See The Universe In A Sunflower

Thich Nhat Hanh

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I live in Plum Village, in the Dordogne region of southwest France, an area known for its sunflowers. But people who come to Plum Village in April do not see any sunflowers. They hear people saying that there are many sunflowers around, but they cannot see them anywhere. However, if you ask the farmers in the region, they will tell you that they can see the sunflowers very well, because they have already sown the sunflower seeds. They have ploughed the earth, sown the seeds, and spread manure. They know that there only needs to be one more condition for the sunflowers to manifest. That final condition is warmth. As the weather begins to warm up, the sunflower seeds will sprout, and, if the weather continues to be warm in June or July, the sunflowers will bloom.

“So the farmers can see things that the visitor cannot yet see. We say that there isn’t a sunflower here because we cannot see all the latent causes and conditions lying in wait. We have the tendency to think that as long as we can’t see the sunflowers, they don’t exist, and that once we can see the sunflowers, they suddenly do exist.

“The words “do not exist” are not really correct, but the words “do exist” are not correct either. When something has not yet manifested, we tend to think that it’s in the realm of nonbeing, and when it manifests we say that it’s in the realm of being. But the two categories of being and nonbeing do not correspond to reality. That is why we shouldn’t wait until we see big yellow flowers blooming in the fields to say that the sunflowers are there. They are there, just hidden, and whether or not we see them is only a matter of time and latent conditions.

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Buddhist monk, an author, a teacher, and a global luminary who was nominated for Noble Peace Prize by Martin Luther King Jr.

Seed questions for reflection: How do you relate to the notion that both existence and non-existence are categories that do not correspond to reality? Can you share an experience of a time you were able to see what was latent far before it manifested? What helps you see that which is waiting for the right conditions to bloom?

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13 Previous Reflections:

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    On May 29, 2021 Viên Đạo wrote:
    Just a couple of weekends ago I lay outdoors in silent meditation, just looking at the open sky without any focal point or scanning, just open eyes and open sky. Over the course of about an hour I witnessed several small, thin clouds spontaneously appearing and disappearing as they slowly passed. So their existence and non-existence seemed to depend on the basic elements of air (space, wind), water (vapor), heat (sun), earth (gravity and source of vapor) and time and timing; the time elapsed over the generations-decomposition actionof the clouds and timing of my observation. Had I not looked up would the clouds appear, disappear, and reappear? Of course! But since I looked up and witnessed these cloudsappear, disappear, and reappear they very act of witnessing meant a subject-object relationship played out. (For all I know, these clouds may have had a conversation that they saw a person appear and disappear in broad daylight!) They very fact the clouds "appeared" meant that t... [View Full Comment] Just a couple of weekends ago I lay outdoors in silent meditation, just looking at the open sky without any focal point or scanning, just open eyes and open sky. Over the course of about an hour I witnessed several small, thin clouds spontaneously appearing and disappearing as they slowly passed. So their existence and non-existence seemed to depend on the basic elements of air (space, wind), water (vapor), heat (sun), earth (gravity and source of vapor) and time and timing; the time elapsed over the generations-decomposition actionof the clouds and timing of my observation. Had I not looked up would the clouds appear, disappear, and reappear? Of course! But since I looked up and witnessed these cloudsappear, disappear, and reappear they very act of witnessing meant a subject-object relationship played out. (For all I know, these clouds may have had a conversation that they saw a person appear and disappear in broad daylight!) They very fact the clouds "appeared" meant that the water vapor became dense enough for me to see the vapor as "clouds" (existent) and when the clouds "disappeared" the vapor was simply too thin for my eyes to see a "cloud" (non-existence). Just as clouds appear and disappear in the sky, so, too, waves appear and disappear in the ocean, a lake, or even your bathtub; clouds and waves are "relative" expressions of the "absolute" sky and body of water, expressions made possible by action. But if we look at a cloud, the sky, body of water, or a wave through a microscope down to a molecule of water or wave of energy do we still have a "cloud" or the "ocean. Yes, no, and maybe? So under what conditions do "clouds" in the "sky" and "waves" in the "ocean" exist? When they "look" like a match with our shared understanding of the words sky, cloud, ocean, and wave? I guess it depends . . . on one's understanding of dependent origination.[Hide Full Comment]

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    On May 5, 2021 Bansi wrote:
    Sankalp is a latent cause and condition called dependent-origination. It becomes known in the realm of being through functioning in subject-object relations. Seeing function comes into existence as the Subject sees the sunflower as an object. This is how we perceive the world through senses, every moment of our living as an experience. Everything seen is just happening, it is not in control of an Individual.

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    On May 4, 2021 PRAVIN SHAH wrote:
    When I was a pre-science student in M G Science college, my dream was to get an admission into L D Engineering college in Ahmedabad! Competition was fierce. I needed to get high score! Anything less than Engineering was not an option! Everyday, on my way to MG, I used to pass through LD. That is when I saw the 'sunflower' in full bloom! I used to see myself as a successful student of LD! I used to picture myself as a successful engineer in a big company! I can smell it, taste it, feel it! This visualization gave my sharp focus, a purpose and motivation for hard work! And by the Grace of Divine, I made it! Oh, how sweet is the sight of the Sun Flower! What a great Human Mind we have!

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    On May 4, 2021 Patrick wrote:
    Nhat Hanhis physically deteriorating in his last years as he prepares to walk on, but his life has spoken well of love. }:- a.m.

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    On May 4, 2021 mamta nanda wrote:
    Just as Sun is always there, even on days when it is hidden behind the clouds, even during the night when it is on the other side of the Earth....
    We know this now and do not doubt it. Let's also nourish our inner knowing of a world where people enjoy wonderful health and wellbeing with love, peace and joy in their open hearts....

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    On May 3, 2021 Cletus Zuzarte wrote:
    Amazing! To hold within one's heart the possibility and the manifestation. The eye of a mystic who can see what is not yet! I have had the priviledge of looking at my garden that surrounds my home and it has been only recently that is around just 8 to 10 years and since then there have been some fruit bearing trees like the mango, guava, chikoo, love apple, custard apple and limes. Out of these only the guava, chickoo and one mango tree has given fruits. I know the others have potential of giving fruits but they will do so in their own time. They have the potential but the manifestation will be at a time when it is ready to do so, when the conditions are right. I wait in hope and perhaps when that day comes I will come back and share with you! For the moment I just thank God and nature for the boutiful harvest of guavas, mangoes and chickoos this year!

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    On May 1, 2021 David Doane wrote:
    The meaning of terms depends on how they are defined. For me, there is what exists in space and time, which is manifest in form and is temporary, and there is what exists outside space and time, which is unmanifest and eternal. The manifest is the unmanifest in form. In my opinion, both the manifest in form and the unmanifest exist and are real. Manifest in form does not exist and isn't real until manifest in form. The unmanifest from which a human comes exists and is real, but the human doesn't exist and isn't real until manifest in form. I can imagine what is unmanifest or latent before it manifests, but I don't see the unmanifestbefore it is manifest. My imagination helps me to see what I imagine will manifest. I'm stopping this thinking before I get a headache, which is imagined and doesn't exist and isn't real until it manifests in form.

    1 reply: Me | Post Your Reply
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    On Apr 30, 2021 Jagdish P Dave wrote:
    I love and deeply enjoy reading the writings of ThichNhat Hanh. In this beautiful passage he conveys a profound messageof relating to what is real. In order to hear what is not said and in order to see what is not manifested requires waiting with patience, open mindedness, open heartedness and conviction that what is not heard and what is not seen is real. As Thich Naht Hanhsaysploughingtheearth,sowing the seeds, and spreading the manure are essential conditions for the blooming of the sun flower. The birth of a poem is like the latent seed turning into a blossoming flower. I feel my heart stirred up with deep feeling of wonder and joy before a poem is born. It is like hearing the sound and feeling the fragrance of a beloved coming from nowhere! I felt the same way when I felt a deep stirring of love in my heart when I saw my beloved for the for firsttime and I still feel the fragrance of love in my heart though she is not physically with me any more. What helps me see that which is ... [View Full Comment] I love and deeply enjoy reading the writings of ThichNhat Hanh. In this beautiful passage he conveys a profound messageof relating to what is real. In order to hear what is not said and in order to see what is not manifested requires waiting with patience, open mindedness, open heartedness and conviction that what is not heard and what is not seen is real. As Thich Naht Hanhsaysploughingtheearth,sowing the seeds, and spreading the manure are essential conditions for the blooming of the sun flower.

    The birth of a poem is like the latent seed turning into a blossoming flower. I feel my heart stirred up with deep feeling of wonder and joy before a poem is born. It is like hearing the sound and feeling the fragrance of a beloved coming from nowhere! I felt the same way when I felt a deep stirring of love in my heart when I saw my beloved for the for firsttime and I still feel the fragrance of love in my heart though she is not physically with me any more.

    What helps me see that which is waiting for the right conditions to bloom? Faith, not belief, and patience, open mindedness and open heartedness help me wait for the inner light to shine to see what is not seen by the outer light. When my inner eyes are not open I get disconnected with the flowering and blossoming of life.
    Namaste!
    Jagdish P Dave[Hide Full Comment]

    2 replies: Me, Always | Post Your Reply

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