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


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.

“Kindness should be the natural way of life, not the exception.”

I don’t know the origin of this quote. It’s certainly not the Buddha, and the modern phrasing sounds more like Sharon Salzberg or Jack Kornfield. I even wondered if it might be something I’d written.

The Buddha certainly did encourage the development of kindness (metta) as the basic way or relating to others. In a conversation with Cunda, a silversmith, regarding how one purifies oneself, he said:

And how is one made pure in three ways by mental action? … He bears no ill will and is not corrupt in the resolves of his heart. [He thinks,] ‘May these beings be free from animosity, free from oppression, free from trouble, and may they look after themselves with ease!’

On another occasion he said:

Therefore, bhikkhus, you should train yourselves thus: ‘We will develop and cultivate the liberation of mind by lovingkindness, make it our vehicle, make it our basis, stabilize it, exercise ourselves in it, and fully perfect it.’ Thus should you train yourselves.

And in one of his most extensive discourses, the Karaniya Metta Sutta, he describes how kindness should be cultivated for all beings at all times:

Just as with her own life
A mother shields from hurt
Her own son, her only child,
Let all-embracing thoughts
For all beings be yours.

Cultivate an all-embracing mind of love
For all throughout the universe,
In all its height, depth and breadth —
Love that is untroubled
And beyond hatred or enmity.

As you stand, walk, sit or lie,
So long as you are awake,
Pursue this awareness with your might.

As a writer, I have to say that “Kindness should be the natural way of life, not the exception” strikes me as being a poorly constructed sentence. “Natural way of life” is being contrasted with “exception” which I don’t think really works, since these expressions are not of the same kind. “Kindness should be the rule rather than the exception” would work.

This quote is often found in the form “Kindness should become the natural way of life, not the exception.”

“Since everything is a reflection of our minds, everything can be changed by our minds.”

This one was passed on to me by Shira, who is on Tumblr. Does that make her a “Tumblrer”?

She was rightly suspicious, and wrote:

The first half reminds me of the Dhammapada (“Mind precedes all things” … at least in some translations.) The second half is wackville though, and I’m pretty sure the Buddha didn’t say it.

“Wackville” just about summed this one up. I’ve also found it on Twitter, incidentally.

So far I haven’t traced a definitive source for this quote, although it may come from a Pure Land or Tibetan teacher. I’ll let you know if I find out.