“If we fail to look after others when they need help, who will look after us?”

This one is more or less legitimate. It’s from a well-known passage in the Vinaya (the book of monastic conduct) about a monk who was sick. In the Access to Insight translation it’s “If you don’t tend to one another, who then will tend to you?”

Your version has been changed from second person to first, but otherwise it’s accurate, and it would seem excessively nit-picking to call it fake.

What happens in the story is that the Buddha comes across a sick monk, lying in his own urine and excrement, who isn’t being taken care of by the other monks. He asks Ananda to go fetch some water, and then:

The Blessed One sprinkled water on the monk, and Ven. Ananda washed him off. Then — with the Blessed One taking the monk by the head, and Ven. Ananda taking him by the feet — they lifted him up and placed him on a bed.

Then the Blessed One, from this cause, because of this event, had the monks assembled and asked them: “Is there a sick monk in that dwelling over there?”

“Yes, O Blessed One, there is.”

“And what is his sickness?”

“He has dysentery, O Blessed One.”

“But does he have an attendant?”

“No, O Blessed One.”

“Then why don’t the monks attend to him?”

“He doesn’t do anything for the monks, lord, which is why they don’t attend to him.”

“Monks, you have no mother, you have no father, who might tend to you. If you don’t tend to one another, who then will tend to you?

Whoever would tend to me, should tend to the sick.

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“Imagine that every person in the world is enlightened but you. They are all your teachers, each doing just the right things to help you learn perfect patience, perfect wisdom, perfect compassion.”

I’ve found this misattributed to the Buddha in a number of books:

Imagine that every person in the world is enlightened but you. They are all your teachers, each doing just the right things to help you learn perfect patience, perfect wisdom, perfect compassion.

This bears no resemblance to anything in the Buddhist scriptures. It turns out that it’s from page 83 of Jack Kornfield’s lovely “Buddha’s Little Instruction Book,” which is not (as the title might erroneously suggest) a collection of quotes from the Buddha but is instead a collection of contemporary sayings on practice, some of which are loosely based on scriptural sources, but which are mostly (as far as I can make out) of Jack’s own devising.

Geri Larkin, in her book “Stumbling Toward Enlightenment,” has an unacknowledged borrowing of the first part of the quote, and has paraphrased the rest:

Imagine that every person in the world is enlightened but you. Everyone is your teacher and they are doing just the right things to motivate you to learn whatever it is you need to know.

This quote can be found, presented as a Buddha quote, in books such as Larry Chang’s “Wisdom for the Soul,” Sylvia Lafair’s “Don’t Bring It to Work,” Angela Paul’s “It’s Hard Being Human,” and, most ironically, in Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat’s “Spiritual Literacy.”

It’s also frequently attributed to the Jesuit priest and psychotherapist, Anthony de Mello, although so far I’ve seen nothing to suggest that that attribution is correct.

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“As rain falls equally on the just and unjust, do not burden your heart with judgments but rain your kindness equally upon all.”

quote-as-rain-falls-equally-on-the-just-and-the-unjust-do-not-burden-your-heart-with-judgments-gautama-buddha-67-32-30

This is widely quoted as being from the Buddha. It seems to be an amalgamation of a quote from the New Testament and a loose paraphrase of the Lotus Sutra, which is a Mahayana scripture.

The first part is Matthew 5:44-45.

“But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you, that ye may be the children of your Father who is in Heaven. For He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”

The rest sounds like a paraphrase from the “Lotus Sutra”:

“Know, Kashyapa! It is like unto a great cloud Rising above the world, Covering all things everywhere, A gracious cloud full of moisture; Lightning-flames flash and dazzle, Voice of thunder vibrates afar, Bringing joy and ease to all. The sun’s rays are veiled, And the earth is cooled; The cloud lowers and spreads As if it might be caught and gathered; Its rain everywhere equally Descends on all sides, Streaming and pouring unstinted, Permeating the land. On mountains, by rivers, in valleys, In hidden recesses, there grow The plants, trees, and herbs; Trees, both great and small, The shoots of the ripening grain, Grape vine and sugar cane. Fertilized are these by the rain And abundantly enriched; The dry ground is soaked, Herbs and trees flourish together. From the one water which Issued from that cloud, Plants, trees, thickets, forests, According to their need receive moisture. All the various trees, Lofty, medium, low, Each according to its size, Grows and develops Roots, stalks, branches, leaves, Blossoms and fruits in their brilliant colors; Wherever the one rain reaches, All become fresh and glossy. According as their bodies, forms And natures are great or small, So the enriching rain, Though it is one and the same, Yet makes each of them flourish.

In like manner also the Buddha Appears here in the world, Like unto a great cloud Universally covering all things; And having appeared in the world, He, for the sake of the living, Discriminates and proclaims The truth in regard to all laws. The Great Holy World-honored One, Among the gods and men And among the other beings, Proclaims abroad this word: “I am the Tathagata, The Most Honored among men; I appear in the world Like unto this great cloud, To pour enrichment on all Parched living beings, To free them from their misery To attain the joy of peace, Joy of the present world, And joy of Nirvana….

Upon all I ever look Everywhere impartially, Without distinction of persons, Or mind of love or hate. I have no predilections Nor any limitations; Ever to all beings I preach the Law equally; As I preach to one person, So I preach to all. Ever I proclaim the Law, Engaged in naught else; Going, coming, sitting, standing, Never am I weary of Pouring it copious on the world, Like the all-enriching rain. On honored and humble, high and low, Law-keepers and law-breakers, Those of perfect character, And those of imperfect, Orthodox and heterodox, Quick-witted and dull-witted, Equally I rain the Law-rain Unwearyingly.”

The idea of the Buddha of the Pali canon talking in terms of non-judgement is rather ludicrous. His emphasis was on terms of judging wisely rather than on not judging at all. For example here are Dhammapada verses 256-257:

To pass judgment hurriedly
doesn’t mean you’re a judge.
The wise one, weighing both
the right judgment & wrong,
judges others impartially —
unhurriedly, in line with the Dhamma,
guarding the Dhamma,
guarded by Dhamma,
intelligent:
he’s called a judge.

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“True love is born from understanding”

I don’t know where “True love is born from understanding” is from, but it’s not from the Buddha, despite many attributions that say it is.

It sounds very like Thich Nhat Hanh, but so far I haven’t found this exact saying in any of his books. There is something similar in one of his books, “Reconciliation: Healing the Inner Child,” with reference to the emotional release of crying:

With the energy discharged, we will be able to look deeply AND TO UNDERSTAND, AND THAT IS WHERE TRUE LOVE IS BORN.

These aren’t the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, however, but of a disciple, Thay Phap An.

In the book, “True Love,” Thich Nhat Hanh writes “Understanding is the essence of love. If you cannot understand, you cannot love.” He also writes, “Without understanding, love is an impossible thing,” and “Love is a true thing if it is made up of a substance called understanding.”

All these quotes are in the ball park, but none is a palpable hit.

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“My actions are my only true belongings: I cannot escape their consequences. My actions are the ground on which I stand.”

tnh quote

“My actions are my only true belongings: I cannot escape their consequences. My actions are the ground on which I stand,” which is often attributed to the Buddha, is actually by Thich Nhat Hann. It’s from his book “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching,” page 124.

It’s his paraphrase of the Buddha’s “five reminders.”

In their original form they’re as follows:

“There are these five facts that one should reflect on often, whether one is a woman or a man, lay or ordained. Which five?

“‘I am subject to aging, have not gone beyond aging.’ This is the first fact that one should reflect on often, whether one is a woman or a man, lay or ordained.

“‘I am subject to illness, have not gone beyond illness.’ …

“‘I am subject to death, have not gone beyond death.’ …

“‘I will grow different, separate from all that is dear and appealing to me.’ …

“‘I am the owner of my actions,[karma] heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my arbitrator. Whatever I do, for good or for evil, to that will I fall heir.'”

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“It is possible to live happily in the present moment. It is the only moment we have.”

Although it’s often said to be from the Buddha, “It is possible to live happily in the present moment. It is the only moment we have,” is a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh. The first part in particular — “It is possible to live happily in the present moment” — is often found in his books.

The Buddha actually had very little to say — as far as we can tell from what’s been recorded in the scriptures — about the present moment. I don’t think he said anything about the present moment being all we have, although he might well have agreed with the statement.

In “No Death, No Fear” Thich Nhat Hanh writes:

The Buddha said, “It is possible to live happily in the present moment. It is the only moment we have.”

In another book he equates “It is possible to live happily in the present moment” with the Pali expression, Diṭṭha-dhamma-sukha-vihārā. Thanissaro translates this as “abiding in ease, here and now” and Bhikkhu Bodhi similarly renders it as “a pleasant abiding here and now.”

Diṭṭhadhamma means “this world” (literally “visible things”) and sukhavihārati is “dwelling happily (or at ease).” There is a convention that diṭṭhadhamma refers to time as well as place, hence “here and now” rather than just “here.” I don’t know why this is, but if both Bhikkhu Bodhi and Thanissaro include “now” as well as “here” then I presume they have good reasons for doing so.

However you translate diṭṭha-dhamma-sukha-vihārā, you’re never going to get close to “It is possible to live happily in the present moment. It is the only moment we have.” I suspect that what’s happened is that one of Thay’s talks was transcribed, and the editor, seeing “The Buddha said” inserted quotes around what he or she erroneously took to be direct speech.

As far as I’m aware, it’s a long time since Thich Hanh Hanh has written his own books, and the works published under his name are actually ghostwritten by disciples, based on material from his talks.

My guess is that Thich Nhat Hanh’s original intention would have been to say something like this:

The Buddha said it is possible to “live happily in the present moment.” It is the only moment we have. [Everything outside the quotes being Thay’s own words, of course, and the part within quotes being a direct quotation from the scriptures—a rendering of diṭṭha-dhamma-sukha-vihārā.]

If that’s the case, then this is the second instance I’ve found of a Fake Buddha Quote being created by Thich Nhat Hanh’s editors or ghostwriters, the other being “The moment you know how your suffering came to be, you are already on the path of release from it.”

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“The moment you know how your suffering came to be, you are already on the path of release from it.”

This quote most often seems to be in the form “The moment you know how your suffering came to be, you are already on the path of release from it,” although it’s also found as “If you already see the nature of your suffering, how it has come to be, you are already on your way to liberation.”

In some sources a reference SN II 47 is given. This refers to the Pali Text Society numbering system. “II” refers to the second volume and “47” to the 47th page (in the Pali version of the PTS edition).

This would correspond to SN 12.31, which you can read here: https://suttacentral.net/en/sn12.31

This sutta includes the following:

Venerable sir, one sees as it really is with correct wisdom: ‘This has come to be.’ Having seen as it really is with correct wisdom: ‘This has come to be,’ one is practising for the purpose of revulsion towards what has come to be, for its fading away and cessation. One sees as it really is with correct wisdom: ‘Its origination occurs with that as nutriment.’ Having seen as it really is with correct wisdom: ‘Its origination occurs with that as nutriment, ’ one is practising for the purpose of revulsion towards its origination through nutriment, for its fading away and cessation.

(Technically this is in SN II 48, but the confusion is understandable since the sutta runs over onto a new page.)

In a talk by Thich Nhat Hanh on August 4th, 1996 in Plum Village, France. we find the following:

How that suffering has come to be, that is the second truth. That is about the nature of your suffering. If you already see the nature of your suffering, how it has come to be, you are already on your way to liberation. That is a sentence uttered by the Buddha. Dear friends, if you look into the nature of your suffering, and if you see already what kind of nutriment that has brought about that suffering, you are already on the path of liberation; because everything needs food to grow, to be there, including your suffering. So if you look into your suffering, and if you can see how that has come to be, what kind of food you have fed it so that it is now there as a hard fact, then you are already on the way of liberation, because you have already seen a path of liberation. So the nature of your suffering is the cause of your suffering, the nutriment, the food that you have used in order to feed your suffering.

This seems to be a paraphrase of the sutta above. However the words quoted from the sutta are from the Buddha’s disciple Sariputta, not from the Buddha himself, as Thich Nhat Hanh mistakenly says.

In a later book by Thich Nhat Hanh, “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, we read:

The Buddha said, “The moment you know how your suffering came to be, you are already on the path of release from it.” [Page 45]

This seems to be a condensation of the more expansive version given in the talk, probably created by one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s editors. It’s not uncommon for someone (in this case Thich Nhat Hanh) to summarize a teaching (“The Buddha said that…”), and for someone else (in this case an editor or ghost-writer) to take this to be a direct quote (“The Buddha said…”) and to then pass it on in that form. That seems to be what’s happened here.

So to summarize: this isn’t a quote from the Buddha. It seems to be a paraphrase of a teaching given by Sariputta, the Buddha’s disciple. The paraphrase itself seems to have been created by Thich Hnat Hanh and one of his editors or ghost-writers.

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“Life has no meaning in itself but it is itself an opportunity to make it meaningful.”

Pema Yangchen passed this one on to me today, having spotted it on Facebook.

Once a man asked to Buddha “What is the meaning of life?” Buddha simply exclaimed “Life has no meaning in itself but it is itself an opportunity to make it meaningful.”

It’s completely bogus of course. There’s certainly nothing in the Pali canon where the Buddha talks about the “meaning of life,” “the secret of existence,” etc.

The phrase, “the meaning of life,” is actually quite modern, at least in English. Using Google Books I haven’t found any instances of that expression before the mid-1800s. In a journal called “The National Preacher and Village Pulpit,” there’s the following passage in an essay on “Christian Perfection,” by an Amherst professor, the Rev. J. H. Seelye:

[T]he most literal, and perhaps also the most characteristic meaning of life, is an inner energy which is. constantly passing onward and reaching toward an end or consummation.

In an 1853 book, “Hopes and helps for the young of both sexes,” by George Sumner Weaver, we can read:

No youth who has learned the meaning of life is ambitious to fill the place of such people [whose lives lack an object]. Are you, my reader? But let us ask, what is the purpose of life? We answer, it is the formation of a genuine character.

All the earliest references to the “meaning of life” come from a Christian context, at a time when Christianity was emphasizing the development of character.

This makes this quote rather ironic: what does it say about someone’s character that they think it’s acceptable to fabricate a quote and put it in the mouth of the Buddha? I’ve argued that there’s a case for doing this in the context of dramatizing the Dharma, as when a teacher is recounting a story from the Buddhist tradition. But in such cases the words put in the Buddha’s mouth are paraphrases of things he did, according to the scriptures, actually say. In the case of “Life has no meaning in itself but it is itself an opportunity to make it meaningful,” there’s no such justification.

As for the origins of this quote: I don’t know, but strongly suspect that this is an adaptation of something Osho (formerly the Bhagwan Shree Rajnesh) said: “Life has no meaning in itself, you have to bring meaning into it.” (“Dang Dang Doko Dang: The Sound of the Empty Drum.”)

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“You stand at the crossroads of the path of love and the path of fear. Which do you choose to follow?”

This one was passed on to me by a reader:

“You stand at the crossroads of the path of love and the path of fear. Which do you choose to follow?”

He’d come across it in a book by Sarah Brewer, called “Relaxation – Exercises and Inspirations for Well-Being.” So far that’s the only place I’ve been able to find the quote as well. I haven’t found even any close variations on it, either in books or on the web.

This is peculiar, since these fake quotes often spread like wildfire, especially when they’re pithy and eloquent, like this one. I can only imagine that Brewer’s book wasn’t widely read!

Sarah Brewer may have taken or adapted this from some other source which hasn’t yet appeared online, or she may simply have made it up.

The basic premise of there being choices between two modes of being is deeply Buddhist, although a duality of love and fear isn’t a model that the Buddha recognized.

A good example of the Buddha recognizing bimodal choices is found in the Dvedhavitakka Sutta, where he reflects on his discovery that on the one hand, thoughts imbued with sensual desire, ill will, and harmfulness led to the affliction of self and other, and to confusion and emotional disturbance, while on the other hand thoughts imbued with renunciation, non–ill will, and non-harmfulness did not lead to affliction of self and other, and instead led to discernment, a lack of emotional turbulence, and Awakening.

More succinctly, there are a series of paired verses in the first chapter of the Dhammapada, illustrating that we have choices in each moment that affect the future course of our lives, including our future well-being.

Talking of the Dhammapada, there are a few verses that show certain forms of love not as the opposite but as the cause of fear! For example:

212. From endearment springs grief, from endearment springs fear. For one who is wholly free from endearment there is no grief, whence then fear?

213. From affection springs grief, from affection springs fear. For one who is wholly free from affection there is no grief, whence then fear?

What Brewer means by “love” isn’t entirely clear, but we could take it to be metta, or lovingkindness. “Endearment” could be understood as “liking,” which leads to fear because when we like someone or something there’s inevitably attachment, and we fear separation. “Affection” could be read as “conditional love,” where again we fear change in the object of our attention, and are quick to shift to ill will or even hatred if things don’t go the way we want them to go.

Metta, on the other hand, is an attitude of well-wishing that transcends and doesn’t rely on “liking” and which don’t require the object of our attention to do certain things or to be a certain way. Because there’s no attachment in metta, it doesn’t lead to fear.

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