The Wisdom In "Kung Fu Panda" (2008)
Laughing All The Way To Peace, Harmony, and Focus
Image by L.E. Wilson from RedBubble based on Wikipedia licensing
Legend tells of a legendary warrior whose kung fu skills were the stuff of LEGEND!
In one instant the mood is set. This is going to be fun. In less than one minute, we’ve also already been exposed to beautiful animation and dazzling music. This is going to be good.
But when the movie ends, we also realize that we have just completed a journey where we were taken by the hand and shown the way to peace. Kung Fu Panda deftly reveals some deep truths about life and how to find harmony within it.
Kung Fu Panda (2008) is a humorous animated fantasy directed by Mark Osborne and John Stevenson about an unlikely hero, Po, a warrior panda voiced by Jack Black, who trains to become the legendary Dragon Warrior.
The very first conversation in it, at around the 4 minute mark, deals with the unhappiness of confining expectations. It’s a trap. Po, the titular giant panda, hides his true passion, kung fu, in order to appease the dreams of his father, who wants him to take over the family business, just as he did from his father and his father did before him.
You are almost ready to be entrusted with the secret ingredient of my Secret Ingredient Soup. And then you will fulfill your destiny and take over the restaurant!
But obviously this is not the right path for Po, who must develop the courage to be honest with himself and his father so that he can focus on his destiny.
Life Lesson: To feel fulfilled and happy with your life,
pursue your dream, not someone else’s dream.
The second conversation, around the 7 minute mark, is one of the most profound and deals with the unhappiness of trying to control that which you cannot. Master Oogway, a Galapagos tortoise, tells Master Shifu, a red panda who is still struggling to find inner peace, that:
One often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it
Life Lesson: You bring about what you focus on, whether good or bad.
What can we control? Perhaps nothing. Master Oogway gives this counsel,
Your mind is like this water, my friend. When it is agitated, it becomes difficult to see.
But if you allow it to settle, the answer becomes clear.
Life Lesson: Emotions cloud your judgment.
Wait until they pass to make decisions.
The next insight encompasses the whole story arc of Kung Fu Panda; it is a theme that is repeated a couple of times by different characters, and is one of the most empowering messages:
Life Lesson: Physical appearance does not determine ability.
Or, as Mantis, the smallest of the Furious Five puts it, “Who am I to judge a warrior based on his size? I mean, look at me.”
But it’s not just physical appearance. It’s identity. Po gives a touching speech when talking to Master Shifu about what it feels like to confuse the two:
I stayed because every time you threw a brick at my head or said I smelled, it hurt, but it could never hurt more than it did every day of my life just being me. I stayed because I thought, if anyone could change me, could make me, not me, it was you.
In his journey, Po learns that he can use food as a source of comfort, “I eat when I’m upset, ok?” but also as a source of limitless motivation, which allows him to reach new and unexpected heights, even as a fat panda.
Life Lesson: Find what naturally motivates you.
The third conversation, at about the 30 minute mark, touches on the unhappiness of worrying. Master Oogway tells Po,
You are too concerned with what was and what will be. There’s a saying, ‘Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.’
Life Lesson: “Do not use your energy to worry. Use your energy to believe, to create, to learn, to think, and to grow.” —Professor Richard Feynman
Later Master Oogway reiterates this message to Master Shifu by saying, “There is just news. There is no good or bad, ” which is a thesis that is further explored in the moviewise post, “There Is No Bad News; There Are Only Blessings In Disguise.”
But before we can reach the next level of enlightenment, we must truly embody and accept the one precept that Po already knows, “a real warrior never quits.”
Life Lesson: Don’t quit.
The fourth conversation, near the 43 minute mark, returns to an earlier lesson, one that bears repeating because it is a difficult truth to receive. We naturally feel compelled to rage against it because to accept it seems to diminish our importance, our significance. But this doesn’t have to be an eternal struggle, if we heed Master Oogway once again when he says,
Let go of the illusion of control.
“But how? How?” we plead alongside Master Shifu.
“You just need to believe,” is Oogway’s answer. You must believe. There’s nothing else.
By the end of the movie we learn the secret to limitless power, the secret to hearing a butterfly’s wing beat, seeing light in the deepest cave, and feeling the universe in motion around us.
It is nothing. It’s just you.
So say, “Skadoosh!” to all your troubles and fears. Let them go. Let them disappear.
And believe in yourself. To make something special, you just have to believe it’s special.
Or is reading this one essay enough?
There was one other message that was repeated multiple times in this movie and bears consideration:
There are no accidents.
How did you get to be so lucky?