20 January 1963, New York City - Fragrant Palm Leaves: Journals 1962-1966 by Thich Nhat Hahn

Offered by Cole Mannella on February 11, 2021 (Edited to meet time restriction by CM)

During the last days of the lunar year, the markets in Saigon are bustling with merchants and shoppers. I can visualize the towering mounds of watermelons, bright green on the outside and red as rubies inside. In the U.S., it is nearly impossible to find watermelons this time of year. Otherwise, I would buy several and carve them into lanterns. Yesterday I received a package from Vietnam filled with New Year’s presents - sandalwood, white candles, a tin of tea, candied ginger and fruits, and watermelon seeds. I was so happy! Like a man of leisure I boiled water for tea, lit a candle, and cracked watermelon seeds between my teeth. [My friend] Steve does not care for watermelon seeds, or to say it more accurately, does not understand the important function they provide.

Steve asked me what benefits watermelon seeds could possibly confer. There are many benefits, I replied. Americans enjoy their favorite foods to celebrate weddings, birthdays, Thanksgiving, and other special occasions, yet they never say that they “eat the holiday.” In Vietnamese, we say “an Tet” which means “we eat the New Year.” We also eat birthdays, weddings, a baby’s first month celebration, a person’s sixtieth birthday, and even someone’s memorial.

The three days of Tet require constant eating. Wherever you go, you are obliged to eat something or you might offend your host. Thanks to the custom of serving watermelon seeds, we can eat continuously without getting stuffed. The second benefit is that no matter how many watermelon seeds you eat, you don’t have to worry about harming your health. If you eat too much of other foods, you’ll get a stomachache. But watermelon seeds never cause problems. The third benefit is that while your mouth is occupied cracking and chewing the seeds, you are not expected to talk. That is especially useful when you don’t have much to say.

That leads to the fourth benefit. By avoiding speaking, you don’t have to worry about saying something that you’ll later regret. Watermelon seeds teach people how to take the time to reflect until they have something useful to say. When you have nothing constructive to say, you simply use your teeth to break open the seeds, while listening intently. If you know nothing about a subject, no one will criticize you if you quietly chew your seeds.

In Vietnam, it is now springtime. Here it is still freezing cold, and winter will drag on for at least two more months. When it is midnight in Vietnam, it is noon here in New York, so I plan to celebrate Tet at noon. Last year at Princeton, I welcomed the New Year at noon with a Vietnamese young man who lived nearby. It was a different time, place, and climate, but the same celebration. Everyone in Princeton had left for work or school, unaware that people in Vietnam were celebrating Tet. But I was aware. I knew that Tet had arrived. It is a matter of awareness. If you are not aware of something , it does not exist. The subject and the object of awareness are not separate.


As I write these lines, no one else has read them yet. These lines that contain my thoughts, feelings, paper, ink, time, space, and handwriting, as well as all the other phenomena that have contributed to their existence, exist only in my consciousness. Readers who may one day read these lines also lie within my consciousness. All phenomena -- Vietnam with her flowering grapefruits and orange trees, graceful coconut trees, and towering areca palms, and the lively city of New York, with its sun, snow, clouds, moon, and stars -- lie within my own consciousness. They are merely concepts.

My world including all my friends and readers, all the grapefruit and starfruit trees I have ever touched or thought about, is a world of concepts. When you read these lines, will you see me in them? This city as well as my thoughts and feelings will then become concepts in your consciousness. For you, these concepts are not the result of direct contact with the objects of my consciousness. Void of physical reality, these concepts are shared through the medium of consciousness. The physical basis of consciousness, both personal and collective, disappears.

In the conceptual world, subject and object are two sides of the same coin. This became clear to me late one night less than two years ago, when I was staying at Bamboo Forest Temple. I awoke at 2:30am and could not get back to sleep. I walked to the window barefoot. The cool floor beneath my feet felt totally refreshing and invigorating. I leaned against the windowsill and peered outside. It was still too dark to see anything, but I knew that the plants in the garden were still there -- the oleander bush still stood in the same corner and the wildflowers still grew beneath the window.

I experienced how the subject of awareness cannot exist apart from the object of awareness. The oleander and the wildflowers were the objects of consciousness. Subject and object of consciousness cannot exist apart from each other. Without an object, the subject cannot be aware of anything. Mountains and rivers, earth and sun, all lie within the heart of consciousness. When that realization arises, time and space dissolve. Cause and effect, birth and death, all vanish. Though we dwell a hundred thousand light years from a star, we can cross that distance in flash. The saints from the past can return to the present in a microsecond, their presence as vivid as a bright flame.

You are there, because I am here. We inter-are. If we do not exist, nothing exists. Subject and object, host and guest, are part of each other. I knew that when morning came, I would not find anything new or unusual about the visible world. The blue sky in the west and the pink horizon in the east exist only in my consciousness. Blue does not have a separate life, nor does pink. They are only blue and pink in my consciousness. It is the same with birth and death, same and different, coming and going. These are all images in our consciousness. If you look into my eyes, you will see yourself. If you are radiant, my eyes will be radiant. If you are miraculous, my consciousness will be miraculous. If you are distant and remote, I will be distant and remote. Look into my eyes and you will know if your universe is bright or dark, infinite or finite, mortal or immortal.

Then I spotted a star in the sky and immediately returned to the place where I was standing, my feet touching the cool floor and my hands resting on the windowsill. “I am here,” the star said. “Because I exist, the universe exists. Because I exist, you exist. Because I exist, the pebbles and the distant clouds exist. If all of these don’t truly exist, how can I? The existence of a speck of dust makes everything possible. If dust does not exist, neither does the universe, nor you, nor I.”


The first delicate signs of spring are now revealing themselves in Vietnam. Spring will always return with her message of hope. Spring always gives us faith to carry on. There is no sign of green here. Snow is drifting outside my window. But spring will come and the bare trees and the lawns now buried beneath the snow will once again wear the tender green garments of a prosperous spring.

Created with
Mailchimp Freddie Badge
Facebook icon
Email icon

© 2020 Chrysanthemum Sangha