The forests that surround the village there in Nara, Japan are filled with beautiful bamboo trees. In
Japan, the symbolism of the bamboo plant runs deep and wide and offers practical lessons for
life and for work. I summarized the lessons below with presentation and learning in mind, but as
you read these seven lessons from bamboo, try think of practical implications for your own work.
Lesson 1 : Bend but don't break. Be flexible yet firmly rooted
The bamboo sway with even the slightest breeze. This gentle swaying movement with the wind is
a symbol of humility. Their bodies are hard and firm and yet sway gently in the breeze while their
trunks stay rooted firmly in the ground below. Their foundation is solid even though they move
and sway harmoniously with the wind, never fighting against it.
In time, even the strongest wind tires itself out,
but the bamboo remains standing tall and still.
A bend-but-don't-break or go-with-thenatural-flow attitude is one of the secrets for
success whether we're talking about bamboo
trees, answering tough questions in a Q&A
session, or just dealing with the everyday
vagaries of life.
Lesson 2 : What looks weak is strong
The body of a single bamboo tree is not large by any means, but the plants endure cold winters and
extremely hot summers and are sometimes the only trees left standing in the aftermath of a typhoon.
They may not reach the heights of the other trees, but they are strong and stand tall in extreme
weather. Bamboo is not as fragile as it may appear, not by a long shot.
Remember that we must be
careful not to underestimate
others or ourselves based only
on old notions of what is weak
and what is strong. You may not
be from the biggest company
or the product of the most famous
school, but like the bamboo,
stand tall, believe in your own
strengths, and know that you are
as strong as you need to be.
Lesson 3 : Be always ready
Unlike other types of wood which take a good deal of processing and finishing, bamboo needs
little of that. As the great Aikido master Kensho Furuya says in Kodo: Ancient Ways, "The warrior,
like bamboo, is ever ready for action." In presentation or other professional activities too, through
training and practice, we can develop in our own way a state of being ever ready.
Lesson 4 : Unleash your power to spring back
Bamboo is a symbol of good luck and one of the symbols of the New Year celebrations in Japan.
The important image of snow-covered bamboo represents the ability to spring back after
experiencing adversity. The bamboo endured the heavy burden of the snow, but in the end it had
to power to spring back as if to say "I will not be defeated."
In winter the heavy snow bends the
bamboo back and back until one
day the snow becomes too heavy,
begins to fall, and the bamboo
snaps back up tall again, brushing
aside all the snow.
Lesson 5 : Find wisdom in emptiness
The hollow insides of the bamboo reminds us that we are often too full of ourselves and our own
conclusions; we have no space for anything else. In order to receive knowledge and wisdom
from both nature and people, we have to be open to that which is new and different. When you
empty your mind of your prejudices and pride and fear, you become open to the possibilities.
It is said that in order to
learn, the first step is to
empty ourselves of our
One can not fill a cup
which is already full.
Lesson 6 : Commit to (continuous) growth
Bamboo trees are among the fastest-growing plants in the world. Yet even with a commitment to
continuous learning and improvement, our growth — like the growth of the bamboo — can be
quite remarkable when we look back at what or where we used to be. We may not notice our
own improvement. How fast or how slow is not our main concern, only that we're moving forward.
The bamboo grows fastest around the rainy season. You too may have "seasons" where growth
accelerates, but is slower at other times. Yet with sustained effort, you are always growing. Do not
be discouraged by what you perceive as your lack of growth or improvement. If you have not
given up, then you are growing, you just may not see it until much later.
Lesson 7 : Express usefulness through simplicity
We often complicate the simple to impress and we fail to simplify the complex out of fear that
others may know what we know. If we could lose our fear, perhaps we could be more creative
and find simpler solutions to even complex problems that ultimately provide the greatest
usefulness for our audiences, customers, patients, or students.
Aikido master Kensho Furuya says
that "The bamboo in its simplicity
expresses its usefulness. Man should
do the same."