Love letter to a lettuce-grower

“When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you
don’t blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not
doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or
less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have
problems with our friends or family, we blame the other
person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will
grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive
effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason
and argument. That is my experience. No blame, no
reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you
understand, and you show that you understand, you can
love, and the situation will change.” 
(Thích Nhất Hạnh)

I posted the words above on Facebook the other day and people appreciated them, so I want to share them with you too.

Thích Nhất Hạnh has spoilt me now for any other kind of writing, except for his Buddhist confrère, Chögyam Trungpa. For the last year or two, it’s seemed a waste of time to be reading anything other than these two peerless poets of human being who are also a complete contrast in style.

Every word, every phrase which Thích Nhất Hạnh (Thay) writes is simple, limpid, humble. He illustrates as few others do what Einstein discovered: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” From these homely lettuce leaves, he generates phenomenal power and tenderness. It’s as if the small child he sometimes refers to, Little Bamboo, has wriggled into my heart or her little hand is cupped beside my face, whispering in my ear.

He and his words are a miracle.

Chögyam Trungpa (1939-1987) too writes like an angel, an exuberant, naughty angel, delighted by mischief and his own shining wit. His command of the English language, which he didn’t begin to learn until he was in early 20s and studying at St Antony’s College at Oxford, is astonishing.

To read him is exhilarating. The fearlessness, the freshness of his metaphors, the sheer vivacity, is akin to the great prose stylists of Western literature such as Nietzsche and Shakespeare. And unlike Nietzsche and Shakespeare, he doesn’t have narrative and drama to bulldoze a swathe of killer lines and denouements. He’s out there alone with his infinitesmally subtle subject matter, the microscopic movements of the mind in meditation and mindfulness. And somehow, out of genius, he pulls off this great feat.

I think of Thay most days. He’s 89 now, and about 18 months ago, had a serious stroke. He was taken to the US for treatment last year, during which time I read a call, on the website of Plum Village in France where he’s lived for decades, for a speech therapist living in the US who could speak Vietnamese. He did speak a few words towards the end of last year and there were “Vui quá” (meaning, “So happy,” in Vietnamese). He is now back in Plum Village and I’m glad he’s home.

Thay, dear lettuce-grower, I love you.



9 thoughts on “Love letter to a lettuce-grower

  1. I, too, get inspirationally spoiled by reading the profound, yet simple teachings of these Buddhist teachers and their students (like Pema Chodron). I feel so calm, so centered, so grounded after absorbing their words and the essence they are embued with.

    Practicing what I have absorbed, however, is another challenge altogether!


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