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Bruce Lee Podcast

Jan 31, 2018

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. 

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.

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. 

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