“You cannot travel the path until you have become the path itself.”

Just spotted in the wild:

“You cannot travel the path until you have become the path itself”
–Buddha

This seems to be from Helena Petrovna Blavatsky’s “Voice of the Silence,” which has,

Thou canst not travel on the Path before thou hast become that Path itself.

Blavatsky was a founder of Theosophy and in 1880 became one of the first westerners to convert to Buddhism. She was strongly interested in spiritualism, and accusations of fraud followed her her entire life. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that she was a talented charlatan, although she may have been a well-meaning one in that she hoped to turn people’s attention toward spirituality.

One of the means for achieving this was to write books that purported to be translations from mystical Eastern works. The Voice of the Silence, And Other Chosen Fragments from the “Book of the Golden Precepts”, published in 1889, was one such work.

Blavatsky wrote in a faux-antique style, full of “thees” and “thous,” and her writings bear very little resemblance to Buddhist teachings. For example, the lines immediately preceding our Fake Buddha Quote are:

Ere thy Soul’s mind can understand, the bud of personality must be crushed out; the worm of sense destroyed past resurrection.

And there are things like this:

Saith the Great Law: “In order to become the KNOWER of ALL SELF, thou has first of SELF to be the knower.” To reach the knowledge of that SELF, thou hast to give up Self to Non-Self, Being to Non-Being. (Hysterical ALL CAPS in original.)

Despite Blavatsky having used a smattering of Buddhist termininology, her model for spirituality seems to have been primarily Hindu, given her belief in a universal self (sorry, SELF) to which we must surrender our “selves.”

There’s also some straightforward teaching, such as “Shun praise, O Devotee. Praise leads to self-delusion.” I suspect most of this practical advice was made up rather than copied from any actual spiritual text.

This quote is rather similar to “There is no path to happiness. Happiness is the path.

“When words are both true and kind, they can change our world.”

“When words are both true and kind, they can change our world.”

I came across this on Twitter today, tweeted by Buddha_Bones:

“RT @Sharon_Phoenix “When words are both true and kind, they can change our world.” ~Buddha”

This can be found in various books attributed to Jack Kornfield, the Buddha, and Shunryu Suzuki. As far as I can tell, those words first crop up in Saddhatissa’s “Before He Was Buddha: The Life of Siddhartha” (page 92).

The quote is actually from Jack Kornfield’s “Buddha’s Little Instruction Book,” page 5. I rather suspect he’s the originator of this quote since, like most of the quotes in that book, this one is not actually a quote from the Buddha.

Like many Fake Buddha Quotes, this one has a nice sentiment. The Buddha often talked about the virtue of words being true and kind, but the language of “changing the world” is not something the Buddha is recorded as using.

“An idea that is developed and put into action is more important than an idea that exists only as an idea.”

A Fake Buddha Quote courtesy of Jnanagarbha, who received it in his twitter feed:

"An idea that is developed and put into action is more important than an idea that exists only as an idea. Buddha."

It’s actually fairly Buddhist in spirit, but in tone it’s very unlike any Buddhist scripture I’ve ever come across. Sure enough, it’s found attributed to the Buddha in any number of quotes sites, and it’s likewise listed in a number of books in Amazon. A little investigation, however, showed this to be a quote from page 47 of Edward de Bono’s book, "Serious Creativity: Using The Power of Lateral Thinking to Create New Ideas."

“Never allow yourself to envy others. For you will lose sight of the truth that way.”

Soren Gordhamer has a nice little article in The Huffington Post called "If the Buddha Used Twitter." It’s based around five quotations that he uses as guidelines for how to how the Twitter service:

  1. Never allow yourself to envy others. For you will lose sight of the truth that way.
  2. Better than a thousand senseless verses is one that brings the hearer peace.
  3. The one who talks of the path but never walks it is like a cowman counting cattle of others but who has none of his own.
  4. The conquest of oneself is better than the conquest of all others.
  5. Your work is to find out what your work should be. Clearly discover your work and attend to it with all your heart.

His interpretations of these are generally very creative and sensible — — you can read the article and discover that for yourself. The only thing that bothers me is that some of these don’t sound at all like quotes from the Buddha — at least not anything I’ve read. The tone, the language — all wrong.

The first — “Never allow yourself to envy others. For you will lose sight of the truth that way” — doesn’t sound right. I did a little digging around and found that it is actually from a translation of the Dhammapada — but it doesn’t appear to be a very good translation. Google Book search shows it to be Anne Bancroft’s rendering of verse 365, which actually reads more like:

One should not neglect one’s own spiritual gain. One should not envy others. The monk who envies others will not attain concentration.

Bancroft takes samadhi to mean "truth" when actually it means meditative concentration. In later Buddhism it can mean "wisdom" but this is the Dhamapada and not later Buddhism.

The second, third, and fourth verses are good renderings of what the Buddha is supposed to have said, but that last one is just plain weird: "Your work is to find out what your work should be. Clearly discover your work and attend to it with all your heart." It sounds more like Khalil Gibran than the Buddha. It’s just not the Big B.’s style. I did a bit more digging around and found it on a Beliefnet discussion forum, complete with a reference to the Dhammapada:

Your work is to find out what your work should be and not to neglect it for another’s. Clearly discover your work and attend to it with all your heart. (Dhammapada, v. 166)

This also comes from Anne Bancroft’s Dhammapada, which now looks to be less a translation and more of an improvisation loosely based on a theme by the Buddha.

I’ve written up that one here.

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and common sense.”

Fairly often I see quotes attributed to the Buddha that bear no little or no resemblance to anything that’s found in Buddhist scriptures. One example is from a Christian minister who holds meetings in prison at the same time I’m there leading my Buddhist study group. He informed me that the Buddha had said that a greater teacher than him would arise in 500 years, and that we should follow that guy instead. Guess who that would be? The pastor and I had an interesting conversation about the ethics of making up quotes to denigrate other religions and promote your own (not that I was accusing him of having invented the quote — but someone had).

A less egregious, but as far as I’m aware equally inaccurate one appeared on Twitter yesterday, posted by @tricyclemag. They didn’t invent the quote — I’ve seen it circulating endlessly, and it will no doubt appear on more and more blogs (and books — it’s in dozens), and thus be accepted by more and more people as the actual word of the Buddha. Here’s the quote:

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and common sense.” -Buddha

Unless I’m mistaken, this seems to be a poor paraphrase of part of the Buddha’s teaching to the Kalamas, which runs like this:

…don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, ‘This contemplative is our teacher.’ When you know for yourselves that, ‘These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering’ — then you should abandon them.

Now a caveat: the Buddhist scriptures are vast and I can’t claim to have read all of them. To some extent I’m relying on the tone and language of the alleged Buddha quote, plus its obvious similarity to the Kalama sutta, to state that I think it’s a false quote. I may be wrong.

But assuming I’m correct, the Tricycle quote says you should trust your reason and common sense, while the Buddha says you shouldn’t trust “logical conjecture … inference … agreement through pondering views … [and] probability.” Collectively the Buddha’s list of things you shouldn’t rely on would seem to overlap totally with those Tricycle magazine thinks we should rely upon.

The Buddha of course isn’t saying we should jettison reason and common sense. What he’s implying is that both those things can be misleading and what’s ultimately the arbiter of what’s true is experience. It’s when you “know for yourselves” that something is true through experience that you know it’s true. (Also, we can rely on the opinion of “the wise.” This doesn’t mean accepting other people’s opinions blindly. It means that in your experience you can come to know that certain people tend to have a clear perception of what’s true and helpful in terms of spiritual practice, and so you don’t have to go around making every mistake under the sun in order to establish that they are in fact mistakes.)

The Tricycle quote displaces the role of experience in spiritual practice in favor of reason and common sense, which I think is very questionable. It suggests learning is something that happens in the head, rather than something that is gained through living, and it allows us to dismiss anything that contradicts our prejudices (common sense is often nothing other than clinging to established views.

More than that, though, I think it’s ethically problematical to pass on the message “the Buddha said such-and-such” without checking out that he actually did say that. Otherwise it’s not dissimilar to gossip, although presumably better-intentioned.

Because I write a monthly column based on quotations, I like to make sure that the statement I’m quoting is accurate and was actually made by the person in question. (Confession: I didn’t used to be so careful). There are many quotation sites that do no fact-checking at all and that are full of inaccurate, false, and misattributed quotes. Because these sites endlessly plagiarize each other, these false quotes end up all over the internet. It’s a shame that Buddhists join in with this trend, especially when it distorts the Buddha’s teaching, as I believe this “quote” does.