“An insincere and evil friend is more to be feared than a wild beast; a wild beast may wound your body but an evil friend will wound your mind.”

I’m quite sure this one is fake. In fact I have a strong suspicion that this “Buddha Quote” is from a 19th century children’s Christian periodical.

The quote in question is from an old book called The Teaching of Buddha: The Buddhist Bible: A Compendium of Many Scriptures Translated from the Japanese. The book contains a mixture of commentary and scripture, and although it is translated from the Japanese, some of the scripture is quite clearly from the Pali Dhammapada. The verse in question is smack bang in the middle of other identifiable Dhammapada quotations, but is not itself from the Dhammapada. I’ve put the verses from The Teaching of Buddha (which are not numbered in the original) on the left, and, for comparison, translations from Access to Insight on the right.

Verses from Teaching of the Buddha Verses from the Dhammapada
On a trail a man should travel with a company of equal mind or one who has a better mind; one had better travel alone than to travel with a foolish man. 61. Should a seeker not find a companion who is better or equal, let him resolutely pursue a solitary course; there is no fellowship with the fool.
An insincere and evil friend is more to be feared than a wild beast; a wild beast may would your body but an evil friend will wound your mind. [???]
So long as a man can not control his own mind, how can he get any satisfaction from thinking such thoughts as, ” This is my son, ” or ” This is my treasure ? ” A foolish man suffers from such thoughts. 62. The fool worries, thinking, “I have sons, I have wealth.” Indeed, when he himself is not his own, whence are sons, whence is wealth?
To be foolish and to recognise that one is fool, is better than to be foolish and imagine that one is wise. 63. A fool who knows his foolishness is wise at least to that extent, but a fool who thinks himself wise is a fool indeed.
A foolish man, though he associates with a wise man, cannot understand the wise man’s wisdom. 64. Though all his life a fool associates with a wise man, he no more comprehends the Truth than a spoon tastes the flavor of the soup.

So we have a sequence of verses from the Dhammapada, with this rather odd interpolation, which is of an entirely different style.

What’s going on?

The “wild beast” verse may be a canonical verse that has been moved from elsewhere. Perhaps it’s something that crept into a Chinese version of the Dhammapada (although it’s not in Beal’s translation from the Chinese. Or perhaps it’s a bit of commentary that was slipped in. I rather suspect it was the last of these.

Here’s an interesting parallel with our “wild beast” quote:

He is much more to be feared than any lion you see at a wild beast show, because a lion can only hurt your body ; Satan can hurt your body and soul.

Here’s the Fake Buddha Quote for comparison:

An insincere and evil friend is more to be feared than a wild beast; a wild beast may would your body but an evil friend will wound your mind.

Coincidence? Perhaps. The quote is from The Children’s Friend (1852), edited by William Carus Wilson. Wilson, by another coincidence, shares part of his name with Paul Carus, an early translator of the Dhammapada, whom I mentioned above.

Wilson, according to Wikipedia was the inspiration for Mr Brocklehurst, the autocratic head of Lowood School, depicted by Charlotte Brontë in her 1847 novel Jane Eyre. He received an apology from the author after he considered suing her over the depiction.

And finally, here’s something the Buddha said to the householder Sigala about evil friends (papa-mitta);

“These four, young householder, should be understood as foes in the guise of friends:

he who appropriates a friend’s possessions,
he who renders lip-service,
he who flatters,
he who brings ruin.

“In four ways, young householder, should one who appropriates be understood as a foe in the guise of a friend:

he appropriates his friend’s wealth,
he gives little and asks much,
he does his duty out of fear,
he associates for his own advantage.

“In four ways, young householder, should one who renders lip-service be understood as a foe in the guise of a friend:

he makes friendly profession as regards the past,
he makes friendly profession as regards the future,
he tries to gain one’s favor by empty words,
when opportunity for service has arisen, he expresses his inability.

“In four ways, young householder, should one who flatters be understood as a foe in the guise of a friend:

he approves of his friend’s evil deeds,
he disapproves his friend’s good deeds,
he praises him in his presence,
he speaks ill of him in his absence.

“In four ways, young householder, should one who brings ruin be understood as a foe in the guise of a friend:

he is a companion in indulging in intoxicants that cause infatuation and heedlessness,
he is a companion in sauntering in streets at unseemly hours,
he is a companion in frequenting theatrical shows,
he is a companion in indulging in gambling which causes heedlessness.”

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4 thoughts on ““An insincere and evil friend is more to be feared than a wild beast; a wild beast may wound your body but an evil friend will wound your mind.””

  1. If the buddhist bible is a compendium of many scriptures the fragment could come from anywhere. For example the mahaparinirvana sutra contains such a statement. I think it is probable that the christian periodical derived from the buddhist text, especially since it was published in the 19th century where such a swap-over would not seem to be too unusual. On the other hand, even if the christian quote was not derived from the buddhist text, this wouldn’t be too surprising either since many of the different religions core texts contain quite a lot, similar, or similar-appearing statement, truths, or messages. The lengthy quote at the end of your entry gives an interesting discription of how a papa-mitta acts and behaves, but in contrast to the mahaparinirvana-quote it doesn’t say anything about the true nature or life-function of papa-mitta. In that sense, in terms of wisdom, it examplifies a perspective and understanding that is much more like that of a non-buddhist. From the mahayana point of view the christian periodical quote doesn’t even hold as an analogy or parallelism, because it mixes up some of the crucial elements, thus revealing that – in essence – it is of an entirely different nature alltogether.

  2. Wow, reading this really made me think trice before posting an quote online or on any other social media. As there are not much reliable sites to verfify these quotations. They do seem to resonate with me even though i now know they are clearly fake. Now i will be more skeptical when i read a quote.

    1. I’ve become skeptical of just about any quote I see circulating online. Many of the political quotes — especially those put in the mouths of historical individuals — are fabricated or taken out of context.

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