“The heart is like a garden: it can grow compassion or fear, resentment or love. What seeds will you plant there?”

A friend drew my attention to this on Facebook, and then two people emailed it to me on the same day. Ever had the feeling that life is telling you to write up a Fake Buddha Quote?

This of course is nothing like the language or imagery that the Buddha is recorded as having used in his teaching.

In fact it’s from Jack Kornfield’s Buddha’s Little Instruction Book, page 11. BLIB is not a book of quotations from the Buddha, as the title seems to suggest to many. Instead, it’s Jack’s rather lovely renderings of the spirit of the Buddha’s teaching into a contemporary style.

The Buddha did use the imagery of seeds, at times. He said things like this:

Just as when seeds are not broken, not rotten, not damaged by wind & heat, capable of sprouting, well-buried, planted in well-prepared soil, and the rain-god would offer good streams of rain. Those seeds would thus come to growth, increase, & abundance. In the same way, any action performed with greed… performed with aversion… performed with delusion — born of delusion, caused by delusion, originating from delusion: wherever one’s selfhood turns up, there that action will ripen. Where that action ripens, there one will experience its fruit, either in this very life that has arisen or further along in the sequence.

As you’ll see, this is a similar message, but expressed very differently.

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5 thoughts on ““The heart is like a garden: it can grow compassion or fear, resentment or love. What seeds will you plant there?”

  1. Hi Bodhipaksa,

    There is an important difference in the imagery. Jack’s uses the notion of actively willing the growth of compassion. The Buddha is saying that willed action of any kind is the problem. This is the important bit. It is the craving that is the problem.

    Jack also does something that happens all the time and particularly ‘gets my goat’ by mentioning love and compassion but skipping the other to Brahmaviharas. The four Brahmaviharas are such a great formulation for balance but mudita (sympathetic joy) and upekṣā (equanimity) are typically dropped. It certainly doesn’t fit our capitalist/consumerist/competitive culture to emphasize the importance of being joyful for others success or having equanimity towards failure and success. I’d be interested to see how ofter these pop up in fake Buddha quotes – not often I guess. It is the same principle that makes “Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you” a less popular bumper sticker – but maybe it is different where you live!

    As the Buddha may have said but didn’t: “The way to liberation is having compassion for those who suffer and joy for those who are happy but above all having loving-kindness for all equally – and that includes yourself schmuck!”

    Great site Bodhipaksa. Keep it up.


  2. Thanks, Roger.

    I don’t think the Buddha is saying that willed action per se is the problem. It’s the underlying motivation of the willing — the craving, aversion, and delusion — that’s the problem. There’s plenty of encouragement to “will” the skillful in the Buddha’s teachings. The four right efforts are a reminder of that.

    It’s interesting, though, that the Buddha doesn’t talk about planting seeds of compassion (or any other skillful quality) here. The part of this sutta that deals with the skillful emphasizes the destruction of the negative rather than the cultivation of the positive. The seeds in the Buddha’s image always represent the unskillful.

    I suppose the reason for this is that the Buddha was all too familiar with the seasonal cycle of agriculture. Plant, harvest, plant, harvest, plant, harvest — ad infinitum. Seeds are part of the endless round, and therefore can’t represent something positive. If agriculture is a metaphor for samsara, then it’s non-growth that’s the escape, and so we have, in the sutta, the burning of the seeds and the destruction of the tree.

  3. Some positive seed imagery here: “Faith is my seed, austerity the rain, wisdom my yoke and plow, modesty is the pole, mind the strap, mindfulness is my plowshare and goad.”

    Note that it’s “mind the strap,” not “mind the gap” :)

  4. Direct quote or not, I dont know but this is certainly a variation of teachings of TNH in the book Understanding the Mind

    • Kornfield’s Buddha’s Little Instruction Book, where this quote comes from, predates TNH’s Understanding Our Mind by more than a decade. It’s a common enough metaphor, so it’s not surprising two different authors have employed it. I’m sure I’ve used it myself, quite independently.

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