into the nature of one’s own being, and it points the way from bondage to freedom. By making us drink right from the fountain of life, it liberates us from all the yokes under which we finite beings are usually suffering in this world.
This body of ours is something like an electric battery in which a mysterious power latently lies. When this power is not properly brought into operation, it either grows mouldy and withers away or is warped and expresses itself abnormally. It is the object of Zen, therefore, to save us from going crazy or being crippled. This is what I mean by freedom, giving free play to all the creative and benevolent impulses inherently lying in our hearts. Generally, we are blind to this fact, that we are in possession of all the necessary faculties that will make us happy and loving towards one another. All the struggles that we see around us come from this ignorance… When the cloud of ignorance disappears… we see for the first time into the nature of our own being.
One of Suzuki’s most overlooked yet essential points — and one particularly prescient in the context of what modern developmental psychology has found in the decades since — has to do with the crucial role of adolescence as a pivotal point in moral development. The teenage years, he argues, are when we begin “deeply delving into the mysteries of life” and when we are “asked to choose between the ‘Everlasting No’ and the ‘Everlasting Yea’” — a notion young Nietzsche intuited half a century earlier when he resolved, “I wish to be at any time hereafter only a yea-sayer!” At this fork in the road of existence, Suzuki insists, mastering the principles of Zen can make the critical difference in leading us toward a meaningful and fulfilling life. He writes:
Life is after all a form of affirmation… However insistently the blind may deny the existence of the sun, they cannot annihilate it.
Much of that blindness, he admonishes, comes from our attachment to the ego. Paradoxical as it may sound to any parent or teacher of a teenager, Suzuki suggests that adolescence is the time most fruitful for the dissolution of the ego:
We are too ego-centered. The ego-shell in which we live is the hardest thing to outgrow… We are, however, given many chances to break through this shell, and the first and greatest of them is when we reach adolescence.
And yet the “loss of the mental equilibrium” produced by the polar pull of “Everlasting No” and “Everlasting Yea,” which causes “so many cases of nervous prostration reported during adolescence,” can also derail and anguish us at any point in life. In a sentiment that once again calls to mind Nietzsche and his beliefs about the constructive role of suffering, Suzuki writes:
The more you suffer the deeper grows your character, and with the deepening of your character you read the more penetratingly into the secrets of life. All great artists, all great religious leaders, and all great social reformers have come out of the intensest struggles which they fought bravely, quite frequently in tears and with bleeding hearts.
Those ego-stripping struggles, Suzuki points out, can be of the intimate, most nonmaterial kind — the kind Rilke had articulated so beautifully two decades earlier in his letter on the burdens and blessings of love. Suzuki writes:
Love makes the ego lose itself in the object it loves, and yet at the same time it wants to have the object as its own… The greatest bulk of literature ever produced in this world is but the harping on the same string of love, and we never seem to grow weary of it. But… through the awakening of love we get a glimpse into the infinity of things… When the ego-shell is broken and the ‘other’ is taken into its own body, we can say that the ego has denied itself or that the ego has taken its first steps towards the infinite.
Although he takes care to note the invaluable role of the intellect in day-to-day life, Suzuki argues that the intellect is what keeps us from the infinite:
Zen proposes its solution by directly appealing to facts of personal experience and not to book-knowledge. The nature of one’s own being where apparently rages the struggle between the finite and the infinite is to be grasped by a higher faculty than the intellect… For the intellect has a peculiarly disquieting quality in it. Though it raises questions enough to disturb the serenity of the mind, it is too frequently unable to give satisfactory answers to them. It upsets the blissful peace of ignorance and yet it does not restore the former state of things by offering something else. Because it points out ignorance, it is often considered illuminating, whereas the fact is that it disturbs, not necessarily always bringing light on its path.
How poignant the latter remark is in the context of contemporary intellectual life. So much of our higher education is premised on the spirit of tearing things down rather than building things up — on how intelligently a student can criticize and counter an argument — which has, unsurprisingly, permeated the fabric of public discourse at large. We have a culture of criticism in which critics, professional and self-appointed, measure their merit by how intelligently they can eviscerate an idea, a work of art, or, increasingly and alarmingly, a person. We seem to have forgotten how to acquire what Bertrand Russell called, just a year before Suzuki’s essays were published, “a high degree of intellectual culture without emotional atrophy” in his magnificent meditation on why construction is more difficult yet more rewarding than destruction.
Similarly, Suzuki’s point is that the intellect is best at pointing out what doesn’t work, and as such can be a force of destruction, but when it comes to what does work, to the art of moral construction, we must rely on a wholly different faculty of the human spirit. He points to the lineage of philosophy — a discipline that continues to rely heavily on Descartes’s ultimate slogan for the intellect, cogito ergo sum — as evidence of the intellect’s insufficient powers in illuminating the path:
The history of thought proves that each new structure raised by a man of extraordinary intellect is sure to be pulled down by the succeeding ones. This constant pulling down and building up is all right as far as philosophy itself is concerned; for the inherent nature of the intellect, as I take it, demands it and we cannot put a stop to the progress of philosophical inquiries any more than to our breathing. But when it comes to the question of life itself we cannot wait for the ultimate solution to be offered by the intellect, even if it could do so. We cannot suspend even for a moment our life-activity for philosophy to unravel its mysteries. Let the mysteries remain as they are, but live we must… Zen therefore does not rely on the intellect for the solution of its deepest problems.
While the intellect may portend to fight illusion, Suzuki argues, it often does the opposite, creating different illusions that take us further from the truth of life rather than closer to it. He writes:
As nature abhors a vacuum, Zen abhors anything coming between the fact and ourselves. According to Zen there is no struggle in the fact itself such as between the finite and the infinite, between the flesh and the spirit. These are idle distinctions fictitiously designed by the intellect for its own interest. Those who take them too seriously or those who try to read them into the very fact of life are those who take the finger for the moon.
For anyone who has ever experienced the soul-squeezing sense of not-enoughness — and in a consumerist culture, most of us have, for the task of consumerism is to rob us of our sense of having enough and sell it back to us at the price of the product, over and over — Suzuki’s words resonate with particular poignancy:
Life as it is lived suffices. It is only when the disquieting intellect steps in and tries to murder it that we stop to live and imagine ourselves to be short of or in something. Let the intellect alone, it has its usefulness in its proper sphere, but let it not interfere with the flowing of the life-stream. If you are at all tempted to look into it, do so while letting it flow. The fact of flowing must under no circumstances be arrested or meddled with…
The great fact of life itself … flows altogether outside of these vain exercises of the intellect or of the imagination.
No amount of wordy explanations will ever lead us into the nature of our own selves. The more you explain, the further it runs away from you. It is like trying to get hold of your own shadow.
What Zen offers, Suzuki suggests, is a gateway into precisely that elusive nature of the self:
Zen … must be directly and personally experienced by each of us in his inner spirit. Just as two stainless mirrors reflect each other, the fact and our own spirits must stand facing each other with no intervening agents. When this is done we are able to seize upon the living, pulsating fact itself. Freedom is an empty word until then.
The ultimate standpoint of Zen, therefore, is that we have been led astray through ignorance to find a split in our own being, that there was from the very beginning no need for a struggle between the finite and the infinite, that the peace we are seeking so eagerly after has been there all the time.
We are all finite, we cannot live out of time and space; inasmuch as we are earth-created, there is no way to grasp the infinite, how can we deliver ourselves from the limitations of existence? … Salvation must be sought in the finite itself, there is nothing infinite apart from finite things; if you seek something transcendental, that will cut you off from this world of relativity, which is the same thing as the annihilation of yourself. You do not want salvation at the cost of your own existence… Whether you understand or not, just the same go on living in the finite, with the finite; for you die if you stop eating and keeping yourself warm on account of your aspiration for the infinite… Therefore the finite is the infinite, and vice versa. These are not two separate things, though we are compelled to conceive them so, intellectually.
Suzuki argues that the ultimate essence of Zen lies in its promise, both practical and profound, to “deliver us from the oppression and tyranny of these intellectual accumulations” and to offer, instead, a foundation of character at once solid and transcendent:
Zen may be considered a discipline aiming at the reconstruction of character. Our ordinary life only touches the fringe of personality, it does not cause a commotion in the deepest parts of the soul… We are … made to live on the superficiality of things. We may be clever, bright, and all that, but what we produce lacks depth, sincerity, and does not appeal to the inmost feelings… A deep spiritual experience is bound to effect a change in the moral structure of one’s personality.
And yet this “reconstruction of character”” is no cosmetic tweak:
Being so long accustomed to the oppression [of the intellect], the mental inertia becomes hard to remove. In fact it has gone down deep into the roots of our own being, and the whole structure of personality is to be overturned. The process of reconstruction is stained with tears and blood… It is no pastime but the most serious task in life; no idlers will ever dare attempt it.
Zen goes straight down to the foundations of personality.
The worst is that the very hardest thinking will not bring thoughts. They must come like good children of God and cry, “Here we are.” You expend effort and energy thinking hard. Then, after you have given up, they come sauntering in with their hands in their pockets. If the effort had not been made to open the door, however, who knows when they could have come.
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Like Zen says, religions are merely fingers pointing at the moon, they are not the moon.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Although Bruce Lee (November 27, 1940–July 20, 1973) is best known for his legendary legacy in martial arts and film, he was also one of the most underappreciated philosophers of the twentieth century, instrumental in introducing Eastern traditions to Western audiences. A philosophy major in college, he fused ancient ideas with his own singular ethos informed by the intersection of physical and psychological discipline, the most famous manifestation of which is his water metaphor for resilience.
Early in his career, Lee was systematically sidelined by Hollywood’s studio system, which operated with extreme racial bias and still used white actors in yellowface to portray Asian characters based on flat stereotypes. Over and over, Lee was told in no uncertain terms that white audiences simply wouldn’t accept an Asian man as a lead character in a movie.
Even when he finally broke through and was cast as a lead, the studios continued to treat him as a brainless robot, there to entertain with his kung-fu skills. When they tried to cut all the philosophy out of Enter the Dragon because they wanted a vacantly entertaining action movie, Lee refused to go on set for two weeks, insisting that the kung-fu and the philosophy were inextricably entwined, each the vehicle for the other. Hollywood eventually had to relent and it was precisely the philosophical dimension that rendered the movie — just before the release of which Lee met his untimely death — a cultural icon and a beacon of racial empowerment associated with the Black Power movement, later acquired by the Library of Congress as a “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” artifact.
Lee saw philosophy as inseparable from everyday life, just as he saw the mind as inseparable from the body, each end of the battery constantly charging the other. He recorded his rigorous workout routine alongside his philosophical meditations, which he fleshed out in the course of living. Like Oliver Sacks, who carried a notebook everywhere, Lee always had a tiny 2×3″ pocketbook with him, which he filled with everything from training regimens to the phone numbers of his pupils (who included trainees like Chuck Norris and Steve McQueen) to poems, affirmations, and philosophical reflections. Even his handwriting, meticulously neat and measured to fit the tiny page, radiates Lee’s formidable discipline and orderliness.
But perhaps the most notable portion of his pocketbooks — or day timers, as they were called — were his affirmations, reminiscent of the rules of conduct Nobel laureate André Gide penned in his youthful journal and of artist Eugène Delacroix’s diaristic self-counsel. In these notes to himself, Lee articulated his personal philosophies aimed concretely at his own growth but resonating with universally applicable insight into our common psychology, behavior, and human nature.
With special permission from the Bruce Lee estate, here is an exclusive look at several pages from his 1968 pocketbook, penned shortly before Lee’s twenty-eighth birthday, each transcribed below:
WILL POWER: —
Recognizing that the power of will is the supreme court over all over departments of my mind, I will exercise it daily, when I need the urge to action for any purpose; and I will form HABIT designed to bring the power of my will into action at least once daily.
Realizing that my emotions are both POSITIVE and negative I will form daily HABITS which will encourage the development of the POSITIVE EMOTIONS, and aid me in converting the negative emotions into some form of useful action.
Recognizing that both my positive & negative emotions may be dangerous if they are not controlled and guided to desirable ends, I will submit all my desires, aims and purposes to my faculties of reason, and I will be guided by it in giving expression to these.
Recognizing the need for sound PLANS and IDEAS for the attainment of my desires, I will develop my imagination by calling upon it daily for help in the formation of my plans.
Recognizing the value of an alert memory, I will encourage mine to become alert by taking care to impress it clearly with all thoughts I wish to recall, and by associating those thoughts with related subjects which I may call to mind frequently.
SUBCONSCIOUS MIND: —
Recognizing the influence of my subconscious mind over my power of will, I shall take care to submit to it a clear and definite picture of my CLEAR PURPOSE in life and all minor purposes leading to my major purpose, and I shall keep this picture CONSTANTLY BEFORE my subconscious mind by REPEATING IT DAILY.
Recognizing that my emotions often err in their over-enthusiasm, and my faculty of reason often is without the warmth of feeling that is necessary to enable me to combine justice with mercy in my judgments, I will encourage my conscience to guide me as to what is right & what is wrong, but I will never set aside the verdicts it renders, no matter what may be the cost of carrying them out.
When Lee felt that he had arrived at a particularly significant idea, he wrote it on the unlined back of a plain 3×5″ lined yellow notecard, which he signed, almost like a will or perhaps a contract with himself. He would often refine or copy reflections first recorded in his pocketbook onto the notecards reserved for only his firmest convictions and deepest dedications.
What makes the affirmations especially notable is that they fuse ancient philosophical and spiritual traditions (particularly Zen Buddhism’s ideas about character, the self, and the ego), questionable New Agey magical thinking, and habits of mind which contemporary psychology has since proven fruitful — a reminder that our personhood is a mashup of our era and our culture, with all their inherent knowledges and ignorances, and it is the way we combine the elements at our disposal that makes us who we are.
You will never get any more out of life than you expect
Keep your mind on the things you want and off those you don’t
Things live by moving and gain strength as they go
Be a calm beholder of what is happening around you
There is a difference a) the world b) our reaction to it
Be aware of our conditioning! Drop and dissolve inner blockage
Inner to outer ~~~ we start by dissolving our attitude not by altering outer condition
See that there is no one to fight, only an illusion to see through
No one can hurt you unless you allow him to
Inwardly, psychologically, be a nobody
I know that I have the ability to ACHIEVE the object of my DEFINITE PURPOSE in life; therefore I DEMAND of myself persistent, continuous action toward its attainment, and I here and now promise to render such action.
I realize the DOMINATING THOUGHTS of my mind will eventually reproduce themselves in outward, physical action, and gradually transform themselves into physical reality; therefore I will CONCENTRATE my thoughts for 30 min. daily upon the task of thinking of the person I intend to become, thereby creating in my mind a clear MENTAL PICTURE.
I know through the principle of autosuggestion, any desire that I PERSISTENTLY hold will eventually seek expression through some practical means of attaining the object back of it; therefore, I will devote 10 min. daily to DEMANDING of myself the development of SELF-CONFIDENCE.
I have clearly written down a description of my DEFINITE CHIEF AIM in life, and I will never stop trying until I shall have developed sufficient self-confidence for its attainment.
Complement with Lee on the crucial difference between pride and self-esteem, then tune into the excellent new Bruce Lee podcast, in which Lee’s daughter, Shannon, and creative director Sharon Lee unpack his philosophies and discuss how the abiding ideas behind each of his tenets apply to various aspects of our modern lives. You can help keep his legacy alive with a donation to the Bruce Lee Foundation.
Shambhala is round but depicted as an eight-petalled lotus blossom, which is a symbol of the heart Chakra (represented in the picture above).
Many ancient texts refer to ‘magical’ and ‘mythical’ lands, which is fascinating, particularly when you consider how much of the writings in ancient Buddhism, Vedic philosophy, or other Eastern traditions is being confirmed by modern day science. Quantum physics in particular has gained a lot of momentum recently. One great example is the conundrum of consciousness, which is directly correlated with quantum physics and goes hand in hand with other realms of existence. Perhaps this is why some of Nikola Tesla’s ideas were influenced by ancient Eastern philosophy. Not many people know this, but most of our pioneering scientists were also mystics, including Issac Newton, who studied alchemy, among other subjects.
“Broadly speaking, although there are some differences, I think Buddhist philosophy and Quantum Mechanics can shake hands on their view of the world. We can see in these great examples the fruits of human thinking. Regardless of the admiration we feel for these great thinkers, we should not lose sight of the fact that they were human beings just as we are.”
This is precisely why we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss other possible knowledge that remains hidden within ancient texts, especially when evidence is increasingly proving the strength of the connection between ancient wisdom and modern day knowledge.
We are surprisingly and inexplicably selective about which parts of ancient writings we hold to be true, and which we dismiss as fantasy. We might take, for example, a description of ancient Greek society written by a philosopher living at the time, such as Plato or Socrates, at face value, yet when confronted with the same philosopher’s description of an advanced ancient civilization, find some excuse to ignore it. We can take Plato’s description of things that are believable to the mind and accept them as fact, but as soon as we are confronted with something outside our known experience, our minds shut down, even in the face of mounting evidence lending credibility to many of these ‘mythical’ stories.
Several ancient texts from various traditions mention beings from ‘another world’ that exist within our own. One such world, referenced in Tibetan Buddhist and Hindu traditions, is Shambhala, which is a hidden kingdom within our own planet, a place which we do not understand and is difficult to find.
Although those with special affiliation may actually be able to go there through their karmic connection, nevertheless it is not a physical place that we can actually find. We can only say that it is a pure land, a pure land in the human realm. And unless one has the merit and the actual karmic association, one cannot actually arrive there. (sources)
This closely resembles descriptions of the spiritual principles that once guided Atlantis given by Plato and other scholars. According to Manly P. Hall, author, historian, and 33rd degree mason:
Before Atlantis sank, its spiritually illuminated Initiates, who realized that their land was doomed because it had departed from the Path of Light, withdrew from the ill fated continent. Carrying with them the sacred and secret doctrine, these Atlanteans established themselves in Egypt, where they became its first divine rulers. Nearly all the great cosmologic myths forming the foundation of the various sacred books of the world are based upon the Atlantean Mystery Rituals. (source)
Sambhala, however, although no erudite Orientalist has yet succeeded in locating it geographically, is an actual land or district, the seat of the greatest brotherhood of spiritual adepts and their chiefs on earth today. From Sambhala at certain times in the history of the world, or more accurately of our own fifth root-race, come forth the messengers or envoys for spiritual and intellectual work among men.
Edwin Bernbaum, Ph.D., a lecturer, author, mountaineer, and scholar of comparative religion and mythology, writes that Shambhala is round but depicted as an eight-petalled lotus blossom, which is a symbol of the heart Chakra (left). He also makes it clear in his book, The Way To Shambhala, that the way is not clear. Shambhala is a physical place existing within the human realm, but it’s also a spiritual, even supernatural place, which many also believe exists within another dimension.
Michael Wood, a BBC journalist, based on his research describes it as a lost kingdom buried somewhere in the Himalayas, and writes about how the name Shambhala first appears in a text known as the Kalachakra tantra – or Wheel of Time teaching. This Kalachakra doctrine belongs to the highest level of Buddhist Mahayana teaching.
He writes that in Shambhala, the people live in peace and harmony, and are faithful to the principles of Buddhist. In this land, war, grief and sorrow were completely unknown. According to Michael, one commentator on the Kalachakra tantra puts it like this:
The land of Shambhala lies in a valley. It is only approachable through a ring of snow peaks like the petals of a lotus … At the centre is a nine-storey crystal mountain which stands over a sacred lake, and a palace adorned with lapis, coral, gems and pearls. Shambala is a kingdom where humanity’s wisdom is spared from the destructions and corruptions of time and history, ready to save the world in its hour of need.
The prophecy of Shambala states that each of its 32 kings will rule for 100 years. As their reigns pass, conditions in the outside world will deteriorate. Men will become obsessed with war and pursue power for its own sake and materialism will triumph over all spiritual life. Eventually an evil tyrant will emerge to oppress the earth in a despotic reign of terror. But just when the world seems on the brink of total downfall and destruction, the mists will lift to reveal the icy mountains of Shambala. Then the 32nd king of Shambala, Rudra Cakrin, will lead a mighty army against the tyrant and his supporters and in a last great battle, they will be destroyed and peace restored. (source)(source)
“With traditional arts in Asia much emphasis is put on long-term practice and effort, so as to reach continuously higher levels of skill development. There is a deeper character training happening as well, to reduce the ego’s voice, let go of fears, cultivate mindfulness, increase gratitude and live more fully in the present moment.” ~Christopher Chase
Cultivating a Beginner’s Mind
Beginner’s Mind is a phrase from Japanese Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki’s book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. He uses it to describe an approach to life that is empty of preconceptions and fearful thinking, yet very mindful.
“In Japan we have the phrase shoshin (初 心), which means “beginner’s mind.” The goal of practice is always to keep our beginner’s mind… This [means] an empty mind and a ready mind. If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.”
The idea of an empty mind in Asian cultures is different from Western conceptions, which signify that something is lacking. It is closer to our idea of being open-minded, providing a spacious awareness that allows the outer world to flow in freely through our senses.
The Chinese philosopher Lao Tsu shared a similar conception of emptiness, in verse 11 of the Tao Te Ching, describing structured spaces which invite participation as being very useful.
“Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.”
Therefore benefit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.”
In Zen Buddhism, to maintain a beginner’s mind means to be open to continuous growth and deeper understanding. One is encouraged to drink in each moment of life, without excessive desire, pride or judgment.
A beginner’s mind is not willful, power seeking or egocentric. As a beginner, we are encouraged to develop skills without comparing ourselves to others or seeking to be superior in any way. In Japan, this also relates to the idea of kenkyo (謙虚) which means to cultivate modesty and humility, to not be full of oneself.
In Zen Flesh, Zen Bones (by Paul Rep) there is a section entitled 101 Zen Stories. Here a tale is told of a Japanese University professor who visits a Zen master. He says he wants to learn about Zen, but he arrives with an attitude of superiority. The master pours tea into his cup and does not stop so that it begins to overflow.
“What are you doing?” yells the Professor. The master responds, “Like this cup, your mind is already full. To learn about Zen you must empty your cup, empty your mind of knowledge.”
Zen & Japanese Traditional Arts
Even now, a beginner’s mind is very much a part of traditional arts training in Japan. The idea of mu (無) or mushin (無 心) is commonly taught to students. It is often translated as “not, nothing” or “no mind” but it’s closer to openness of awareness in meaning. Students are encouraged to be attentive and mindful, carefully observant of the present moment.
With traditional arts education in Asia much emphasis is put on long-term practice and effort, so as to reach continuously higher levels of skill development. There is a deeper character training happening as well, to reduce the ego’s voice, let go of fears, cultivate mindfulness, increase gratitude and live more fully in the present moment.
A core idea with Zen influenced arts is that deep mastery and learning requires that we keep all our senses open. Over time one’s knowledge becomes intuitive, instinctual. We do not have to “think “ consciously to act skillfully.
The goal with arts training is not to receive praise or do better than others, but to grow spiritually, develop as a human being and learn to live each moment peacefully, mindfully and deeply connected to the present.
The Buddhist scholar D.T. Suzuki (no relation to Shunryu Suzuki), gave this description, in his essay An Introduction to Zen Buddhism:
“The idea of Zen is to catch life as it flows. There is nothing extraordinary or mysterious about Zen. I raise my hand; I take a book from the other side of the desk; I hear the boys playing ball outside my window; I see the clouds blown away beyond the neighboring wood — in all these I am practicing Zen, I am living Zen. No wordy discussion is necessary, nor any explanation… When the sun rises the whole world dances with joy and everybody’s heart is filled with bliss. If Zen is at all conceivable, it must be taken hold of here.”
Living & Learning in the Modern World
Zen teaches that living in this way is not difficult, but modern “civilized” people make it hard for themselves, and their children. Educational systems (both in the West and in Asia) put great emphasis on competition, status and ranking, requiring the memorization and testing of knowledge.
The goal of modern schooling is for students to memorize vast amounts of information, to do better than others on tests, so that one can get higher grades, get into the “best” college, attain a high paying job. This “training” (that most of us have received) keeps our minds focused on knowledge storage, future goals and how we compare with others in the present.
Living and learning this way has created a world where a rat race mentality dominates. Where many “well educated” people’s minds are crammed with disconnected bits of knowledge (about math, physics, history, etc.) that we never developed the ability to apply in meaningful ways.
In recent decades, Western psychologists have described some of these dynamics. Carol Dweck talks about a growth vs fixed mindset. A growth mindset is open and curious, the person understands what they are studying and is continuously learning, updating their knowledge and skills. We do not compare ourselves with others and see learning as a lifelong process.
Psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi describes this approach to life and learning as flow, the psychology of optimal experience. With our minds open to the present moment we experience a sense of unity and intimate relationship with our current situation and context.
A growth mindset and flow are quite similar to the beginner’s mind approach of Zen. In the book Zen in the Art of Archery, Eugen Herrigel shared his Japanese archery teacher’s advice, “Don’t think of what you have to do, don’t consider how to carry it out! The shot will only go smoothly when it takes the archer himself by surprise.”
Goals can be helpful, but the focus with Zen arts is to anchor our consciousness in the present moment, detached from ego and desire. “A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at,” is how Bruce Lee put it.
Numerous athletes, artists and musicians have described their most satisfying experiences in this way, as being in “the zone,” where a sense of self drops away and we feel a deep connection with the present moment. Skillful actions happen of themselves, intuitively, without willful thought or direction.
When playing sports or music thoughts of future outcomes or failure can trigger powerful emotions that distract our awareness. It is only by paying full attention to what is happening NOW that we can respond mindfully and effectively to current conditions, and deeply connect with the present moment we inhabit.
Moreover, as our skills develop without egoism, we will naturally cultivate positive psychological qualities (such as mindfulness, optimism, compassion, creativity, kindness, joyfulness) that make our lives more happy, successful and meaningful.
As the composer John Cage put it, “Get yourself out of whatever cage you find yourself in. There is poetry as soon as we realize that we possess nothing.”
Developing Deep Appreciation for Our Lives
Over time we begin to discover our live’s purpose, what Japanese call ikegai (生き甲斐), a core sense of meaningfulness for our existence. Ikegai is about developing our many unique gifts so that we can share these with the world. Finding our live’s purpose brings joy to us and benefit to others.
To do this successfully, it helps to be aware of how we are connected to the rest of the Universe. Finding deep meaning can only be discovered in the now, not in the future. This is why Taoist and Zen teachings encourage us to cultivate an intimate relationship with (and appreciation for) Nature as she manifests in the present moment.
We are at all times connected to the Cosmos in ways that mundane concerns distract us from seeing. Alan Watts has described how we are each like waves of a larger ocean, creative expressions of the Universe we inhabit.
When our mind is empty of self-centric thoughts and emotions, we can more easily connect with our surroundings. Maintaining space in our minds allows the magic of the world to enter through our senses.
For Taoist sages and Zen masters the Universe that surrounds us is experienced as our “original face.” It’s the Source of all that exists, a living matrix of creativity that we all belong to, that has brought every thing into being. As Alan Watts put it:
“If you see yourself in the correct way, you are all as much extraordinary phenomena of nature as trees, clouds, the patterns in running water, the flickering of fire, the arrangement of the stars, and the form of a galaxy. You are all just like that…”
While this is not difficult to comprehend conceptually, it can be challenging for “civilized” people to experience directly and frequently. Not buying into the rat race mentality of modern cultures is an essential first step. Training mindfully in an art form or sport, learning to meditate or do yoga, will provide us with a system of practice that assists greatly.
As we learn to meet the world like an empty cup, we allow inner and outer realms of our lives to flow together. Where there had been separation before, now there is greater unity.
More and more, we may begin to experience yūgen (幽玄), a term that Japanese artists and poets have used to signify a deep appreciation and feeling of relatedness with the Universe.
Awareness & Experience of Inter-being
Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh describes this as a deepening awareness of inter-being, the fundamental unity and interconnectedness of the Cosmos. In a flower exists water from clouds, energy from the sun, molecules from the earth, atoms created billions of years ago within stars.
This understanding is very important if one wishes to grasp Buddhist teachings about emptiness, as Thich Nhat Hanh explains:
“A flower cannot be by herself alone. To be empty is not a negative note… A flower is empty only of a separate self, but a flower is full of everything else. The whole cosmos can be seen, can be identified, can be touched, in one flower. So to say that the flower is empty of a separate self also means that the flower is full of the cosmos.”
Such an attitude and recognition brings greater peace and happiness in our lives (and wisdom in our actions) because instead of trying to manipulate outcomes and take from the world we become more aligned with Nature, moving in unison with life, like a musician or dancer.
By letting go of distracting thoughts and emotions throughout the day, we create space for the world to move through us, be a part of us. This letting go allows for a deeper experience of inter-being, our intimate connectedness with everything.
Over time, connecting and letting go, like breathing, becomes second nature for us. Not seeking far off goals that the modern world considers to be important, we discover that everything we need is already here. We just need to cultivate inner space and connect to it.
Maintaining a beginner’s mind helps us to experience flow in our activities, joy in our relationships and growth as human beings. Like the lead characters in the films Groundhog Day and About Time, we start to discover deep meaning in every single precious moment.
In the Japanese tea ceremony this connection and appreciation is expressed with the idea of ichi-go ichi-e (一期一会), translated as “one time, one meeting.” Every meeting we share with others is a once in a lifetime event, a sacred moment that we can treasure and enjoy deeply.
Over time, as we practice seeing and living in this way, everything we do can be experienced as an art form to be mastered, every interaction with others becomes a potential source of joy, gratitude, peace, love and beauty.
We will never find happiness in far off places or goals that we imagine. The way to happiness is to realize deeply, that each moment of life, each friendship, is sacred. Each step of our journey we have already arrived, we have always been home.
“To dwell in the here and now does not mean you never think about the past, or responsibly plan for the future. The idea is simply not to allow your self to get lost in regrets about the past or worries about the future. Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh
“Zen professes itself to be the spirit of Buddhism, but in fact it is the spirit of all religions and philosophies. When Zen is thoroughly understood, absolute peace of mind is attained, and a man [or woman] lives as he ought to live.” ― D.T. Suzuki
The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures. It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers. It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth and of death, in ebb and in flow. I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life. And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.