“What you think you create, what you feel you attract, what you imagine you become.”

What you think you create, what you feel you attract“What you think you create, what you feel you attract, what you imagine you become.”

This one is commonly attributed to the Buddha, although it’s very modern and law-of-attraction-y.

I haven’t been able to definitively find a source, but I believe it to have been written by Adele Basheer, who designs greetings cards for her company, Intrinsic.

According to her website, “While her personal mantra is the “what you think you create” message, Adele also feels that all it takes is believing…”

The Buddha, on the other hand, pointed out in the Ittha Sutta that if we want qualities like long life, beauty, happiness, status, or a good rebirth, there’s no point simply wishing for those things. Wishing positive things is fine, but we must also engage with the path of practice that leads to them.

He certainly wouldn’t agree with a statement like “all it takes is believing,” and in fact that’s a notion that he roundly ridiculed:

Suppose a man were to throw a large boulder into a deep lake of water, and a great crowd of people, gathering and congregating, would pray, praise, and circumambulate with their hands palm-to-palm over the heart [saying,] ‘Rise up, O boulder! Come floating up, O boulder! Come float to the shore, O boulder!’ What do you think: would that boulder — because of the prayers, praise, and circumambulation of that great crowd of people — rise up, come floating up, or come float to the shore?

I can imagine that discourse raising a few chuckles from the bhikkhus!

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“The greatest goodness is a peaceful mind. The greatest worth is self-mastery.”

atisha

This quote popped up twice today. I saw it first on Google Plus, and then it was mailed to me by a reader:

The greatest goodness is a peaceful mind.
The greatest worth is self-mastery.
The greatest patience is humility.
The greatest meditation is a mind that lets go.

The Universe is sending me a message!

This quote is very similar in form to verses like “Patience is the highest ascetic practice,” which is from the Dhammapada (verse 184), or “Health is the most precious gain and contentment the greatest wealth. A trustworthy person is the best kinsman, Nibbana the highest bliss,” which is also from the Dhammapada (verse 204).

It was also reminiscent of the Mangala Sutta, which contains verses such as:

Self-restraint, a holy and chaste life, the perception of the Noble Truths and the realisation of Nibbana — this is the greatest blessing.

A mind unruffled by the vagaries of fortune, from sorrow freed, from defilements cleansed, from fear liberated — this is the greatest blessing.

But I was doubtful that our suspect quote was actually from the Buddha. And indeed, they seem to come from Atiśa, an Indian teacher who lived from 980–1054 CE (a long time after the Buddha) and who taught in Sumatra and Tibet.

Here are the equivalent verses (along with some others) from Stephen Batchelor’s translation:

The highest nobility is in subduing your own mind.
The highest moral practice is a peaceful mind.
The highest patience is humility.
The highest effort is to abandon attachment to activities.
The highest meditation is the mind without pretension.
The highest wisdom is not to grasp anything as it appears.

These are from Collected Bodhi Leaves Volume IV: Numbers 91 to 121, but unfortunately Batchelor doesn’t say what the name of the original work is. Geshe Wangyal has a translation of these verses as well, in a book called The Door of Liberation: Essential Teachings of the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition but that version is not available on Google Books, and the Amazon “look inside the book” feature doesn’t include the relevant passage for comparison. Since our suspect quote is not identical to Batchelor’s verses, it may be that it’s from Wangyal’s translation. But perhaps it’s from another translation altogether.

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“Alégrate, porque todo lugar es aquí, y todo momento es ahora.”

This Spanish language Fake Buddha Quote (cita de Buda falsa?) was sent to me today. In English it would be “Rejoice, because every place is here and every moment is now.” In fact it may well be a translation from the English.

The earliest I’ve found is from Larry Dossey’s 1989 book, “Recovering the Soul: A Scientific and Spiritual Search” (page 221), where we have:

There are no distant places to go in a nonlocal world. Every place is here and every moment is now.

This lacks the “Rejoice, because…” which may have been added later, or perhaps the book’s version is an unacknowledged quotation. Or maybe this form of words is original to Dossey.

Even if the words are Dossey’s, however, the basic notion goes back much further.

In “A Series of Lessons in Gnani Yoga” by Yogi Ramacharaka, from 1917, we learn that “Universal Consciousness” is a state

…in which Time and Place disappear and in which every place is Here; every period of Time is Now; and everything is “I.”

And even earlier, in 1907’s “Systematic Theology: A Compendium and Commonplace, Volume 1,” Augustus Hopkins Strong tells us that,

Dante speaks of God as him in whom “every where and every when are focused in a point,” that is, to whom every season is now and every place is here.

The Dante reference is to the Paradiso, Canto XXIX: 1-66, “The Creation of the Angels”:

When Apollo and Artemis, the Sun and Moon, the children of Latona, one in Aries the Ram, the other in Libra the Scales, make the horizon their circle, and the zenith is the point from which both hang, till one rises, the other sets, removing themselves from that zone’s scales, both changing hemispheres, so long as that did Beatrice keep silent, with a smile pictured on her face, gazing intensely at the point whose light overcame me. Then she began to speak: ‘I do not ask, I say, what you wish to hear of, since I have seen the point of Creation, on which every where and when is focused.

The notion may go back even further, to the Upanishads, but Dante (early 14th century) is as far as I’ve gone.

Oh, the Buddha? He never said anything like this. He wasn’t prone to grand metaphysical statements of this nature.

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“Todo lo que te molesta de otros seres, es solo una proyección de lo que no has resuelto en ti mismo.”

My first attempt at tackling a Spanish-language Fake Buddha (or “Buda”) Quote. Unfortunately I don’t speak any Spanish, but a reader sent this along today:

“Todo lo que te molesta de otros seres, es solo una proyección de lo que no has resuelto en ti mismo.”

He didn’t include a translation, but Google Translate offers up:

“All that bothers other beings is just a projection of what you have unresolved in yourself.”

I assume that Google has for some reason not translated the “te” (I may not know Spanish but I know French and studied a little Latin in school) and that this should actually be:

“All that bothers you about other beings is just a projection of what you have unresolved in yourself.”

Please let me know if I got that wrong.

This quote reflects a very modern psychological perspective, and the language is far too contemporary for this to be a quotation from the time of the Buddha—sorry, “Buda.”

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“Crying with the wise is better than laughing with the fool.”

Crying with the wise is better than laughing with the fool

This one’s not a quote from the Buddha, as some sources say. It’s found in an 1887 book, compiled by Robert Christy, called Proverbs, Maxims, and Phases of All Ages, where it’s described as being a German saying. In that source it’s found in a slightly different form: “Better to weep with the wise than laugh with fools.”

It also contains gems such as “A wise man things all that he says, a fool says all that he thinks,” “Better with the wise in prison than with fools in paradise” (which is also German), and “Wise men learn by other men’s mistakes; fools by their own.”

The Buddha certainly talked about wise men and fools (there’s a chapter on each in the Dhammapada) but our fake verse is too polished to be from the Buddhist scriptures.

Although the Dhammapada chapters I referred to generally treat the topic of the fool and the wise person separately, here’s an example of the Buddha referring to both categories of person in one statement: “Come! Behold this world, which is like a decorated royal chariot. Here fools flounder, but the wise have no attachment to it.”

Here’s one in which the fool and wise person are contrasted, although not in one sentence:

“Monks, these two are fools. Which two? The one who doesn’t see his transgression as a transgression, and the one who doesn’t rightfully pardon another who has confessed his transgression. These two are fools.

“These two are wise people. Which two? The one who sees his transgression as a transgression, and the one who rightfully pardons another who has confessed his transgression. These two are wise people.”

You’ll note that these lack the literary polish of our fake quote. By modern standards they’re rather “clunky” in style.

There is one verse I know from the Pali canon that does have a literary ring to it, but it’s a verse composed by a monk, Godatta, rather than the Buddha. In Ven Dhammika’s translation it’s

The fools offer praise and the wise
offer blame. Truly the blame
of the wise is much better
than the praise of the fool.

In Pali this is:

Dummedhehi pasaṃsā ca,
viññūhi garahā ca yā;
Garahāva seyyo viññūhi,
yañce bālappasaṃsanā.

“The blame of the wise is better than the praise of the fool” would not have looked out of place in Christy’s book of maxims.

Incidentally, you may notice that the term “fool” hardly embodies the “non-judgmental” attitude that so many westerners expect the Buddha to have had. He seems to have been a feisty old coot, and didn’t suffer fools gladly.

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“However many holy words you speak however many you read, what good will they do you if you do not act on them?”

“However many holy words you speak however many you read, what good will they do you if you do not act on them?”

This popular quote is a paraphrase of verses 19 and 20 from the Dhammapada. It’s not very literal, but it more or less makes the same point as the original, so I’ve classed it as “Fakeish” rather than “Fake.”

Here’s Buddharakkhita’s version from Access to Insight:

19. Much though he recites the sacred texts, but acts not accordingly, that heedless man is like a cowherd who only counts the cows of others — he does not partake of the blessings of the holy life.

20. Little though he recites the sacred texts, but puts the Teaching into practice, forsaking lust, hatred, and delusion, with true wisdom and emancipated mind, clinging to nothing of this or any other world — he indeed partakes of the blessings of a holy life.

So it’s not a quote, but not a million miles off.

The reference to reading is an anachronism, of course. At the time of the Buddha the scriptures were recited rather than written down.

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“It is not because no one sees the truth that it becomes an error.”

Michael, from France, asked me about the following quote this morning: “It is not because no one sees the truth that it becomes an error.”

It was immediately obvious that the quote wasn’t from the Buddha, but it also seemed to be peculiar in its wording and unclear what it was actually try to say.

A quick search on Google brought an attribution to the Buddha in the very first result, so there are certainly people who think this is from the Buddha. The majority of attributions on the web are to Gandhi, however. But that doesn’t mean much since, as you’re no doubt aware, there are many misattributed quotes floating around.

Interestingly, though, this quote does seem to go back to Gandhi, although this version is a little truncated and even garbled. The original, which is from a piece Gandhi wrote for the journal, “Young India,” in 1925, is as follows:

“An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it. Truth stands, even if there be no public support. It is self sustained.”

That makes much more sense.

I haven’t been able to check the original source to confirm the citation, but the full version of the quote is found in a collection of Gandhi’s writings called “All Men Are Brothers,” first published by UNESCO and the Columbia University Press in 1958, and edited by Krishna Kripalani.

We can be reasonably confident that this is a quote by Gandhi, and that it’s not something the Buddha said.

On the topic of taking something to be true simply because it’s repeated frequently, this is something the Buddha specifically warned us to avoid, in the famous Kalama Sutta: “Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor…”

The Kalama Sutta itself has been widely misquoted, and these misquotations have given rise to at least two Fake Buddha Quotes:

  • “…after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.” [Read more here]
  • “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” [Read more here]
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“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.”

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The Buddha was not a “Hindu prince”

At least one of the quotes sites that perpetuates Fake Buddha Quotes refers to the Buddha as a “Hindu prince.” This term is doubly misleading, since the Buddha was definitely not a “Hindu” (even in his early life), and neither was he a prince in any real sense.

One of the main religious groupings that the Buddha debated was the hereditary Brahmin caste, who studied the Vedas and Upanishads. They didn’t appear to have a name for their religion, which had a philosophical side but mainly seemed to emphasize ritual and sacrifice—often animal sacrifice, and were very concerned about maintaining the orderliness of society, although there was a more radical wing that may have explored meditation. Needless to say, the Buddha did not regard himself as being part of the Brahminical tradition although he did try at times to subvert the language of Brahminism to say that “true Brahmins” are made—by their ethically skillful actions—and not born.

There’s nothing in the Pali canon that suggests the Buddha was ever a follower of the Brahminical tradition, even in his youth. In fact the area of the Indian subcontinent that he came from (the Sakyan territory), doesn’t seem to have been dominated by Brahminism, although it’s said that there were Brahmin villages there. The very fact that some villages are mentioned as being “brahmin” suggests that Brahminism was not ubiquitous there.

The two teachers he practiced with prior to his Awakening, Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta, were from roughly the same geographical area as himself. They taught meditation rather than practicing the ritual-based practices of the Brahmins. They would have considered themselves to be “shramanas,” or radical, forest-based religious seekers, rather than “brahmanas,” who were of course home-dwelling, town- and village-based, and religiously conservative. Here’s what Dr. Alexander Berzin says of the shramanas:

The shramanas were wandering mendicant spiritual seekers. They came from castes other than the brahmins and sought liberation by leaving society from the start. They lived together in the forests, with no caste differences, as a spiritual community (Skt. sangha), rather than as solitary ascetics. They organized their autonomous communities on the model of the republics, with decisions made by assemblies. Moreover, all of them rejected a supreme god, such as Brahma, or any other form of a creator. Although the shramana communities had no caste differences within them, the laypeople who followed their teachings to a lesser extent and supported them still lived with the structure of the caste system.

This is the religious tradition that the Buddha practiced in, both before and after his Awakening. His religious community was not part of the Brahmin tradition, but a conscious rejection of its religious conservatism and social rigidity.

Of course now we might lump the shramana and brahmin traditions together under the heading “Hinduism,” but at the time of the Buddha that would have seemed absurd. It would like considering Islam and Christianity to be one religion. The term “Hindu” didn’t exist at the time of the Buddha, and the word wasn’t created until the 19th century. There were many religious traditions being practiced at the time of the Buddha, and they certainly were not unified into anything that could be called Hinduism. There isn’t a term in the Pali canon that corresponds to the word “Hindu.”

As Dr. Berzin notes, there’s no evidence that there was a concept of caste in the Sakyan territory (caste was an important aspect of Brahminical practice) and the Buddha seemed to regard the four-fold caste system of Brahminism as a foreign affair. The Sakyans regarded their warrior caste as being socially superior to the Brahmin caste, while in other parts of the continent the Brahmins had the top spot.

The appellation “prince” is arguable, depending on how you understand that word. Here’s Vishvapani in his Gautama Buddha (Quercus, 2011):

So far as we can tell, Gautama’s father Suddhodana, was a Shakyan aristocrat, and some sources call him a ‘raja’. But despite the version of Gautama’s life made familiar in legendary accounts, this doesn’t mean that he was a king (they were called ‘Maharajas’). It is possible that he was just one aristocrat among many, but according to some sources, Suddhodana was the Shakyans’ chief raja. We know from descriptions of other gana communities that chieftains were elected in a meeting of representatives of aristocratic families at the assembly hall…”

Excavations of the likely candidates for the Buddha’s home town don’t reveal any palaces, and in fact the term the Buddha uses when he does describe his father’s houses as “palaces” is not the same as the term used for the dwelling of a “king” (maharaja). Probably the term “mansion” would be more appropriate. So Suddhodana was more like a “tribal chief” than what we would think of as a king, and Gautama a “chief’s son” rather than a “prince.” The largest houses that have been excavated are of wooden construction, with people living above the animals’ accommodation. The archaeological evidence, in other words, doesn’t point to anything very royal.

The account of the young Gautama slipping into first jhana under the Rose-Apple tree while his father plowed a field was quite possibly nothing to do with the “ritual ground-breaking” of a king, but Suddhodana simply doing a bit of work on his farm.

Trevor Ling in “The Buddha” suggests that the Buddha’s father may have been the elected head of an aristocratic ruling class. We know that the Sakyan territory was governed by a council of some sort. And while Suddhodana may have been the head of this council (although he also may not), he certainly wouldn’t have had kingly powers.

Here’s Richard Gombrich, one of the world’s leading Buddhist scholars, on the Sakyan Republic:

The Buddha came from a community called (in Sanskrit) Shakyas; hence his commonest Sanskrit title, Shakyamuni, ‘the Sage of the Shakyas’. This fact is of great historical importance, because according to the Buddha (or, strictly speaking, according to words attributed to him in the Maha-Parinibbana Sutta) he modelled the organization of his Sangha on that of such communities as his own. Historians usually call these communities ‘tribes’, but I am wary of that term, which corresponds to no word in Sanskrit or Pali. ‘Tribe’ evokes an isolated community with no socially structured inequality. The Shakyas seem not to have had a varna [caste] system but they did have servants. They were isolated to the extent that they were self-governing, and their polity was of a form not envisaged in brahminical theory. We deduce that the heads of households – maybe only those above a certain age or otherwise of a certain standing – met in council to discuss their problems and tried to reach unanimous decisions. Some historians call this an oligarchy, some a republic; certainly it was not a brahminical monarchy, and makes more than dubious the later story [emphasis added] that the future Buddha’s father was the local king. This polity presented the Buddha with a model of how a casteless society could function. In the Sangha he instituted no principle of rank but seniority, counted in that case from ordination; maybe age was the ranking principle in the Shakya council.

(From Theravada Buddhism, page 49–50)

The word “prince” — without reference to all the above — is highly misleading. And to call the Buddha a “Hindu prince” is doubly misleading.

There were kings (maharajas) on the Indian subcontinent at that time. In fact they were expanding their power and territory. Not only were the monarchies competing with each other, but they were busy mopping up the last of the northern republics, of which the Sakyan clan was one. Those kings had real royal powers, lived in palaces, and had large armies. The smaller-scale tribal republics didn’t stand a chance. The monarchies came to dominate, and shortly after the time of the Buddha the republics passed away, and the republican form of government became unthinkable. Quite possibly people couldn’t think of any other way of society being organized, since they’d never known anything different, and when they heard of the Buddha’s father being a “raja” they imagined him to have been something like the “maharajas” they were familiar with.

Of course later tradition also builds the Buddha into a king, because that sounds more impressive. We all want to build up our heroes.

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