Over the course of our long and colorful history, bamboo and humanity have exchanged many lessons and secrets. Bamboo has inspired us with its utility, its elegance and its resilience. We have honored bamboo with art and music, and especially with words.
The following collection of quotes and proverbs about bamboo illustrate the importance of bamboo in gardening and horticulture as well as religion and philosophy. So savor these pearls of wisdom, and hopefully they will serve as seeds of insight that may sprout in your imagination. If you enjoy inspirational quotes, be sure to check our new collection of Powerful Proverbs of Eastern Wisdom.
NOTE: This article first appeared in December 2019, most recently updated in September 2022.
Memorable bamboo quotes and proverbs
Here are a handful of illuminating quotes about bamboo to help capture the importance of this highly revered plant. Meditate upon these proverbs, and keep them in mind as you strive for spiritual growth or pursue a project in landscape architecture.
“The first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, the third year it leaps.”
This precious morsel of horticultural wisdom describes the growth habit of bamboo, or at least some varieties of bamboo. Running bamboos are notorious for how aggressively their rhizome roots can spread. Some gardeners are surprised, however, when after a year, their bamboo plant doesn’t seem to have spread at all. Even after the second year, the growth appears to be modest.
Although the new shoots may be small and scarce above the surface, the scene underground tells a whole different story. Down there in the soil, the root system is expanding like crazy. It’s not until around year three that you’ll find new shoots of bamboo coming up everywhere, sometimes several feet away from the main plant.
The two-pronged lesson is this: Be patient, and be cautious! Better yet, consider planting a clumping bamboo.
“Better to have a meal without meat than a house without bamboo.”
This Far Eastern proverb reminds us of the great importance of bamboo. In the rural parts of Asia, meat is something of a rare delicacy, and not something you should expect with every meal. As modern-day vegetarians well know, cutting meat out of the diet is an excellent way to reduce our footprint on the planet. Producing meat is extremely demanding on our natural resources.
Bamboo, on the other hand, is plentiful and grows like a weed. It has such a great plethora of applications, it would be a shame not to use it around the house for utensils, furniture, or even the walls of the house itself.
“The bamboo that bends is stronger than the oak that resists.”
The properties of bamboo make it something of a paragon for human character, as this Japanese proverb expresses. Also a bit of a paradox. While raw strength is important, the ability to bend and adapt is far more valuable. And surprisingly enough, it’s true that the wood from a flexible bamboo cane is stronger than the wood from a rigid oak tree.
“From the pine tree, learn of the pine tree. From the bamboo, learn of the bamboo.”
This deceptively simple message is one well worth contemplating. The Zen proverb says more about human nature than it does about the beloved bamboo plant. It’s so easy and tempting to look at one thing and then draw conclusions about something else.
As Socrates taught, the first step to wisdom is to admit how much we don’t know. I may be something of an expert in the area of bamboo, but that doesn’t make me the right person to ask if you have a question about pine trees, and vice versa. Always be conscious of your own limitations, and the limits of your knowledge.
“Be like bamboo. The higher you grow, the deeper you bow.”
Another reminder to respect the flexibility of bamboo, this Chinese proverb preaches the virtue of humility. Greatness should not be measured in sheer strength or superiority to others, but by one’s ability to bow down to others with modesty and compassion.
“Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.”
Martial arts master Bruce Lee reiterates the message of other bamboo proverbs, extolling the strength and pliability of the giant grass. If anyone understood the important relationship between strength, movement and flexibility, that would be Bruce Lee. And as the quotation reveals, he looked to bamboo as the exemplar, perfectly sublime in its design. The secret to karate, or any martial art, is not to resist and overpower the opponent, but to follow him and turn his own strength against him.
“Though the bamboo forest is dense, water flows through it freely.”
Bamboo sets the scene for this Zen proverb, which emphasizes the properties of water. Like bamboo, the secret to its strength is actually its softness. Nothing is as soft as water, and yet it had the strength to carve the Grand Canyon, among other things. Try as you may to grasp it, but the tighter you squeeze, the more it slips away.
“The bamboo is very much loved by the zen poets for its tremendous quality of being hollow. Out of this hollowness of the bamboo, a flute can be made. The bamboo will not sing, but it can allow any song to pass through it.”
The cult leader Osho, also known as the Bhagwan or Rajneesh, speaks of bamboo’s hollowness, another distinctive characteristic of the plant. Literally embodying the Taoist principle of emptiness, bamboo makes a complete circle in its form, while holding any empty space within. Free of attachments, judgments and expectations, but ever so full of potential.
Bamboo canes knocking
Maple leaves all aflutter
Wind out of the east
An original Haiku poem about bamboo captures the sense of serenity you feel in the presence of this graceful grass. There’s nothing else quite like the sound of bamboo as it sways in the breeze, with its hollow poles clunking together and its delicate leaves rustling.
Zen and Bamboo
One more pithy aphorism worthy of mention comes from the Zen tradition. While it’s not explicitly a proverb about bamboo, you can see why I decided to include it.
“Only when you can be extremely pliable and soft can you be extremely hard and strong.”
The Zen masters are famous for their inscrutable koans, those paradoxical stories and riddles that require profound contemplation but offer no clear solution. This one is less mysterious, however. And if we think about bamboo, the meaning is plain to see. You might also consider the power of water, in all its softness, which managed to carve out something as majestic as the Grand Canyon.
There is so much to say about bamboo. Its legacy in human history is unmatched by any other plant. If you enjoyed these quotes about bamboo, please consider sharing the article and subscribing to our blog for more fun facts.
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