“When you like a flower, you just pluck it. But when you love a flower, you water it daily.”

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Ugh. In investigating this quote, kindly passed on to me by one of my meditation students, I delved into an entire subculture devoted to saccharine quotes and trite parables, often rife with typos, poor grammar, and the kinds of abbreviations teenagers use in text messages.

This particular one turned up on a Facebook page called “Buddhism: Being truly human.”

What is the difference between “I like you” [and] “I love you”? Beautifully answered by Buddha. Buddha’s answer was so simple. When you like a flower, you just pluck it. But when you love a flower, you water it daily.

It’s also seen as:

When you like a flower, you just pluck it. But when you love a flower , you water it daily…..One who understand this, understand life….
— Buddha

Sometimes it’s not the Buddha to whom the quote is attributed, and the words are presented as an exchange between an unnamed student and master. Some of the earliest versions I’ve found present this, rather absurdly, as a conversation between Alexander the Great and Socrates:

Alexander the Great:
“Sir what’s the difference between “like” and “love”?

Socrates’s answer was a masterpiece:
“When you like a flower, you just pluck it.
But when you love a flower, you water it daily..!

The One, who understand this, understands Life…

Socrates died in 399 BCE, while Alexander was born in 356 BCE. Any conversation they had would have had to be posthumous. (Although Socrates was the mentor of Plato who was the mentor of Aristotle, who was the tutor of Alexander, so there was a connection.)

The quote itself only seems to go back to 2013 or so. Google’s not very good at helping us search by date, unfortunately.

I’m grateful to this quotation, however fake it is. The Buddha talked about “affection” as something to be avoided. The term he used is “pema.” Metta, however, which is love, lovingkindness, or just plain kindness, is to be encouraged. I wrote about this in the context of another (genuine) quotation.

The reason for my gratitude is that I’d never really thought of pema in terms of “liking.” It’s not quite right as a translation, but I think that the difference between liking and loving does point to something that lies in the distinction between pema and metta. At the very least the contrast provides a useful analogy.

The source of our fake quote? I’ve no idea. Presumably it started as a nice little message to be passed around on the web, and then some bright spark thought it would be a good idea to add the Buddha’s name.

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23 thoughts on ““When you like a flower, you just pluck it. But when you love a flower, you water it daily.””

  1. “Google’s not very good at helping us search by date, unfortunately.”

    Search tools > Any time > Custom range…

    1. Yes, I’m aware of that function, Gruff. Unfortunately, as I said, Google isn’t very good at actually doing what you want it to do because the dates given are usually wrong. For example, go to Google and search for “Facebook” in the date range 1990 to 1999. Since Facebook was launched in 2004, you wouldn’t expect much to show up, and yet the results are full of hits from Facebook itself. You can even find many web pages that apparently predate the existence of the world wide web 🙂

  2. I see. Those results appear to be all timeline results with “date founded” or other earlier dates being read as actual dates of posting. So with a some effort and judicious application of search operators, results could be filtered better. But I take your overall point.

    1. That kind of date confusion makes it well-nigh impossible to do meaningful date-limited searches on Google’s web search. The date filters on books.google.com work better, but even those are faulty. What will often happen is that a book from a particular period will show up in the unfiltered results, but when you select the period the book belongs to it will no longer appear in the results.

  3. I also have seen this quote being attributed to Osho. Can’t be sure that it was reall y from him though.

    1. He did say things about not picking flowers, but so far I haven’t seen anything confirming that this particular quotation is one of his. Thanks for the tip, though. I’ll keep investigating.

  4. I agree, date of original publication should be in the metadata of every print source uploaded to the web. Absent a remarkable archaeological discovery, if someone has been dead for hundreds of years, everything that is known about what he actually said was already known long before the internet was invented.

    I am not a scholar, and I don’t think I have particularly strong powers of discernment, but so many of these mis-attributed quotes seem laughable to me, way off base in terms of language and tone, never mind content.

    1. Which part of The Little Prince did you have in, Jake? I’ve found several passages:

      “If I owned a flower, I could pluck that flower and take it away with me. But you cannot pluck the stars from heaven.”

      “If some one loves a flower, of which just one single blossom grows in all the millions and millions of stars, it is enough to make him happy just to look at the stars. He can say to himself, ‘Somewhere, my flower is there . . .'”

      “One never ought to listen to the flowers. One should simply look at them and breathe their fragrance.”

      “If you love a flower that lives on a star, it is sweet to look at the sky at night. All the stars are a-bloom with flowers.”

      Those are the only references I can see that are even vaguely similar, but none of them looks like a basis for this quote. Perhaps I’ve missed something though!

  5. I found the following discourse from Osho:
    “The flowers are beautiful, but your plucking them was not a beautiful act. For whom
    beauty is equivalent to Love, it is impossible to sever the flowers from their plants. The
    plucking of flowers hastens their death; and nothing is uglier than taking life, even of a
    flower. Non-violence is the acme of beauty; violence is the nadir of ugliness.
    [Someone quipped, “But we like flowers: that is why we pluck them!”]
    Love is opposed to the act of plucking flowers. Love and plucking of flowers can not coexist.
    Plucking is not symbolic of love, but of cruelty. It is symbolic of our authoritarian
    nature; we want to possess whatever seems beautiful, regardless of the possibility of
    destroying that object of beauty. This is true not only of flower-plucking, but of all our
    dealings in life, and of all our human relationships. We practise the same cruelty with
    even the human beings whom we profess to love. For example, even with the beloved, a
    lover seeks to enforce authority. We all seek to pluck the human flower, and in the
    process, rob that flower of the sap or life, leading to its premature wilting”
    Where there is love, there is no possessiveness or bondage; and bondage separates one
    person from the other. Love is what unites and not what separates; Love is what protects,
    not what destroys life; Love is what frees, not what enslaves. If you love flowers, you
    give yourself to flowers; you do not try to own them by plucking. Love knows only
    giving; it knows not the language of receiving — to say nothing of the language of
    robbing. And please note that this is an axiom applicable to all aspects of life. Those who
    know not this truth, look upon their cruelty and violence as a form of love. Though they
    do not realise it, their hatred lies latent in their so-called love. And where they lay claim
    to a sense of beauty, their outward aesthetics is just a cloak hiding crass ugliness. ”

    The source is the lecture/book “Lead, Kindly, Light,” from talks given in 1972.

  6. When the Dalai Lama talks about affection as a good thing, this is against what Buddha taught? If it’s loving I think it’d beneficial.

    1. It’s good to bear in mind that the words the Buddha used don’t correspond exactly to the ones we used. We can use “affection” in ways that don’t correspond to the Buddha’s use of the word pema.

      When the Buddha talked about pema, he seems to have meant an emotional response that was based on “liking,” and that was therefore limited. So we see a cute puppy or adorable baby, and we have a biologically conditioned pleasant feeling, and on the basis of that feeling we feel “love” for the baby or puppy. Or we meet an adult with a pleasing face, voice, and manners, and do likewise. We behave in a kind way to them because we like them.

      And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just limited.

      But what the Buddha was encouraging was kindness that wasn’t based on liking. Metta is kindness based instead on an empathetic understanding that beings want to be happy, and that that happiness is as real to them and as important to them as our own. We treat then with kindness because we respect their wellbeing. Since it doesn’t matter if you “like” them (i.e. whether they give rise to pleasant feelings in you) or not, metta is potentially universal — that is you can apply it to everyone you meet or think of.

      Our word “affection” implies a feeling of warmth toward someone, and those feelings arise with metta. So when we talk in English about metta, we think of it as including affection. But what we’re describing isn’t what the Buddha would have called “pema.”

      The problem is not with the use of the English word affection, it’s with the underlying concept of limiting our kindness to those we like, as well as to the attachment we have to the pleasant feelings of “liking” and the aversion we have to “disliking.” What metta does is decouple our sense of wellbeing from liking and disliking so that we can be at peace regardless.

  7. While i am 100% sure Buddha never said this quote, we can all agree on that, this is the only link on Google that seems to suggests that socrates said this. Does anyone have a link or proof of this? I am trying to be positive and would love to have a link

  8. Te word Buddha is not a name it is a title, meaning “The Enlightened One”. This enlightenment refers to being enlightened to the truth through compassion and self-sacrifice. Every living being has some form of compassion and goes through some form of self-sacrifice (sacrifice of the ego). Not everyone one has reached Buddha-hood, however everyone is still Buddha. I have learned this from many studies and mostly from “The Avatamsaka Sutra”. Don’t worry about misquoted quotes, it only matters if the quote speaks truth.

    1. Hi, Shane.

      I’ve been a Buddhist for 35 years, and I’m well aware that “Buddha” is a title and not a name. However when a quote is ascribed to “the Buddha” this means Gautama Buddha, Shakyamuni. As for not worrying about misquotations, the historical Buddha profoundly disagreed with you. But what did he know? 🙂

      The Buddha on Fake Buddha Quotes (1)
      The Buddha on Fake Buddha Quotes (2)
      The Buddha on Fake Buddha Quotes (3)
      The Buddha on Fake Buddha Quotes (4)
      The Buddha on Fake Buddha Quotes (5)

      Saying that something was said by the Buddha when there’s no evidence it was is false speech — something the Buddha strongly condemned:

      “For the person who transgresses in one thing, I tell you, there is no evil deed that is not to be done. Which one thing? This: telling a deliberate lie.”

      The person who lies,
      who transgress in this one thing,
      transcending concern for the world beyond:
      there’s no evil
      he might not do.

      While truthful speech is something he praised:

      …a certain person, abandoning false speech, abstains from false speech. When he has been called to a town meeting, a group meeting, a gathering of his relatives, his guild, or of the royalty, if he is asked as a witness, ‘Come & tell, good man, what you know’: If he doesn’t know, he says, ‘I don’t know.’ If he does know, he says, ‘I know.’ If he hasn’t seen, he says, ‘I haven’t seen.’ If he has seen, he says, ‘I have seen.’ Thus he doesn’t consciously tell a lie for his own sake, for the sake of another, or for the sake of any reward. Abandoning false speech, he abstains from false speech. He speaks the truth, holds to the truth, is firm, reliable, no deceiver of the world.

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