“Critical thinking vapourised”

To show how uncritical people are about what they read on the web, a company posts false information about Apple — which almost immediately develops a life of its own.

Stockholm production company Day4 fooled portions of the tech world last week into believing that Apple was working on an odd-shaped screw – an effort to show how quickly people are to believe anything they find online.

Day4, as the Swedish production company is called, said it was disturbed by how ready people were to believe anything they read on the web these days, especially because they can easily check tech reporters’ facts using tools such as Google.

Read the rest of the article …

The relevance to Fake Buddha Quotes should be obvious.

“Because truth is better than bullshit”

bullWriter and humorist John Shanahan is, like me, bothered by the mis-information that circulates on the internet. He debunks a couple of internet memes, one of which I’d seen and one I hadn’t, and he talks about why he’s bothered:

There are people in my own circle of friends who do this kind of thing all the time, this spreading of disinformation via their own lack of information. What makes me nuts is that several of these people have jobs that are fact-dependent, that require critical thinking or enhanced deductive capabilities. In some cases, lives are in the balance and only a well-considered action is acceptable. Intelligent, detailed, capable people who toss all that shit right out the window when they see a photo with words pasted onto it. Then it’s game on, facts be damned. Some have been guilty of this since the Fwd:Fwd:Fwd: days, and they have gotten downright pissy with me for calling them out on this willful spread of low-grade ca-ca.

Why do I care, you ask? Because it’s a waste of time. Because I want to believe that the people around me aren’t knee-jerk emotional reactionists willing to dispense with logic because the internet is such a shining bastion of quality information. Because it takes no time at all to stop, consider, and question. Because truth is better than bullshit. Because right is better than wrong…

It’s worth reading the whole article, Dissing the Disinformation.

Fake Deepak Chopra quotes

Fabulous!

There’s now a site available that will generate random fake quotes in the style of Deepak Chopra. This pseudo-spiritual word-salad is cobbled together from words found in Chopra’s Twitter stream. One can generate gems such as:

“God is reborn in positive self-knowledge.”

“Imagination illuminates karmic space time events.”

“Good health is inside existential silence.”

“Evolution is in the midst of boundless choices.”

“Knowledge is the ground of cosmic silence.”

Not a bad first week

So the new Fake Buddha Quotes site has been up for a week and things seem to be going well. Yes, some of the posts date back several years, but that’s because when I launched this site I copied over Fake Buddha Quote posts from my personal blog, bodhipaksa.com.

In this first week we’ve had 1,000 visitors, which is not bad for a start.

Neville Evans asked on Facebook, “Why are you spending time with this work?” to which my reply was “Because it’s fun?” I don’t know if his question was meant to be a rebuke, although I suspect it was. Some people do get bothered by my pointing out that some of the quotes attributed to the Buddha are not genuine.

Dhammarati commented, also on Facebook: “great site bodhipaksha: a public service. worryingly, i find myself liking some of what the fake buddha said.” The Fake Buddha is indeed often both wise and poetic.

Zippy Mon-Kai commented, “lovely thank you so much. Frustrating, the need in this day and age to reduce everything to convenient soundbites.” and added, “Oh and of course all best wishes and saddhu for your practice.”

And there was a lovely comment on Twitter:

Thanks, everyone, for the comments. I dream that one day I can have a bot that spots Fake Buddha Quotes on Twitter and sends the author a link to the appropriate page on FBQ.com. Is that doable? Anyone out there have the skills to do this?

And last, but most certainly not least, Eric Wentworth of Winter Crow Studio added the lovely header images you see above. He’s a good buddy, and if you need any design work done, please give him a shout.

Just observe the quotes, and then let them go

We just received the following comment on Wildmind’s Facebook page, regarding Fake Buddha Quotes:

Does it really matter if they are real or fake. And honestly, who really knows ?????
Just observe the quotes. And then let them go. We don’t need to have a strong opinion one way or the other. The fact that others thinking about the Buddha’s teaching should be encouraging.

I’m interested in this idea that we should “just observe” quotes and then “let them go.” Although I note that this particular person was not able simply to observe a Facebook post and let it go ;). Sorry, that was snarky of me.

What was the Buddha’s attitude to being misquoted? He was spiritually advanced, so presumably he would just observe misquotations and then let go of them? Well, not really. This is from the Alagaddupama Sutta:

You, O foolish man, have misrepresented us by what you personally have wrongly grasped. You have undermined your own (future) and have created much demerit. This, foolish man, will bring you much harm and suffering for a long time.

Strong words!

Of course he may have been misquoted on this! We have no way of knowing for sure what the Buddha said, although we can (despite the commenter above’s protestations otherwise) often identify that a quote attributed to the Buddha has a more recent origin.

“Does it really matter if they are real or fake?” If factual accuracy doesn’t matter, then it doesn’t matter when people say a quote is the Buddha’s when actually it’s not. But I happen to think accuracy is important. I’m not aiming to get annoyed about the misquotations I find, but I am keen to set the record straight when I can.

“The fact that others [are] thinking about the Buddha’s teaching should be encouraging.” I think it’s great that people want to quote the Buddha. But are they thinking about the Buddha’s teaching if the quotes they are passing on aren’t even his? Well, in some cases they may be, but in many cases they aren’t. They’re thinking about some other person’s words and teaching. And I’d hope that people who are genuinely interested in thinking about the Buddha’s teaching would at least be interested in what that teaching is.

The Buddha’s disciples were as concerned as the Buddha himself when it came to misquoting him —at least when the quotations are inaccurate. The same sutta I quoted above have monks saying to someone who has misquoted the Buddha,

Do not say so … do not say so! Do not misrepresent the Blessed One! It is not right to misrepresent him. Never would the Blessed One speak like that.

There was a strong concern for accuracy at that time, perhaps because the teachings were passed on orally. In an oral tradition, once an inaccuracy has become widespread, there is no “original text” to go back and consult. Fortunately we have the scriptures (which, unless there’s good evidence to the contrary, we can regard as being what the Buddha taught) and so we can compare quotes with them in order to determine whether they’re genuine or spurious.

“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.