“A man said to the Buddha, ‘I want Happiness.’”

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A man said to the Buddha, “I want Happiness.”
Buddha said, first remove “I”, that’s ego,
then remove “want”, that’s desire.
See now you are left with only Happiness.

I only recently started seeing this one doing the rounds, and at first I ignored it, because it was so obviously fake that I didn’t think anyone would take it seriously, any more than they would think that the Dalai Lama really had gone to a hot dog vendor and asked him to make him one with everything.

And yet, it seems some people really do think that this play on words really is a conversation from some Buddhist scripture. It ain’t.

For a start, this joke wouldn’t even work in Pāli because its conjugation of verbs is rather different from English. So for example, hoti is the Pāli verb to be. While in English we indicate the first person use of this verb by adding a personal pronoun, forming “I am,” in Pāli it’s the ending of the verb that changes. To say “I am” the verb hoti becomes “homi.”

So there’s no separate word for “I” that we can remove from whatever verb would represent “want” (it might be the verb kāmeti, to desire). We’d have to remove “I” and “want” at the same time, since they’re inseparable. And maybe that’s a more Buddhist teaching, since in Buddhism the problem with our sense of personal identity is that we cling to it.. The Buddha didn’t eradicate references to himself from his speech, but he made it clear that there was nothing that he clung to as part of his sense of self. We get rid of the problem of the self by ceasing to cling to the self. The clinging and the clinging to self vanish simultaneously.

I’ve no idea where this quote originated. I’m assuming that someone was making a little Buddhist-themed joke rather than trying to claim that this is actually a canonical quote, but I haven’t, so far, managed to find a source. Or at least not an original one.

Anyway, it would be silly to take this little pun too seriously. I only decided to write it up because so many people have been concerned about people who seem to think it might be a genuine scriptural quote. If you’re one of those people, I have the address of the Dalai Lama’s hot dog vendor, if you’re interested. But be warned, you have to have the exact money, because he can’t issue change. Change, after all, comes from within.

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