“Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted in important affairs.”

einstein quote

These days, when people tell me that it’s nitpicking to discuss whether quotes attributed to the Buddha actually come from the Buddhist scriptures, I often counter with this quote from Einstein:

“Whoever is careless with truth in small matters cannot be trusted in important affairs.”

Of course we could do with a Fake Einstein Quote website, but as it happens this one is genuine. It comes from the piece of writing he was engaged in at the time of his death.

“It doesn’t matter who said it, as long as it’s inspiring.”


One of the most common comments I receive from people who object to the notion of accurate citations is that it doesn’t matter who said a quote, as long as it’s inspiring.

So there should be no problem with the quote above, then?

This is from Matthew Inman, author of The Oatmeal cartoon, which I generally find hilarious. Of course I rarely take attributions on the web at face value, and so I dug into the origins of the quote. It doesn’t seem to have anything to do with Hitler at all, but is adapted from a prize-winning poem by Bessie Stanley (1879–1952). According to Wikipedia, Stanley wrote the poem in essay form in 1904. Arranged as a poem, it goes like this:

He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much;
Who has enjoyed the trust of pure women, the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children;
Who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
Who has never lacked appreciation of Earth’s beauty or failed to express it;
Who has left the world better than he found it,
Whether an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
Who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had;
Whose life was an inspiration;
Whose memory a benediction.

The phrase “lived well, laughed often, and loved much” was very quickly paraphrased as “live well, laugh often, love much. For example, in a speech given in Niagara Falls on June 23, 1908, Mr G. P. Conard, Secretary of the Association of Transportation and Car Account Officers, said:

Paraphrasing Stanley, these men have achieved, and are still achieving, the full measure of success, for they live well, laugh often, and love much; they gain the trust of noble men and women, and the love of little children….” etc., etc., etc.

I like what Ingram is going with his Fake Hitler Quote — lulling people with a “new agey” sort of message and then clobbering them over the head with the name “Hitler” to show them that attributions do in fact matter. No doubt however we’ll now see this quote circulating on the internet and appearing in books, incorrectly attributed.

One more point — if a quote’s source didn’t in fact matter then it’s not likely that people would keep attributing them to respected figures like Gandhi, Einstein, and the Buddha. It’s precisely because people do take quotes more seriously when they come from a well-known and respectable source that these misattributions arise.

The Buddha was not a “Hindu prince”

At least one of the quotes sites that perpetuates Fake Buddha Quotes refers to the Buddha as a “Hindu prince.” This term is doubly misleading, since the Buddha was definitely not a “Hindu” (even in his early life), and neither was he a prince in any real sense.

One of the main religious groupings that the Buddha debated was the hereditary Brahmin caste, who studied the Vedas and Upanishads. They didn’t appear to have a name for their religion, which had a philosophical side but mainly seemed to emphasize ritual and sacrifice—often animal sacrifice—and were very concerned about maintaining the orderliness of society, although there was a more radical wing that may have explored meditation. Needless to say, the Buddha did not regard himself as being part of the Brahminical tradition although he did try at times to subvert the language of Brahminism to say that “true Brahmins” are made—by their ethically skillful actions—and not born.

There’s nothing in the Pali canon that suggests the Buddha was ever a follower of the Brahminical tradition, even in his youth. In fact the area of the Indian subcontinent that he came from (the Sakyan territory), doesn’t seem to have been dominated by Brahminism, although it’s said that there were Brahmin villages there. The very fact that some villages are mentioned as being “brahmin” suggests that Brahminism was not ubiquitous there.

The two teachers he practiced with prior to his Awakening, Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta, were from roughly the same geographical area as himself. They taught meditation rather than practicing the ritual-based practices of the Brahmins. They would have considered themselves to be “shramanas,” or radical, forest-based religious seekers, rather than “brahmanas,” who were of course home-dwelling, town- and village-based, and religiously conservative. Here’s what Dr. Alexander Berzin says of the shramanas:

The shramanas were wandering mendicant spiritual seekers. They came from castes other than the brahmins and sought liberation by leaving society from the start. They lived together in the forests, with no caste differences, as a spiritual community (Skt. sangha), rather than as solitary ascetics. They organized their autonomous communities on the model of the republics, with decisions made by assemblies. Moreover, all of them rejected a supreme god, such as Brahma, or any other form of a creator. Although the shramana communities had no caste differences within them, the laypeople who followed their teachings to a lesser extent and supported them still lived with the structure of the caste system.

This is the religious tradition that the Buddha practiced in, both before and after his Awakening. His religious community was not part of the Brahmin tradition, but a conscious rejection of its religious conservatism and social rigidity.

Of course now we might lump the shramana and brahmin traditions together under the heading “Hinduism,” but at the time of the Buddha that would have seemed absurd. It would like considering Islam and Christianity to be one religion. The term “Hindu” didn’t exist at the time of the Buddha, and the word wasn’t created until the 19th century. There were many religious traditions being practiced at the time of the Buddha, and they certainly were not unified into anything that could be called Hinduism. There isn’t a term in the Pali canon that corresponds to the word “Hindu.”

As Dr. Berzin notes, there’s no evidence that there was a concept of caste in the Sakyan territory (caste was an important aspect of Brahminical practice) and the Buddha seemed to regard the four-fold caste system of Brahminism as a foreign affair. The Sakyans regarded their warrior caste as being socially superior to the Brahmin caste, while in other parts of the continent the Brahmins had the top spot.

The appellation “prince” is arguable, depending on how you understand that word. Here’s Vishvapani in his Gautama Buddha (Quercus, 2011):

So far as we can tell, Gautama’s father Suddhodana, was a Shakyan aristocrat, and some sources call him a ‘raja’. But despite the version of Gautama’s life made familiar in legendary accounts, this doesn’t mean that he was a king (they were called ‘Maharajas’). It is possible that he was just one aristocrat among many, but according to some sources, Suddhodana was the Shakyans’ chief raja. We know from descriptions of other gana communities that chieftains were elected in a meeting of representatives of aristocratic families at the assembly hall…”

Excavations of the likely candidates for the Buddha’s home town don’t reveal any palaces, and in fact the term the Buddha uses when he does describe his father’s houses as “palaces” is not the same as the term used for the dwelling of a “king” (maharaja). Probably the term “mansion” would be more appropriate. So Suddhodana was more like a “tribal chief” than what we would think of as a king, and Gautama a “chief’s son” rather than a “prince.” The largest houses that have been excavated are of wooden construction, with people living above the animals’ accommodation. The archaeological evidence, in other words, doesn’t point to anything very royal.

The account of the young Gautama slipping into first jhana under the Rose-Apple tree while his father plowed a field was quite possibly nothing to do with the “ritual ground-breaking” of a king, but Suddhodana simply doing a bit of work on his farm.

Trevor Ling in “The Buddha” suggests that the Buddha’s father may have been the elected head of an aristocratic ruling class. We know that the Sakyan territory was governed by a council of some sort. And while Suddhodana may have been the head of this council (although he also may not), he certainly wouldn’t have had kingly powers.

Here’s Richard Gombrich, one of the world’s leading Buddhist scholars, on the Sakyan Republic:

The Buddha came from a community called (in Sanskrit) Shakyas; hence his commonest Sanskrit title, Shakyamuni, ‘the Sage of the Shakyas’. This fact is of great historical importance, because according to the Buddha (or, strictly speaking, according to words attributed to him in the Maha-Parinibbana Sutta) he modelled the organization of his Sangha on that of such communities as his own. Historians usually call these communities ‘tribes’, but I am wary of that term, which corresponds to no word in Sanskrit or Pali. ‘Tribe’ evokes an isolated community with no socially structured inequality. The Shakyas seem not to have had a varna [caste] system but they did have servants. They were isolated to the extent that they were self-governing, and their polity was of a form not envisaged in brahminical theory. We deduce that the heads of households – maybe only those above a certain age or otherwise of a certain standing – met in council to discuss their problems and tried to reach unanimous decisions. Some historians call this an oligarchy, some a republic; certainly it was not a brahminical monarchy, and makes more than dubious the later story [emphasis added] that the future Buddha’s father was the local king. This polity presented the Buddha with a model of how a casteless society could function. In the Sangha he instituted no principle of rank but seniority, counted in that case from ordination; maybe age was the ranking principle in the Shakya council.

(From Theravada Buddhism, page 49–50)

The word “prince” — without reference to all the above — is highly misleading. And to call the Buddha a “Hindu prince” is doubly misleading.

There were kings (maharajas) on the Indian subcontinent at that time. In fact they were expanding their power and territory. Not only were the monarchies competing with each other, but they were busy mopping up the last of the northern republics, of which the Sakyan clan was one. Those kings had real royal powers, lived in palaces, and had large armies. The smaller-scale tribal republics didn’t stand a chance. The monarchies came to dominate, and shortly after the time of the Buddha the republics passed away, and the republican form of government became unthinkable. Quite possibly people couldn’t think of any other way of society being organized, since they’d never known anything different, and when they heard of the Buddha’s father being a “raja” they imagined him to have been something like the “maharajas” they were familiar with.

Of course later tradition also builds the Buddha into a king, because that sounds more impressive. We all want to build up our heroes.

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,

“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.


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.

The Buddha on Fake Buddha Quotes (3)

There’s a nice little Sutta called the Ani Sutta, which I stumbled upon today. It includes the following:

In future time, there will be bhikkhus [monks] who will not listen to the utterance of such discourses which are words of the Tathāgata [i.e. the Buddha], profound, profound in meaning, leading beyond the world, (consistently) connected with emptiness, they will not lend ear, they will not apply their mind on knowledge, they will not consider those teachings as to be taken up and mastered.

On the contrary, they will listen to the utterance of such discourses which are literary compositions made by poets, witty words, witty letters, by people from outside, or the words of disciples, they will lend ear, they will apply their mind on knowledge, they will consider those teachings as to be taken up and mastered.

Therefore, bhikkhus, you should train thus: ‘We will listen to the utterance of such discourses which are words of the Tathāgata, profound, profound in meaning, leading beyond the world, (consistently) connected with emptiness, we will lend ear, we will apply our mind on knowledge, we will consider those teachings as to be taken up and mastered.’ This is how, bhikkhus, you should train yourselves.

I thought that “literary compositions made by poets, witty words, witty letters, by people from outside, or the words of disciples” was a good description of many of the Fake Buddha Quotes you’ll find on this site, some of which are by disciples (such as Jack Kornfield, whose “Buddha’s Little Instruction Book” has inadvertently given rise to many a FBQ), or “people from outside,” such as Marie Curie and G.K. Chesterton.

I’ve noted that some people are consistently drawn to Fake Buddha Quotes as opposed to quotes from the scriptures, and I presume this is because the fake quotes are often more poetic and polished than the genuine article. In non-Buddhists this is perhaps less of a surprise, but in those who profess to be Buddhists it’s rather puzzling, since one would expect them to have some familiarity with the teachings, and to recognize the cadence and language of the scriptures.

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