Please excuse the mess

We had a bit of a hacking incident, and I’ve just finished putting the site back together again. The database was destroyed beyond repair and my backups turned out to be corrupted and unusable, so I had to manually copy posts over from Google’s cache. I was able to retrieve most, but not all, of the posts. Unfortunately all the comments have been irretrievably lost, along with some of the images.

This has been an interesting test of my equanimity!

All the best,
Bodhipaksa

“I wish people would stop using my face whenever they feel like they need a smart person to endorse their stupid ideas.” Albert Einstein (not!)

My attention was recently drawn to the following.

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I was reminded of it when I saw a debate on Google+ over the veracity of a supposed Einstein quote: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Einstein, they tell me, was a smart guy. I doubt very much he believed that fish suffer from low self-esteem if we judge them on the basis of their ability to thrive in an arboreal environment. And in fact, after much consideration, I’ve come to the conclusion that fish don’t actually care much what we think of them.

[More on the piscine low self-esteem quote here.]

The hate mail is getting more polite

Well, perhaps this is better termed “passive-aggressive mail,” rather than “hate mail,” but in a comment, Tharindu wrote:

Buddha was the most greatest person in the world. what he was say is so true..! some things you will never understand my friend. you are just a little kid who try to find write and wrong in the world dear Bodhipaksa. so please don’t put this kind of post unless you don’t know what your are talking. just observe the Buddhist and then say some thing. this is the most friendly advice i can give to you.

See? “Dear Bodhipaksa” and “my friend.” That’s polite :)

He also wrote:

yes. there are lot of books about history things that said by the Buddha. try to read the old books and learn some thing my friend. you have lot of things to learn before you die.

Not only is that polite, but it’s excellent advice, since I do like to read old books and to learn things.

Fake Buddha Quotes in the Buddhist Scriptures

I’ve made the point repeatedly that we can never know for sure what the Buddha actually said. All we have to go on are scriptures that were at first passed on orally for two centuries or more, and then were committed to writing. If a quote attributed to the Buddha isn’t in the scriptures, or can be reliably attributed to someone else, then we can be fairly confident in saying that it’s fake. But we can never say with 100% certainly that any given quote from the scriptures is genuine.

It’s a convention that what’s in the scriptures is Buddha-vacana — the word of the Buddha — unless there’s very good reason to believe otherwise. And there is sometimes clear evidence that the scriptures have been tampered with.

Buddha-vacana.org has an interesting example of this, in what happens to be one of my favorite suttas, The Great Forty, or Mahācattārīsaka Sutta. If you’re into studying the suttas, then this apparently anonymous article is a must-read. Here’s the conclusion:

It has been demonstrated in this analysis that in this sutta:

1) there are some teachings that we find in other suttas as well.

2) there are peculiar teachings not found anywhere else that look quite authentic, which tends to prove that there would be an authentic version of this sutta.

3) there are distinctions made in the teachings of the Buddha, which are apparently based on an opinion expressed in the Khuddaka Nikāya and according to which there is an ‘inferior’ portion of the teaching siding with merit etc. and a superior ‘noble’ one connected with insight etc.

4) the word ‘sāsava’ is used here in a sense which is consistent with late literature, but that is in direct contradiction with otherwise well-known teachings of the four Nikāyas, which proves that the falsification of this sutta has taken place late enough for this semantic drift to have happened.

5) we find very rare words and expressions found only in the Khuddaka Nikāya or the Abhidhamma, and not anywhere else in the four Nikāyas.

6) alternate definitions of the factor of the path are given, which are doubtlessly taken from the Abhidhamma, since outside this sutta they do not appear anywhere else than there.

7) there is an underlying contempt of the ancient teachings and the author seeks to promote teachings found in the Khuddaka Nikāya and Abhidhamma.

This is more than enough to prove that this sutta, though it seems to contain original and authentic material, has been largely falsified.

This study has also shown that even in what is to be considered as the most ancient strata of buddhist scriptures, there are counterfeit teachings aiming at belittling the original message of the Buddha in order to promote newer terminologies and theories, that are presented as being of higher value, but that actually contradict the ancient teachings.

The analysis shows quite convincingly that later teachings, the Abhidhamma, have been incorporated into this sutta and in effect put into the mouth of the Buddha. As well as the fake parts, the sutta actually contains some apparently genuine and very interesting teachings on the eightfold path. Fortunately it was largely those parts of the sutta that I had been most drawn to and that had led to it being one of my favorites.

I did recently see someone claiming, in all seriousness, that the Abhidhamma was taught by the Buddha, but that’s a completely untenable position, held only by those of “great faith” and little inclination to accept evidence.

I do suggest taking a look at the article.

Hate mail, part one

I would suggest you stop inferring that your views and your views alone are correct! Buddha teaches and taught, that everyone can become enlightened and awakened, therefore a Buddha! As one who has studied Buddhist scripture, from all branches of Buddhism, and has practiced Buddhism for 40 years of his life, I would not have the audacity nor arrogance to believe that Canonical text alone, as you call it, can be the only quotes attributed to Buddha! You have three a branches of Buddhism, all inspired by the desire for the attainment of enlightenment, all reflective of Buddhist teachings! I truly find your site offensive and distasteful, and not in the spirit of the Buddha’s teachings… you remind me of the monks, who created the schism within the sangha, in Buddha’s day, debating his teaching, and what he taught! It is divisive and ill advised! Buddha wouldn’t have it in his day, and you shouldn’t be promoting such discord, by judging translations and people’s preferences, of using one word over another… It all comes off very arrogant, divisive, and very self aggrandizing!

Unless you can tell me you have studied all the Pali Suttas, all the Sutras and teachings of Mahayana… You should not be promoting this kind of scriptural divisiveness! It is one thing to point of fake scripture, another thing to be so anally retentive to nit pick translations and people’s preference of a translation!

I hope in the near future you will reconsider your approach, because it comes off as arrogant and self aggrandizing, to say the least!

Be Well, Be Happy,
Ananda Bodhi

Hate mail, part two

Let me put this in a way you will understand!

“‘Worthless man, it is unseemly, out of line, unsuitable, and unworthy of a contemplative; improper and not to be done… Haven’t I taught the Dhamma in many ways for the sake of dispassion and not for passion; for unfettering and not for fettering; for freedom from clinging and not for clinging? Yet here, while I have taught the Dhamma for dispassion, you set your heart on passion; while I have taught the Dhamma for unfettering, you set your heart on being fettered; while I have taught the Dhamma for freedom from clinging, you set your heart on clinging.”

Instead of just worrying about fake quotes and ranting about translations, how about you actually take what you claim to have studied and put it into practice! You see, like all religious and scriptural teachings, a passage, or a quote, can be overlooked, used liberally or conservatively, but they are Buddhist Teachings nonetheless! it would be much more compassionate and Buddha like, to critique and differentiate quotes as Buddhist and Quotes By Buddha!

Not calling out translational errors, or spiritual preferential choice, as incorrect teachings! I have read a lifetime worth of Buddhist Scripture and have yet to finish with my studies, for it would take many lifetimes to read the whole canon of Buddhist scripture, it is a growing and living Dharma, not some dead bible, closed and set in stone! Maybe you should take that into consideration, instead of your need to be some kind of Buddhist Canon Nazi!

Be Well, Be Happy,
Ananda Bodhi

Debunking Fake Albert Einstein Quotes

There’s a pressing need for a “Fake Dalai Lama Quote” website and perhaps even more of a need for fakeeinsteinquotes.com. In the meantime, we have this post by someone calling themselves “Borna” on the site, Skeptica Esoterica.

Presumably Fake Einstein Quotes appear for the same kinds of reasons that Fake Buddha quotes appear: things like people wanting a quote to seem more substantial by attaching the name of a great man, simple errors, wishful thinking, etc.

One of the quotes I saw most recently attributed to Einstein was this one:

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is.”

This was oohed and aahed over as if it was the most profound thought imaginable. But give it a moment’s thought and inquire whether these two positions do in fact constitute the “only two ways” to live life. Is there really no middle ground, where you could regard some things as being miracles and others as not being miracles? (I’m not arguing for the correctness of one view or another, but for the existence of this third view.) In fact I’d argue that many people fall into the third category — the one that’s dismissed as impossible in the quotation. A great many people believe in the existence of miracles as actually taking place, but only rarely.

So having established that the quotation presents a false dichotomy, and is an example of black-and-white thinking, ask yourself whether the Einstein you know was a black-and-white thinker. Of course it could be that he had off days, but the crudity of thought expressed in the quotation should make us pause before automatically assuming that this is a quotation from Einstein.

And investigating the quote online suggests that it only became attributed to Einstein around 1993, which casts further doubt on it being Einstein’s.

The article I’ve linked to debunks several Fake Einstein Quotes, but there’s still plenty of work to be done. Have at it!

Radical honesty in Buddhism

The Rev. Genryu posted a comment today that I think deserves to be amplified:

For those who keep raising the point that a quote that is misattributed to the Buddha is somehow fine because it’s nice or noble or whatever, that is entirely irrelevant. Honesty is a radical practice in Buddhism. Not just honesty when it suits us but being honest when things are misrepresented (even in a seemingly well intentioned manner).

One thing that the Buddha is recorded as saying is that when teachings or sayings are ascribed to him which he did not say, it is the duty of those who practice the Dharma to correct such misattributions. By asking Buddhists to allow misattribution and misrepresentation, once a quote is known not to be from the Buddha, you are asking them to be deliberately dishonest and to misrepresent the Buddha and the Dharma. That is not acceptable. Hold yourself to a higher standard – one of being as accurate and honest as you can be – and you will find it a far more transformative practice than making excuses for misattributed platitudes.

I’m deeply grateful for this clear expression of Dharma.

“The Bare Bones Dhammapada”

bare-bonesThe Dhammapada seems to be regarded as fair game. Not only have rather inaccurate “translations” been done by people who don’t know the Pali language (Anne Bancroft and Thomas Byrom are prominent examples), but now we have someone who wants to liberate the Dhammapada from the Buddha’s meaning and intent altogether.

Fortunately, Shravasti Dhammika, a Buddhist monk for 32 years and the spiritual advisor to the Buddha Dhamma Mandala Society in Singapore,is on the case:

According to the blurb on Tai Sheridan’s The Bare Bones Dhammapada, the original text is “burdened by the stylistic and conceptual dust of the early and middle ages” and this new version “strips the Dhammapada of monasticism, literalness, chauvinism, anachronisms, and concepts of evil, shame, and sensual denial. It presents the path of wisdom as universal truths for a contemporary audience of any gender, lifestyle, or spiritual inclination”. No it doesn’t! All it does is offer cryptic verses, some of which are actually quite poetic, but that in no way reflect either the Buddha’s words or intent.

For example the Buddha of both the Pali Theravada and the Sanskrit Mahayana sutras was disparaging of dancing while Tai Sheridan apparently enjoys it and therefore Dhammapada verse 16 can be rendered as “do good dance joyfully”. Tai loves partying and is convinced the Buddha did too, hence verse 18 can be rendered as “do good throw a party on the path sing and dance.”