Jiddu Krishnamurti: Bruce Lee’s Philosophical Martial Arts Inspiration.
How Bruce Lee used Jiddu Krishnamurti’s philosophy to recover his energies and develop self-knowledge in the martial arts.
In 1969, Bruce Lee injured his spine after doing a warm-up exercise the wrong way. Doctors recommended absolute rest for almost a year and said he could no longer practice martial arts again. Bruce followed the medical recommendations, but being a very active person, he spent his recovery time studying books on martial arts, psychology and philosophy lying on his bed or sitting on a chair in his library.
It was during this period of rest that Bruce Lee learned a series of doctrines that changed his life. The works of Buddha, Alan Watts, Lao Tzu and Jiddu Krishnamurti became Bruce Lee’s daily life. Krishnamurti was one of the authors he most enjoyed reading, and from which Lee drew three great lessons for life.
In 1929, Jiddu Krishnamurti decided to dissolve The Order of the Star in the East, of which he was leader, in the city of Ommen, in the Netherlands, in front of 3,000 members. Krishnamurti’s dissolution speech has become one of his most famous messages and influences many people today. This is the main excerpt of the speech:
“I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or to coerce people along any particular path” — Jiddu Krishnamurti.
But what does the phrase “Truth is a pathless land” mean, and what is the relationship with Bruce Lee?
This sentence can be summed up in one word: freedom. The human being must find his way of realization by himself without belonging to a group, or submit to leaders, or gurus. No organization, teacher or leader is able to liberate human beings. These institutions have the opposite effect: they become a crutch, a dependency that weakens individuals, preventing them from finding their trajectories of achievement. Freedom is unconditional, unlimited and eternal.
This does not mean that organizations in general are not important for the functioning of society. As Jiddu Krishnamurti said: “I would use any organization that took me to London, for example; this is a very different type of organization, purely mechanical”, he said. But spiritual organizations are not able to lead man to spirituality. Each person must achieve it through constant effort throughout life: “You cannot bring the top of the mountain into the valley. If you want to reach the top of the mountain, you must cross the valley and climb the cliffs without fear of dangerous precipices”, said Jiddu Krishnamurti.
Bruce Lee applied Krishnamurti’s philosophy to martial arts. In the book The Tao of Jeet Kune Do, a work Lee began to write in this recovery period, we read the following:
“Truth has no path. Truth is living and, therefore, changing. It has no resting place, no form, no organized institution, no philosophy. When you see that, you will understand that this living thing is also what you are. You cannot express and be alive through static, put-together form, through stylized movement”- Bruce Lee.
Lee realized that a fighter who is not limited to just one style of fighting can combine all styles. For Bruce Lee, combat was not something static, but alive, fluid, just like Truth and life, for Jiddu Krishnamurti.
“Jeet Kune Do favors formlessness so that it can assume all forms and, since it has no style, Jeet Kune Do fits in with all styles. As a result, Jeet Kune Do uses all ways and is bound by none and, likewise, uses any technique or means which serves its end. In this art, efficiency is anything that scores.” - Bruce Lee.
For a while Bruce wore a medallion around his neck with the following phrases:
“Using no Way as Way. Having no Limitation as Limitation”.
This phrase means that methods are necessary to a certain extent, but you should not be enslaved by them. No method should be used as a definitive method, nor should any limit be established as a definitive limitation. “If there is a method, there will be a limitation,” said Bruce Lee in a telephone interview.
“If you learn a method of fighting through some style, you will be able to fight according to the limitations of that method. And that is not really fighting” — Bruce Lee.
The Truth is not in the systems or methods, but within you.
In an interview for a television channel, Jiddu Krishnamurti said:
“You have to be a light to yourself. Not the light of a psychologist, a professor, Jesus, Buddha, or a good heart. You have to be a light to yourself in a world that is utterly becoming dark”- Jiddu Krishnamurti.
Jiddu Krishnamurti’s message that attracted Bruce Lee can also be summed up in one word: independence. Trust and self-esteem are principles that should guide our actions.
Dependence is a state that arises from our confusion when dealing with a difficult situation. When we are in this state of confusion, “we want someone to take us out of it. So, we are always concerned with how to escape or avoid the state we are in,” said Krishnamurti. During this process we create dependency, which becomes our authority.
The problem is that addiction is a way to escape the problem, not to solve it. “Why are we dependent? Psychologically, internally, we depend on a belief, a philosophy (…) We ask another person for a way of conduct. (…) Is it possible for the mind to free itself from this sense of dependence?”, asks Krishnamurti.
This teaching also influenced Bruce Lee:
“There is a powerful craving in most of us to see ourselves as instruments in the hands of others and, thus, free ourselves from responsibility for acts which are prompted by our own questionable inclinations and impulses. Both the strong and the weak grasp at this alibi. The latter hide their malevolence under the virtue of obedience. The strong, too, claim absolution by proclaiming themselves the chosen instruments of a higher power God, history, fate, nation or humanity” — Bruce Lee.
“The autonomous individual is stable only so long as he is possessed of self-esteem. The maintenance of self-esteem is a continuous task which taxes all of the individual’s power and inner resources. We have to prove our worth and justify our existence anew each day” — Bruce Lee.
In an interview with the Pierre Burton Show in 1971, Bruce Lee says the following:
“For me, martial arts are about expressing myself completely and honestly. And this is very difficult. It would be very easy for me to put on a show and make me tough and all that. I could do all these fake things, you know? It could teach very elegant movements. But being able to express yourself honestly, without lying to myself, express yourself with all sincerity, that, my friend, is very difficult to do” — Bruce Lee
Being honest with yourself requires self-knowledge, and that self-knowledge is a process by which you know yourself in relation to another person. After all, “self-knowledge arises when we are aware of ourselves in the relationship, which shows who we are from moment to moment. The relationship is a mirror in which we see how we really are”, said Krishnamurti.
“Self-knowledge cannot be achieved through anyone, any book, confession, psychology or psychoanalyst. It has to be discovered by yourself because it is your life.” — Jiddu Krishnamurti.
“Self-knowledge is the basis of Jeet Kune Do, as it is effective not only for the individual’s martial art, but also for his life” — Bruce Lee
After almost a year of physical rest due to his back problem, Bruce Lee wrote to a friend telling the story: “But in all adversity comes a blessing, because a shock acts as a reminder to oneself that we should not fall in a stagnant routine. It is not the situation that is the problem. It is how you react to that”.
Jiddu Krishnamurti was a writer, philosopher and speaker who investigated universal themes involving the human condition, such as creativity, fear, relationships, self-knowledge and freedom. A friend of the writer Aldous Huxley, who called him “intrinsic authority”, Krishnamurti shied away from labels as a guru, saint or leader and spoke simply and directly to the listener, without any persuasion or imposition of ideas. He gave lectures throughout several countries for much of his life until 1986, the year of his death.