“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 for me 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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18 thoughts on ““A man said to the Buddha, ‘I want Happiness.’””

  1. It doesn’t matter if the quote is fake or not, it doesn’t matter if Budha really give that speech. You just need to take the essence.

    1. As Einstein said, “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted in important affairs.” So, yes, it does matter.

  2. “In matters of truth and justice, there is no difference between large and small problems, for issues concerning the treatment of people are all the same. Anyone who doesn’t take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either.

    The full quote is slightly different and in context sends an entirely different message.

    And just because Einstein said it, does that make it truthful.

    1. You’re absolutely correct that something is not necessarily true just because Einstein said it. I didn’t, however, make that claim.

      In this particular case I think he’s entirely correct: being casual with the truth — in effect saying “it doesn’t matter if this information is bullshit, I’m going to pass it on anyway” — is something that matters, if you take the truth seriously.

      I’m afraid I also don’t see how the extra sentence “sends an entirely different message.” The message is the same in both instances: if you take truth seriously, then “small matters” matter.

      Your version of the quote, incidentally, is different from the version in the Einstein Archives, which is as follows: “In matters concerning truth and justice there can be no distinctions between big problems and small, for the general principles which determine the conduct of men are indivisible. Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted in important affairs.”

  3. The quote is right no matter whether it was said by Buddha or not. Ego and desire indeed a important cause of suffering. Besides why be a Buddhist or a christian when you can be a freethinker? Ideals(truth, love, forgiveness, etc.) matter not ideologies.

    1. Ah, but I’ve never made the claim that a quote’s truth depends on who said it. All I’m doing here is clarifying whether quotes are scriptural or not.

      I’ve never thought that being a Buddhist means you have to adopt an ideology. What did you have in mind when you wrote that, Juan?

  4. It is the absolute truth. Ego and desire are the two greatest sources of misery and unhappiness. It is the substance and the content and the truth in the quote which really matters, so we should not be bickering about the source or the authenticity. First let us seek the truth, and then we shall really ‘see’. Sincerely seek the truth, and it shall set you free.

    1. The contents of a quote surely matter. But so does misrepresenting a quote’s origins. I’d like to assume that the concept of accurate citations is not somehow a problem for you.

      1. No, it doesnt matter where the quote came from, as long as it is the absolute truth. And our intuitions and experience will confirm, whether a quote is absolutely true or not, and that is all that matters. We should stop quibbling over insignificant trifles, and only seek the truth, regardless of the source.

        1. No one’s suggesting “quibbling,” Sushil. I’m simply suggesting that people don’t pass on false information (or untruth) regarding the origin of quotes.

          I find it strange, though, that you want to “seek the truth” and yet at the same time seem to regard the truth of the attribution of a quote to be insignificant. As Einstein said, “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted in important affairs.”

  5. I like the “quote”! It is very Buddhist even though there is no record of Sakyamuni actually saying those exact words. I’d like to see more loving kindness in these discussions.

  6. I didn’t like your condescending tone. It wasn’t so obviously fake that this very new student of Buddhist teachings wouldn’t take it seriously. The sentiment made sense and as a new learner I didn’t yet know that looking at such a pun, seriously, would require being silly.

    1. When I said “it would be silly to take this little pun too seriously” I meant it would be silly for me to take it too seriously, and to spend too much time on debunking it.

      I mean no insult to anyone who is new to Buddhism or unfamiliar with its teachings, since they’ve little or no basis for knowing what is and what isn’t likely to be genuine, although I’d hope that some people at least would recognize that this kind of word-play is very unlikely to work in a foreign language.

      1. Thank you Bodhipaksa. I suspect my own insecurities were at play because I would normally be slower to presume things were inflection isn’t possible. Thank you for the clarification.

        I see what you mean about language. My favorite Socrates’ quote is stated more than one way for the same reason.

  7. Another problem is that, if the disciple in question removes ‘I’, as instructed, then there is no ‘you’ (or ‘him’) available to be left with happiness.

    Big thumb up for your useful blog, Bodhipaksa. You might like to know that the version of this non-quote which google-led me here was attributed to Richard Gere. It might be fun to compile a top-10 chart of the spontaneously guessed gurus of Heard-It-Someplace-Or-Other Buddhism. 😀

    Keep up the good work, sir!

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