Awaken: Firstly, thank you for the honor of spending this time with you. Would you mind if we started by diving right into deep waters?
Bruce Lee: The function and duty of a human being, a “quality“ human being, that is, is the sincere and honest development of potential and self actualization. One additional comment: the energy from within, and the physical strength from your body, can guide you toward accomplishing your purpose in life — and to actually act on actualizing your duty to yourself.
Awaken: Interesting that you specify, a “quality” human being! What then, is an ordinary human being?
Bruce Lee: A human being is an eating, sleeping, physically, maintaining, reproducing entity. A human being is an entity of feeling. A human being is a creating entity.
Awaken: Would you say that the act of creating lifts us out of the realm of simple instinct…
Awaken: So, it is that ability to break free from mechanical action?
Bruce Lee: A human being is the result of a marriage of natural instinct and control. Here is natural instinct, and there is control. You are to combine the two in harmony. If you have one to the extreme, you will be very unscientific; if you have another to the extreme, you become a mechanical man, no longer a human being. So it is a successful combination of both. It is not pure naturalness, or pure unnaturalness. The ideal is unnatural naturalness or natural unnaturalness.
Awaken: What are the qualities you value most in an actualized human being?
Bruce Lee: Most people can talk without listening. Very few can listen without talking. It is very rare that people can talk and listen.
Awaken: That is so true… listening requires such deep presence. Would you consider it to be a skill of letting go? Letting go of all of the mental planning and ideas of what we should be doing or should be saying… Because all of that prevents us from bringing all of our attention to the moment, in order to really hear what is being said?
Bruce Lee: What is and what should be. What IS is more important than WHAT SHOULD BE. Too many people are looking at “what is” from a position of thinking “what should be.” The Now is total awareness. The “space” created between “what is” and “what should be…” Total awareness of the now and not the disciplined stillness.
Awaken: What do you mean by the “disciplined stillness?”
Bruce Lee: You cannot force the Now. You can never invite the wind, but you must leave the window open. Listen. Can you hear the wind? And can you hear the birds singing? You have to HEAR IT. Empty your mind. You know how water fills a cup? It BECOMES that cup. You have to think about nothing. You have to BECOME nothing.
Awaken: Many people will ask how it is possible to organize one’s life while simultaneously adhering to the commitment to absolute presence…
Bruce Lee: I couldn’t live by a rigid schedule. I try to live freely from moment to moment, letting things happen and adjusting to them. Flow in the living moment. We are always in a process of becoming and NOTHING is fixed. Have no rigid system in you, and you will be flexible to change with the ever-changing. OPEN your self and flow, my friend. Flow in the TOTAL OPENNESS OF THE LIVING MOMENT. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Moving, be like water. Still, be like a mirror. Respond like an echo.
Awaken: When you speak of flowing, I recognize that you may be talking about the Taoist principle of Wu Wei. Could you elaborate on this idea?
Bruce Lee: Wu Wei is natural action. The basic idea of the Tao Te Ching is NATURALISM in the sense of Wu Wei (inaction), which really means taking no unnatural action. It means spontaneity; that is, “to support all things in their natural stage” and thus allow them to “transform spontaneously.” in this manner, The Tao “Undertakes no activity, and yet there is nothing left undone.”
Awaken: To connect these ideas together, would it be fair to say that Wu Wei, or natural action, is a way of flowing with life as it is, rather than imposing our will?
Bruce Lee: Wu Wei is spontaneous action without prearrangement. Wu Wei ensures the spirit of harmony with nature. Wu Wei sees no violence done, with the result of peace and freedom from disturbance. Wu Wei is the nourishment of the spirit, left alone, so it can find stability. Wu Wei is “taking no action;” all effort made with a purpose is sure to fail.
Awaken: Perhaps the oft used proverb, “all things in their time,” may apply? And this requires some discipline and patience on our part, because we always want to push our agenda!
Bruce Lee: Wait in the calm strength of patience— he that is strong, should guard it with tenderness. One need not fear, lest strong will should not prevail; the main thing is not to expend one’s powers prematurely in an attempt to obtain by force something for which the time is not yet ripe.
Awaken: It’s so true… Pushing our agenda just wastes our energy!
Bruce Lee: Don’t choose to waste energy. Are you a flowing entity, capable to flow with external circumstances, or are you resisting with your set choice pattern?
Awaken: Am I to understand that the biggest way we waste energy is by attaching ourselves to habits and conditioning, as well as to external expectations with regard to how we think things “should” be?
Bruce Lee: Conditioning is to limit a person within the framework of a particular system. All fixed set patterns are incapable of adaptability or pliability. The truth is outside of all fixed patterns. We live in clichés, in patterned behavior. We are playing the same role over and over again. To raise our potential is TO LIVE AND REVIEW EVERY SECOND REFRESHED. One must be uninfluenced and die to one’s conditioning in order to be aware of the totally fresh, totally new. Because reality changes every moment, even as I say it.
Awaken: Are you saying to drop tradition, as well?
Bruce Lee: Tradition equals the habit forming mechanism of the mind. Classical methods and tradition make the mind a slave — you are no longer an individual, but merely a product. Your mind is the result of a thousand yesterdays. The individual is a first importance, not the system. Remember that man created method, and not that method created man, and do not strain yourself in twisting into someone’s preconceived pattern, which unquestionably would be appropriate for him, but not necessarily for you.
Awaken: Seen this way, tradition… at least, unexamined tradition, which is merely a manmade system, can be said to restrict evolution?
Bruce Lee: Man is constantly growing, and when he is bound by a set pattern of ideas, or “way” of doing things, that’s when he stops growing. When there is a “way,” therein lies the limitation. And when there is a circumference, it traps. And if it traps, it rots. And if it rots, it is lifeless.
Awaken: Have you, yourself, dropped your allegiance to all organized systems?
Bruce Lee: I no longer am interested in systems or organization. Organized institutes tend to produce patronized prisoners of a systematized concept, and the instructors are often fixed in a routine. Of course, what is worse is that by imposing the members to fit a lifeless preformation, their natural growth is blocked.
Awaken: To add to your point, would it be fair to say that if we were to adhere to all tradition, we would be setting ourselves back with regard to many rights that we have worked hard to achieve, for example, those pertaining to disadvantaged groups and minorities?
Bruce Lee: Tradition is the root of racism. Many people are still bound by tradition; when the elder generation says “no” to something, then these other people will strongly disapprove of it as well. If the elders say that something is wrong, then they will also believe that it is wrong. They seldom use their mind to find out the truth and seldom express sincerely their real feeling.
The simple truth is that these opinions on such things as racism, are traditions, which are nothing more than a “formula” laid down by these elder people’s experience. As we progress and time changes, it is necessary to reform this formula.
I, Bruce Lee, am a man who never follows these formulas of the fear mongers. So, no matter, if your color is black or white, red or blue, I can still make friends with you without any barrier.
Awaken: Simultaneously, you have spoken of the value of cultivating one’s own positive habits, so some habits can be constructive! But I suppose the difference is that this is out of individual choice and deliberate intention? Can you speak to this?
Bruce Lee: What you HABITUALLY THINK largely determined what you will ultimately become.
Awaken: Are you talking about disciplining ourselves to think good thoughts?
Bruce Lee: You have your choice — you are master of your attitude — choose the POSITIVE, the CONSTRUCTIVE. Optimism is a faith that leads to success.
Awaken: In practical terms, why is thinking positive more effective?
Bruce Lee: Pessimism blunts the tools you need to succeed. If you think the thing is impossible, you’ll make it impossible.
Awaken: To play devil’s advocate, I think when people have been beaten down many times, it’s challenging to be positive… do you have any advice for dealing with adversity?
Bruce Lee: Adversity is beneficial to us. Prosperity is apt to prevent us from examining our conduct; but adversity leads us to think properly of our state, and so is beneficial to us.
Awaken: Could you explain what you mean by “thinking properly of our state?”
Bruce Lee: In a time when everything goes well, my mind is pampered with enjoyment, possessiveness, etc. Only in times of adversity, privation, or mishap, does my mind function, and think properly of my state. This close examination of self, strengthens my mind, and leads me to understand and be understood.
Awaken: So, even in times of adversity, you are saying that it is important to remain positive?
Bruce Lee: I mean, who has the most insecure job as I have? What do I live on? My faith in my ability that I’ll make it. Sure my back screwed me up good for a year, but with every adversity comes a blessing because a shock acts as a reminder to oneself that we must not get stale in routine.
Awaken: So we have come full circle to the point of Wu Wei, which is to not waste energy on mental doubts, and the anguish that this can create?
Bruce Lee: Don’t add worry to your troubles. Serene, detached from all results, ready to fight, or run, to win, or lose, and always ready to laugh at all things, take whatever comes. Your child is ill you say, or you cannot pay the rent? Very well, accept these facts and face them. Are they not trouble enough in themselves without adding the aggravation of worry to them? Worry only creates problems for those around you. One who is possessed by worry not only lacks the poise to solve his own problems, but by his nervousness and irritability creates additional problems for those around him. Do what seems wise to be done, forget it, and walk on. Walk on and see a new view. Walk on and see the birds fly. Walk on and leave all things that will damn up the inlet, or clog the outlet, of experience.
Awaken: I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you about your spirituality. I can’t help but wonder if it’s through divine connection or faith that you are able to carry yourself through life with such optimism and joy, as well as appreciation for the beauty all around you?
Bruce Lee: Whether it is the Godhead, or not, I feel this great force, this untapped power, this dynamic something within me. This feeling defies description, and there is no experience with which this feeling may be compared. It is something like a strong emotion mixed with faith, but a lot stronger.
I feel I have this great, creative and spiritual force within me that is greater than faith, greater than ambition, greater than confidence, greater than determination, greater than vision. It is all these combined. My brain becomes magnetized with this dominating force, which I hold in my hand.
Awaken: But this “dominating force” you do not call God?
Bruce Lee: To be perfectly frank, I really do not believe in God. If there is a God, he is within.
Awaken: I suppose it goes without saying then, that you don’t adhere to, or even agree with the notion of religion?
Bruce Lee: I have no religion whatsoever. I believe that life is a process and that man is a self-made product. The spirit of the individual is determined by his dominating thought habits. Religions divide people, just as styles in martial art divide people. If all the religions in the world were one, the world would be united in brotherhood.
Awaken: And yet you speak very easily and frequently of the spirit and the soul…
Bruce Lee: Recognize and use the spiritual power of the Infinite. The INTANGIBLE represents the real power of the universe. It is the seed of the tangible.
Awaken: I understand that it is our human folly to try to define that which is beyond our comprehension…
Bruce Lee: Intensity and/or enthusiasm is the god within us – one that instinctively becomes the art of the physical “becoming” and within this transition, we no longer care to know what life means. We are indeed, furnishing the “what is” by simply being… When the man comes to a conscious, vital realization of those great spiritual forces within himself, and begins to use those forces in science, in business, and in life, his progress in the future will be unparalleled.
Awaken: So, as we cultivate ourselves and our character, we reflect our own divine nature through everything we do?
Bruce Lee: Character is to the soul what outward appearance is to the body. A man’s genuineness and refinement should not reveal themselves directly; they should express themselves only indirectly as an effect from within.
Awaken: On that beautiful note, I will thank you once again for your generosity, for your time, and for your willingness to share your wisdom with us!
This is one of Awaken’s Dream Interviews, conducted by Donna Quesada, and All Answers are Verbatim from Bruce Lee.