Ugh. In investigating this quote, kindly passed on to me by one of my meditation students, I delved into an entire subculture devoted to saccharine quotes and trite parables, often rife with typos, poor grammar, and the kinds of abbreviations teenagers use in text messages.
This particular one turned up on a Facebook page called “Buddhism: Being truly human.”
What is the difference between “I like you” [and] “I love you”? Beautifully answered by Buddha. Buddha’s answer was so simple. When you like a flower, you just pluck it. But when you love a flower, you water it daily.
It’s also seen as:
When you like a flower, you just pluck it. But when you love a flower , you water it daily…..One who understand this, understand life….
Sometimes it’s not the Buddha to whom the quote is attributed, and the words are presented as an exchange between an unnamed student and master. Some of the earliest versions I’ve found present this, rather absurdly, as a conversation between Alexander the Great and Socrates:
Alexander the Great:
“Sir what’s the difference between “like” and “love”?
Socrates’s answer was a masterpiece:
“When you like a flower, you just pluck it.
But when you love a flower, you water it daily..!
The One, who understand this, understands Life…
Socrates died in 399 BCE, while Alexander was born in 356 BCE. Any conversation they had would have had to be posthumous. (Although Socrates was the mentor of Plato who was the mentor of Aristotle, who was the tutor of Alexander, so there was a connection.)
The quote itself only seems to go back to 2013 or so. Google’s not very good at helping us search by date, unfortunately.
The reason for my gratitude is that I’d never really thought of pema in terms of “liking.” It’s not quite right as a translation, but I think that the difference between liking and loving does point to something that lies in the distinction between pema and metta. At the very least the contrast provides a useful analogy.
The source of our fake quote? I’ve no idea. Presumably it started as a nice little message to be passed around on the web, and then some bright spark thought it would be a good idea to add the Buddha’s name.
The Buddha said “All worldlings are mad.” Except he didn’t. This quote is found in a number of publications, including an essay in “Collected Wheel Publications Volume XXVIII,” and in Sangharakshita’s “A Stream of Stars.” I’ve even quoted it myself. Mea culpa!
Sometimes this is expanded to “Human stupidity is boundless. All worldlings are mad,” which strikes me as harsh, even for one of the Buddha’s bad days. (And I do think he had bad days.)
Yet this expression isn’t found in the Pali canon. Another “Wheel Publication (Number 45/46) has a helpful explanatory note, correcting this misattribution as if had appeared in one of their essays, and pointing out that Buddhaghosa’s Visuddhimagga says “The worldling is like a madman” (ummattako viya hi puthujjano). This expression is found in a number of other commentarial works as well.
A comment comment on Shravasti Dhammika’s site claims that the “All worldlings are mad” quote comes from the letters of the English monk Ñāṇavīra Thera, who was quoting from memory the words of Buddhaghosa. The commenter offers a link to a now defunct Buddhist forum where, apparently, there was an in-depth overview of the quote. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to access this discussion on archive.org, which is a wonderful resource for retrieving information from deceased websites. (It was in fact from there that I was able to find the material to reconstruct this site after it was destroyed by hackers a few weeks ago.) It seems that archive.org is undergoing maintenance at the moment, so I’ll revisit that source again.
The term “worldling” is a translation of “puthujjana,” which simply refers to anyone who isn’t awakened. It’s literally the “many (puthu) folk (jana).” The manyfolk are under the sway of various mental derangements, or as we would say these days, “cognitive distortions.” These are called the four “vipallasas” (or viparyasas in Sanskrit).
The four vipallasas (classically found here) are thinking that impermanent things are permanent, that sources of suffering are sources of pleasure, that things that lack selfhood have selfhood, and that things that are beautiful or wholesome are in fact ugly or unwholesome. In a sense, the manyfolk are indeed under the grip of powerful cognitive distortions amounting to a kind of insanity, but the Buddha certainly doesn’t seem to have said that we are mad.
Even Buddhaghosa doesn’t quite say that worldlings are mad, just that the worldling is like a madman. A simile is a far cry from a statement of fact.
Someone asked me about this rather Zen-ish saying yesterday, which has been ascribed to the Buddha in several books going back to the 1980s, as well as more recently in the usual social media channels.
"The no-mind not-thinks no-thoughts about no-things." ~ Gautama Buddha
This seems to be an adaptation of something written by Aldous Huxley, and found in his “Complete Essays: 1939-1956,” page 206.
In Zen the virgin consciousness was called Wu-nien or Wuh-sin—nomind or no-thought. “Taking hold of the not-thought which lies in thought,” says Hakuin in his Song of Meditation, “they (the men of insight) hear in every act they perform the voice of truth.” No-thought not-thinks about the world in terms of no-things. “Seeing into no-thingness,” says Shen-hui, “this is true seeing and eternal seeing.” Words and notions are convenient, are indeed indispensable; for our humanity depends upon their use. The virgin not-thinker makes use of words and notions; but he is careful not to take them too seriously, he never permits them to re-create the world of immediate experience in their drearily human image, he is on his guard…
As you can see, the words are not presented as a quotation, let alone attributed to the Buddha. Huxley’s version is rather simpler: “No-thought not-thinks about the world in terms of no-things.” It seems that somewhere along the line someone thought that this wasn’t obscure enough, and converted the expression to “The no-mind not-thinks no-thoughts about no-things.”
This kind of statement is very Zen. In fact in the Platform Sutra, we read something that may have been the prototype of Huxley’s statement:
Good friends, in this teaching of mine, from ancient times up to the present, all have set up no-thought [munen] as the main doctrine, non-form [musō] as the substance, and non-abiding [mujū] as the basis. Non-form is to be separated from form even when associated with form. No-thought is not to think even when involved in thought. Non-abiding is the original nature of man.
Despite being called a “sutra,” The Platform Sutra doesn’t claim to be the word of the Buddha, but is the work of Hui Neng, the Sixth Zen Patriarch.
An undated blog post by Steven Bancarz, the creator of a website called ‘Spirit Science and Metaphysics’ purports to offer “25 Quotes From Buddha That Will Change Your Life.” Unfortunately, many of the 25 are Fake Buddha Quotes. But which ones?
So far Bancarz’s blog post has been liked or shared over half a million times on Facebook. That means it’s been read by roughly half as many people as visited this entire site last year. Oy, oy, oy! As Mark Twain never said, “A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.”
Let’s take a look at the quotes:
1) “However many holy words you read, however many you speak, what good will they do you if you do not act on upon them?”
14) “It is easy to see the faults of others, but difficult to see one’s own faults. One shows the faults of others like chaff winnowed in the wind, but one conceals one’s own faults as a cunning gambler conceals his dice.”
17) “Just as treasures are uncovered from the earth, so virtue appears from good deeds, and wisdom appears from a pure and peaceful mind. To walk safely through the maze of human life, one needs the light of wisdom and the guidance of virtue.”
Oh, boy. Mr. Bancarz isn’t doing very well, is he?
If you need a rest from reading, check out the Facebook Buddha video below.
18) “We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.”
This one is problematic in exactly the same way as “The mind is everything. What you think, you become,” above. In fact they’re the same freaking quote!
19) “Work out your own salvation. Do not depend on others.”
Nope. These words are a mangled version of a New Testament quotation, forced into a Buddhist context and then further mangled.
20) “Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.”
So, what’s Mr. Bancarz’s final score? Of his 25 Buddha quotes, three are straight-up genuine, five are paraphrases or thereabouts, and fully 17 are bogus. Even awarded half marks for the paraphrases, he earns a grade of 22% — a solid F.
I think this confirms my long-held suspicion that many people are preferentially drawn to Fake Buddha Quotes. It’s unfortunate that those are the people whose blog posts get shared half a million times on Facebook.
It may be an alteration of Eknath Easwaran’s translation:
Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Joy follows a pure thought like a shadow that never leaves.
The first clause is different: “Our life is shaped by our mind” is now “We are shaped by our thoughts.” And “Joy follows a pure thought” is now ” When the mind is pure, joy follows.”
“We become what we think” and “What you think, you become” do not reflect the content of the opening verses of the Dhammapada.
What the text actually says is “Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought.”
The original isn’t about “thoughts” or “thinking” as a causal factor, but about “mind,” which includes not just thinking but also our feelings and volitions.
The original doesn’t say that we become what we think about, but that the mind’s habitual cognitive and volitional patterns shape the kind of mental states we experience.
The Buddha is talking about how our experience becomes habitual. If we continually respond to life with thoughts and emotions that are aversive or grasping, we’ll experience greater suffering. If we respond with mindfulness, patience, and compassion, we’ll experience greater joy.
Ideas such as “We become what we think” and “What you think, you become,” tie into a western preoccupation with the intellect. Descartes, for example, says “I think, therefore I am,” not “I feel, therefore I am,” or “I experience, therefore I am.” Self-help manuals encourage us to “Think and grow rich,” or to engage in “positive thinking.” Some studies, however, have shown that positive thinking can backfire, resulting in depression. Affirmations such as “I’m successful and people like me,” if not actually true, cause cognitive dissonance and merely remind us of our short-comings. io9 has a good article discussing the pros and cons of positive thinking.
The Buddha’s view on positive thinking was that if it violates reality, it’s worthless. Just as you can’t make a boulder rise into the air by means of wishful thinking, so you can’t experience happiness unless you actually do the things that lead to happiness, such as living ethically.
For the Buddha it was what we do in our thoughts, speech, and action that is the determinant of our happiness, not our thoughts alone.
This one, which is in many books and on many websites, struck me as immediately suspicious:
It would be true to say that loving kindness and compassion is all of our practice.
It’s also seen as:
It would be true to that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is all of our practice.
Although lovingkindness (metta) and compassion (karuna) are important qualities, they by no means encompass the whole of Buddhist practice. Metta and karuna are part of the four “brahma-viharas,” or Divine Abidings, and so they only form half of the practices found in the context in which they’re most commonly listed together.
Whether it originated there or not, the popularity of this quotation goes back to an entry in Wikipedia, which has now been removed, although it still shows up in the site’s edit history:
Compassion or karuna is at the transcendental and experiential heart of the Buddha’s teachings. He was reputedly asked by his personal attendant, Ananda, “Would it be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is a part of our practice?” The Buddha replied, “No. It would not be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is part of our practice. It would be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is all of our practice.”
This fuller passage reveals this quotation to be a mis-translation or misinterpretation of a famous teaching:
I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was living among the Sakyans. Now there is a Sakyan town named Sakkara. There Ven. Ananda went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to the Blessed One, sat to one side. As he was sitting there, Ven. Ananda said to the Blessed One, “This is half of the holy life, lord: spiritual friendship (kalyāṇamittatā), spiritual companionship (kalyāṇasahāyatā), spiritual camaraderie (kalyāṇasampavaṅkatā).”
“Don’t say that, Ananda. Don’t say that. Spiritual friendship, spiritual companionship, spiritual camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life. When a monk has admirable people as friends, companions, and comrades, he can be expected to develop & pursue the noble eightfold path. [Samyutta Nikaya (adapted)]
Spiritual friendship is considered to be so important because association with those with well-developed spiritual qualities can both support and challenge us, keeping us on the path. Lovingkindness and compassion are certainly part of the practice of spiritual friendship, but those two qualities were not the topics of the Buddha’s “whole of the spiritual life” statement.
Unfortunately Wikipedia’s misinformation sat unchallenged for many years (at least 2008—2014), which has resulted in it being widely promulgated.
This one’s widely attributed to the Buddha, but in fact it’s a Fake Buddha Quote:
Rule your mind or it will rule you.
A quick check on Google Books revealed that it’s a translation of a line from Horace. The original quote was about controlling anger, and this is just a snippet of it, from The Routledge Dictionary of Latin Quotations:
Ira furor brevis est; animum rege, qui, nisi paret, imperat; hunc frenis, hunc tu compesce catena.
This can be translated as:
Anger is a brief madness; control your mind, for unless it obeys, it commands you; restrain it with bit and chain.
Some translations have “temper” or “passion” instead of “mind” (animus), although “mind” seems to be more literal.
The Buddha often did talk about the need to train the mind as if it were a wild animal — the metaphor Horace implies with his “bit and chain.”
In a more extended metaphor, the Buddha said that six wild animals tied together would try to go off in different directions, the overall direction of the six depending on the competing desires and relative strengths of the different beasts. This represents the mind, divided and pulled hither and thither by competing urges.
Mindfulness acts like a stake to which the six are tied:
“Just as if a person, catching six animals of different ranges, of different habitats, were to bind them with a strong rope. Catching a snake, he would bind it with a strong rope. Catching a crocodile… a bird… a dog… a hyena… a monkey, he would bind it with a strong rope. Binding them all with a strong rope, he would tether them to a strong post or stake.
“Then those six animals, of different ranges, of different habitats, would each pull toward its own range & habitat. The snake would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll go into the anthill.’ The crocodile would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll go into the water.’ The bird would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll fly up into the air.’ The dog would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll go into the village.’ The hyena would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll go into the charnel ground.’ The monkey would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll go into the forest.’ And when these six animals became internally exhausted, they would stand, sit, or lie down right there next to the post or stake. In the same way, when a monk whose mindfulness immersed in the body is developed & pursued, the eye does not pull toward pleasing forms, and unpleasing forms are not repellent. The ear does not pull toward pleasing sounds… The nose does not pull toward pleasing aromas… The tongue does not pull toward pleasing flavors… The body does not pull toward pleasing tactile sensations… The intellect does not pull toward pleasing ideas, and unpleasing ideas are not repellent. This, monks, is restraint.”
If you watch your mind for any length of time in meditation, you’ll notice that it does in fact dart here and there. Staying with the object of the meditation (e.g. the sensations of the breathing) is exceedingly difficult! Mindfulness allows us to notice when the mind has gone this way or that, and to bring it back to the breathing. Since many of the thoughts to which the mind would turn, if unrestrained, would reinforce anxiety, anger, self-doubt, etc., we find ourselves calmer and happier. A mind compassionately and mindfully restrained is a happy mind.
This quote is often seen in books, and to some extent in social media and blog posts:
“It is easy to see the faults of others, but difficult to see one’s own faults. One shows the faults of others like chaff winnowed in the wind, but one conceals one’s own faults as a cunning gambler conceals his dice.”
It’s a rendition of verse 252 of the Dhammapada, translated by Juan Mascaró, and published by Penguin Books. It happens to be the first Buddhist scripture I ever encountered, and so it has a place of fondness in my heart, even though it’s not a particularly good translation on the whole.
Despite his occasional flaws as a translator, Mascaró gets this verse right. Here’s Thanissaro’s translation for comparison:
It’s easy to see the errors of others, but hard to see your own.
You winnow like chaff the errors of others, but conceal your own —like a cheat, an unlucky throw.
Uncharacteristically, Buddharakkhita’s version is a little off-base:
Easily seen is the fault of others, but one’s own fault is difficult to see. Like chaff one winnows another’s faults, but hides one’s own, even as a crafty fowler hides behind sham branches.
The Pali Text Society dictionary explains kitava as “one who plays false,” and notes that the traditional Dhammapada commentary says that this term comes from fowling: kitavāya attabhāvaŋ paṭicchādeti: “he hides himself by means of a pretense” (behind sham branches). For some reason Buddharakkhita decided to include the reference to fowling and sham branches, even though this verse refers to “kaliṃ,” which is “bad luck” or “an unlucky throw at dice.”
In case you’re not familiar with winnowing, it’s the process of separating grains from their inedible husks. This is done by first drying the grain and then by tossing it in the air—preferably on a breezy day. The friction between the grains loosens the husk (or chaff). The wind then separates the heavier grain, which falls straight down, from the lighter chaff, which blows away. Thus, winnowing is a metaphor for metaphorically broadcasting information (“broadcasting” being another term borrowed from agriculture — it literally means spreading seed by hand over a wide area). We broadcast news of others’ faults, but try to conceal our own.
Verse 50 of the Dhammapada conveys a similar message:
Let none find fault with others; let none see the omissions and commissions of others. But let one see one’s own acts, done and undone.