Buddha was asked: “What have you gained from meditation?” The Buddha replied, “Nothing at all.”

what-have-you-gained-199x300A reader called Gerald wrote to me recently and asked me about a “fishy” quote:

Hello! I have come across this quote and would like to know your input. (smells fishy). Thank you! Buddha was asked: “What have you gained from Meditation?” He replied: “Nothing.” “However”, Buddha said, “let me tell you what I lost : Anger, Anxiety, Depression, Insecurity, Fear of Old, Age and Death.”

That one’s as fishy as a barrel of mackerel.

This particular quote is found in many variants. The locus classicus for this particular version would seem to be Eknath Easwaran’s introduction to his translation of the Dhammapada, which itself is the source of a number of Fake Buddha Quotes. Here’s the relevant portion of the introduction:

Someone once asked the Buddha skeptically, “What have you gained through meditation.”

The Buddha replied, “Nothing at all.”

“Then, Blessed One, what good is it.”

“Let me tell you what I lost through meditation: sickness, anger, depression, insecurity, the burden of old age, the fear of death. That is the good of meditation, which leads to nirvana.”

That was first published in 1985.

That in turn seems to be based on something published in 1973 — World Buddhism, Volume 22 — by the World Fellowship of Buddhists.

It may be stating the case too strongly to say that in meditation one seeks to gain nothing. For there is an increase in happiness and peace of mind. But when asked, “What have you gained from meditation?”, the answer would be: “It is not what I have gained that is important but rather what I have diminished, namely, greed, hatred, and delusion.”

This is clearly not the Buddha who is supposed to be speaking, but simply a hypothetical meditator.

The quote — as indicated — is found in a number of forms on various blogs as well as in a few books. One book attempts to make the quote a bit more similar to the style of the Pali canon by throwing in a “blessed one”:

Someone once asked the Buddha: “What have you gained through meditation?” The Buddha replied, “Nothing at all.”

“Then, Blessed One, what good is it?”

The Buddha said: “Let me tell you what I have lost in meditation: sickness, depression…

It would have been better also to have reverted to the traditional “greed, hatred, and delusion” that World Buddhism used, especially given that the Buddha was hardly immune to sickness, and in fact died of food poisoning.

10 thoughts on “Buddha was asked: “What have you gained from meditation?” The Buddha replied, “Nothing at all.””

  1. Can you explain what you mean by saying on you website the following? “…especially given that the Buddha was hardly immune to sickness, and in fact died of food poisoning.”
    Food poisoning is NOT sickness.
    Sickness, or perhaps illness, is something that happens due to various imbalances in mind, body and spirit. Food poisoning is not a sickness like malaria, T.B., or pneumonia.
    Can you explain why you have made this incorrect assertion?

    1. I’m not at all clear what point you’re trying to make.

      Food poisoning is the result of ingesting harmful bacteria, such as salmonella sp. It’s therefore an infectious disease in the same way as tuberculosis or pneumonia. Malaria is of course a parasitic infection, but still an infection.

      The scriptures describe Buddha getting ill on several occasions. At one time his personal physician diagnosed that his “humors” were out of balance, and prescribed various purgatives. Another time the Buddha was “gravely ill” and had a disciple recite the Dhamma as his treatment.

      Are you trying to assert that the Buddha did not in fact get ill? If so, you have a very peculiar view of the kind of person he was, and of the nature of spiritual awakening.

  2. Regarding the Lord Buddha died from food poisoning,

    Below is one of the question from King Milinda (2nd Century BCE) and the answer from Enlightened Nagasena Thero. There is a series of questions from King Milinda and answers from Enlightened Nagasena Thero.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milinda_Panha

    King Milinda; Dear thero, Lord Buddha preached that the alms given just before the attaining Buddha hood and alms given before he faces the Nibbana, give most fruitful results to the giver than other givings. But monk Sangeethikaraka, has said that after having the last alms giving by Chunda Karmaraputhra, L.Buddha got sick severely. So thero, how can Chunda Karmaraputhra collects more fruitful results after making the L.Buddha sick…?

    Enlightened Nagasena thero; Dear king, both sayings are correct but you have wrong understanding. L.Buddha’s last meal was not prepared only by C.Karmaraputhra, but also ‘Devas’ from more luxurious worlds also added their alms it knowing the fruitful result of it. L.Buddha never got sick because of his last meal, but at the last moment he bears his body, it got more weaken as a result of L.Buddha’s decision to face the Nibbana.

  3. Dear Admin,

    Lord Buddha has been the only religious preacher how had the moral to say,
    “Now, Kalamas, 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 skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness’ — then you should enter & remain in them”.

    I copied it form your own website. The Buddha Dharma (Teaching) has the characteristic of ‘Sandittika’ means come see and investigate it yourselves. Don’t believe just as Buddha has preached.

    Buddhism is preached by a MAN who was born in this earth. not from a god or son of god what so ever. Furthermore Lord Buddha states that any religion which teaches the 4 Noble Truths and the Noble 8 fold paths, is a right religion to follow.

    Buddhism teach something which is achievable in this very life by us. The levels of concentration of mind (Dyaana) is achievable in this very life through Buddhist Meditation. A person how has ended Craving, Hate and Ignorance and achieved Dyaana such as Sotapanna, Sakurdagami, Anagami, Arhat and the Buddhahood wouldn’t go around and showoff that they have achieved Dyaana. It can only be found out by a person who has achieved the same or above level.

    Enlightened Nagasena Thero was a Buddhist Monk who had become Arhat. a certain person has a high power of mind and also ‘Irdi’ (supernatural) powers. Me and you both are lay people. But those levels of concentration of mind and Irdi powers can be achievable by both of us in this very life if we follow the right path. There for condemning a statement of someone who had higher levels of concentration of mind by a lay person can not be acceptable. I would only have accepted your statement condemning the Enlightened (Arhat) Nagasena Theros statement only if you were an Arhat Buddhist Monk or a Buddha.

  4. The quote I’ve heard more often goes: “Buddha sai, ‘Truly, I have attained nothing from this complete, unexcelled enlightenment.'”

    Do you know where that one comes from? Quick research seems to suggest Huang-Po.

      1. So that’s as follows:

        Subhuti again asked, “Blessed lord, when you attained complete Enlightenment, did you feel in your mind that nothing had been acquired?”

        The Buddha replied:

        “That is it exactly, Subhuti. When I attained total Enlightenment, I did not feel, as the mind feels, any arbitrary conception of spiritual truth, not even the slightest. Even the words ‘total Enlightenment’ are merely words, they are used merely as a figure of speech.”

        It’s certainly similar, although the topic is Enlightenment rather than meditation.

    1. That’s from the Diamond Sutra, or at least from a very old translation of that text. More modern translations express that verse rather differently, which may mean that they’re better translations or that there are variants. I’m afraid I’m not qualified to know!

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