One of my childhood heroes and favourite 20th Century influential figures is none other than Hong Kong movie star Bruce Lee.
People world wide know the little dragon not only as an actor and martial artist, but also a philosopher as his legacy lives on strong to this date.
One of Lee’s most famous interviews involves the movement of water and how humans should be a literal embodiment of it, stating:
“Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes a cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put water into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”
From a basic metaphorical aspect Bruce Lee is teaching us to adapt to the situations that life throws at us with gentle imagery.
But I wanted to explore the mind of Bruce Lee further and discover the grass roots to what his ethics and beliefs are.
Taoism. Though Bruce first struggled to earn money when in America, he invested a lot of time studying Eastern Philosophy and more specifically the concept of Tao (or Dao).
The word signifies a ‘way’ to which the knowledge of life and higher understanding in pursued.
Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu first coined the term between the 4th and 5th century BCE as not only a philosophy, but a religion.
And the core text of Lao Tzu’s principles is known as the Tao Te Ching.
A glimpse of Bruce Lee’s inspirational water comparison is found in the eighth chapter of the text, which talks about how water represents a person of virtue:
“A person of great virtue is like the flowing water.
Water benefits all things and contends not with them.
It puts itself in a place that no one wishes to be and thus is closest to Tao.
A virtuous person is like water which adapts itself to the perfect place.
His mind is like the deep water that is calm and peaceful.
His heart is kind like water that benefits all.
His words are sincere like the constant flow of water.
His governing is natural without desire which is like the softness of water that penetrates through hard rocks.
His work is of talent like the free flow of water.
His movement is of right timing like water that flows smoothly.
A virtuous person never forces his way and hence will not make faults.”
This whole chapter resonates poetically with the values people believe are good and perfectly sums up the work ethic that made individuals like Bruce Lee one of the greatest to walk the earth.
By combining the metaphors and similes from the words of these to great philosophers, we can conclude that the significance of water to mankind symbolises a strive of greatness.
A greatness that is achieved not only through hard work and dedication, but through the acts of being humble to take you down a good path in life.