“Meditation brings wisdom; lack of meditation leaves ignorance.”

meditation brings wisdom

A reader brought this one to my attention today:

Meditation brings wisdom; lack of meditation leaves ignorance. Know what leads you forward and what holds you back and choose the path that leads to wisdom.

He commented, “This feels odd – I think it’s the ‘holds you back’ phrasing.”

This phrasing does sound suspiciously contemporary, but in this case that’s the result of the translation rather than a modern saying being retroactively ascribed to the Buddha.

This quote is actually verse 282 from Eknath Easwaran’s translation of the Dhammapada, which is of course a well-known Buddhist canonical text, traditionally regarded as the word of the Buddha. The only difference is that Eknath has “Know well what leads you forward” rather than the “Know what leads you forward” that was passed on to me.

For comparison, here’s Buddharakkhita’s version from Access to Insight:

Wisdom springs from meditation; without meditation wisdom wanes. Having known these two paths of progress and decline, let a man so conduct himself that his wisdom may increase.

The phrasing Eknath has used is very contemporary, but I think it’s a fair rendering of bhavaya —progress — (“What moves you forward”), and vibhavaya —decline — (“what holds you back”).

Thannisaro’s version (also on ATI) is a bit different:

From striving comes wisdom;
from not, wisdom’s end.
Knowing these two courses
— to development,
decline —
conduct yourself
so that wisdom will grow.

Thanissaro has “striving” rather than Buddharakhita and Eknath’s “meditation.” The word in the original is “yoga” and although this is often translated as “practice” or “meditation,” the word does in Pali suggest “striving.” The Pali–English Dictionary includes as the fourth definition of “yoga” the meaning “application, endeavour, undertaking, effort.”

Anyway, I’m pleased to say that this one is genuine, despite the suspiciously modern phrasing.

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“If we fail to look after others when they need help, who will look after us?”

This one is more or less legitimate. It’s from a well-known passage in the Vinaya (the book of monastic conduct) about a monk who was sick. In the Access to Insight translation it’s “If you don’t tend to one another, who then will tend to you?”

Your version has been changed from second person to first, but otherwise it’s accurate, and it would seem excessively nit-picking to call it fake.

What happens in the story is that the Buddha comes across a sick monk, lying in his own urine and excrement, who isn’t being taken care of by the other monks. He asks Ananda to go fetch some water, and then:

The Blessed One sprinkled water on the monk, and Ven. Ananda washed him off. Then — with the Blessed One taking the monk by the head, and Ven. Ananda taking him by the feet — they lifted him up and placed him on a bed.

Then the Blessed One, from this cause, because of this event, had the monks assembled and asked them: “Is there a sick monk in that dwelling over there?”

“Yes, O Blessed One, there is.”

“And what is his sickness?”

“He has dysentery, O Blessed One.”

“But does he have an attendant?”

“No, O Blessed One.”

“Then why don’t the monks attend to him?”

“He doesn’t do anything for the monks, lord, which is why they don’t attend to him.”

“Monks, you have no mother, you have no father, who might tend to you. If you don’t tend to one another, who then will tend to you?

Whoever would tend to me, should tend to the sick.

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“A jug fills drop by drop.”

This quote is found on many quotations sites and is commonly found on social media. Happily it’s a genuine quotation, although it’s missing the punch-line:

“Drop by drop is the water pot filled. Likewise, the wise man, gathering it little by little, fills himself with good.”

It’s from verse 122 of the Dhammapada.

No doubt however the implied meaning of the shortened quotation is clear to most people.

Here’s a graphic from RealBuddhaQuotes.com, in case you want to share it.

drop-by-drop

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“It is easy to see the faults of others, but difficult to see one’s own faults. One shows the faults of others like chaff winnowed in the wind, but one conceals one’s own faults as a cunning gambler conceals his dice.”

This quote is often seen in books, and to some extent in social media and blog posts:

“It is easy to see the faults of others, but difficult to see one’s own faults. One shows the faults of others like chaff winnowed in the wind, but one conceals one’s own faults as a cunning gambler conceals his dice.”

It’s a rendition of verse 252 of the Dhammapada, translated by Juan Mascaró, and published by Penguin Books. It happens to be the first Buddhist scripture I ever encountered, and so it has a place of fondness in my heart, even though it’s not a particularly good translation on the whole.

Despite his occasional flaws as a translator, Mascaró gets this verse right. Here’s Thanissaro’s translation for comparison:

It’s easy to see the errors of others, but hard to see your own.
You winnow like chaff the errors of others, but conceal your own —like a cheat, an unlucky throw.

Uncharacteristically, Buddharakkhita’s version is a little off-base:

Easily seen is the fault of others, but one’s own fault is difficult to see. Like chaff one winnows another’s faults, but hides one’s own, even as a crafty fowler hides behind sham branches.

The Pali Text Society dictionary explains kitava as “one who plays false,” and notes that the traditional Dhammapada commentary says that this term comes from fowling: kitavāya attabhāvaŋ paṭicchādeti: “he hides himself by means of a pretense” (behind sham branches). For some reason Buddharakkhita decided to include the reference to fowling and sham branches, even though this verse refers to “kaliṃ,” which is “bad luck” or “an unlucky throw at dice.”

In case you’re not familiar with winnowing, it’s the process of separating grains from their inedible husks. This is done by first drying the grain and then by tossing it in the air—preferably on a breezy day. The friction between the grains loosens the husk (or chaff). The wind then separates the heavier grain, which falls straight down, from the lighter chaff, which blows away. Thus, winnowing is a metaphor for metaphorically broadcasting information (“broadcasting” being another term borrowed from agriculture — it literally means spreading seed by hand over a wide area). We broadcast news of others’ faults, but try to conceal our own.

Verse 50 of the Dhammapada conveys a similar message:

Let none find fault with others; let none see the omissions and commissions of others. But let one see one’s own acts, done and undone.

winnowing

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“Hatred does not cease through hatred at any time. Hatred ceases through love. This is an unalterable law.”

This quote is commonly seen on social media, and it’s a genuine scriptural quotation. It’s from verse 5 of the Dhammapada.

In Buddharakkhita’s translation this is:

Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal.

In Thanissaro’s version this is:

Hostilities aren’t stilled through hostility, regardless.
Hostilities are stilled through non-hostility: this, an unending truth.

Narada Thera has:

Hatreds never cease through hatred in this world; through love alone they cease. This is an eternal law.

You can see that they’re all basically very similar.

In Pali this is:

Na hi verena verāni sammantīdha kudācanaṃ
Averena ca sammanti esa dhammo sanantano.

Very literally this is:

Not (na) indeed (hi) by means of hatred (verena) hatreds (verāni) at any time (kudācanaṃ — negated by the opening “na”).

By means of non-hatred (averena) and (ca — acts to connect this sentence with the one before) are [“they” — implied] are they stilled (sammanti). This (esa) [“is” — implied] truth/law (dhammo) eternal (sanantano).

Our quotation uses the more conceptually positive word “love” rather than the strictly correct but conceptually negative “non-hatred,” but sometimes translators feel (quite justifiably in my opinion) to make such changes for the sake of accessibility. “Non-hatred” is of course a much broader term than “love,” and can encompass not just love and compassion, but even calm, mindfulness, and patience, which are all “non-hateful” qualities that promote inner peace.

The original translator was Eknath Easwaran, who rendered this verse as:

For hatred does not cease by hatred at any time: hatred ceases by love. This is an unalterable law.

Eknath’s initial “for” has been dropped, and “by” has twice been changed to “through” by some unknown transmitter of the quotation.

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“Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace.”

“Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace” is commonly found attributed to the Buddha. And it’s more or less genuine. Here’s Buddharakkhita’s translation of the same verse:

Better than a thousand useless words is one useful word, hearing which one attains peace.
Dhammapada, verse 100

This is from Thomas Byrom’s rendering of the Dhammapada, which is generally very inaccurate, although poetic. In this case he was reasonably close to the mark.

Less successful are Byrom’s “There is pleasure and there is bliss. Forgo the first to possess the second,” “Follow then the shining ones, the wise, the awakened, the loving, for they know how to work and forbear,” and “Meditate. Live purely. Be quiet. Do your work with mastery. Like the moon, come out from behind the clouds! Shine.”

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“Silence the angry man with love. Silence the ill-natured man with kindness. Silence the miser with generosity. Silence the liar with truth.”

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A friend recently passed this on, thinking it sounded false. It’s actually a reasonably accurate translation of Dhammapada verse 223, which in Buddharakkhita’s translation is:

Overcome the angry by non-anger; overcome the wicked by goodness; overcome the miser by generosity; overcome the liar by truth.

The only real difference is the choice of verb: “silence” in the suspect quote, versus “overcome” in Buddharakhita’s version.

In the Pali the verb used is “jine” which is definitely “conquer” or “overcome.” It’s what’s called the “third person singular optative,” which means that it’s “one should conquer.” It’s kind of an instruction.

Perhaps the translator of the suspect quote thought that those words sounded too violent and martial, and hence out of line with the non-violence tenor of Buddhist teachings. But “silence” is, to my mind, acceptable as a translation.

The Buddha, incidentally, did not shy away from using violent or martial imagery in his teachings. In one sutta he uses the example of parents deciding to eat their child. Another time he said that just as a horse trainer might kill a horse that refused to submit to training, so he would kill a monk who was untrainable. He wasn’t being literal, of course. And he used a fairly unpleasant metaphor to describe the process of analyzing the body in meditation:

Just as a skilled butcher or his apprentice, having killed a cow, would sit at a crossroads cutting it up into pieces, the monk contemplates this very body

Lastly, one of Amazon’s customers, in reviewing Jan Chozen Bays’ How to Train a Wild Elephant, whose title is taken from a metaphor the Buddha used, condemned the use of that imagery in the book’s title. Apparently she was unable to read the book because she found the reference to training an elephant to be so unpleasant.

I suspect that the choice to use “silence” in place of “conquer” or “overcome” was rooted in the same sort of squeamishness, although I don’t yet know who the translator was.

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“The root of suffering is attachment.”

root-of-suffering-is-attachment-570x377

Message:
Hello,

I would like to know if the following is a Buddha quote or not:
“The root of suffering is attachment.”

Thanks,
Ozkan

This precise wording wasn’t familiar to me, and I’d assumed that it was an interpretation of Buddhist teaching rather than something the Buddha said himself, but there is a saying from the Pali canon, upadhi dukkhassa mūlanti, which means “Attachment is the root of suffering.” So this is a genuine canonical quote.

You’ll find it in this sutta, but translated by Thanissaro as “Acquisition is the root of stress.” His translations are rather idiosyncratic, and he regularly renders “dukkha” (pain, suffering, unsatisfactoriness) as “stress.”

In this translation of the same sutta it’s “acquisition is the root of suffering.”

Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation (not available online, but in The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, page 868) has “attachment is the root of suffering,” although he sometimes has “acquisition” in place of “attachment,” in various repetitions of the phrase.

My Pali dictionary gives upadhi as “clinging to rebirth (as impeding spiritual progress), attachment (almost syn. with kilesa or taṇhā…).”

So attachment is the root of suffering” is a perfectly fine translation.

All the best,
Bodhipaksa

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“Health is the greatest gift, contentment is the greatest wealth”

health-is-the-greatest-gift-208x300

Health is the greatest gift,
contentment is the greatest wealth,
a trusted friend is the best relative,
Liberated mind is the greatest bliss.

This one’s very common and it’s legitimate. It’s verse 204 of the Dhammapada, in a translation by Narada Maha Thera. He has

Health is the greatest gift,
contentment is the greatest wealth,
a trusted friend is the best relative,
Nibbana is the greatest bliss.

“Nibbana” has been changed to “liberated mind” in the Facebook version, but that’s fair enough, since it makes the verse understandable to non-Buddhists without significantly changing the meaning.

Buddharakkhita in Access to Insight, has:

Health is the most precious gain
and contentment the greatest wealth.
A trustworthy person is the best kinsman,
Nibbana the highest bliss.

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“He who loves 50 people has 50 woes; he who loves no one has no woes.”

the-buddhaA reader, Andy, wrote to me about this one. The subject line of the email was “PLEASE tell me this one is bogus!” I knew I was in store for something interesting.

Andy continued: “I hope you can confirm my gut feeling that this is a fake Buddha quote: ‘He who loves 50 people has 50 woes; he who loves no one has no woes.’ This seems a total distortion of the concept of non-attachment. And obviously completely at odds with loving kindness practice.” He pointed out that this quote is found on many sites.

Surprisingly, this one is a fairly accurate quote from the Pāli canon. I first came across it a few years ago in a Christian tract attacking Buddhism. Like Andy I was skeptical that this quote was accurate when I first came across it. The problem here is not that the quote is fake, but that it’s misleading unless understood in the context of other Buddhist teachings on love.

The original is found in the Visākhā Sutta of the Udāna, where the Buddha is depicted as talking to Visākhā, Migāra’s mother, who has just lost a grandson.

The Buddha teaches Visākha the connection between attachment and grief, and reminds her that every day people die.

“Visākhā, would you like to have as many children & grandchildren as there are people in Sāvatthī?”

“Yes, lord, I would like to have as many children & grandchildren as there are people in Sāvatthī.”

“But how many people in Sāvatthī die in the course of a day?”

“Sometimes ten people die in Sāvatthī in the course of a day, sometimes nine… eight… seven… six… five… four… three… two… Sometimes one person dies in Sāvatthī in the course of a day. Sāvatthī is never free from people dying.”

In what seems like an odd attempt to console Visāka, the Buddha points out to her that the fewer people one loves, the less pain one experiences:

“Visākhā, those who have a hundred dear ones have a hundred sufferings. Those who have ninety dear ones have ninety sufferings. Those who have eighty… seventy… sixty… fifty… forty… thirty… twenty… ten… nine… eight… seven… six… five… four… three… two… Those who have one dear one have one suffering. Those who have no dear ones have no sufferings. They are free from sorrow, free from stain, free from lamentation, I tell you.”

In Pāli, the two extracts of passage that comprise the quote are “Yesaṃ paññāsaṃ piyāni, paññāsaṃ tesaṃ dukkhāni” (those who have 50 dear ones — piyaṃ — have 50 sufferings) and “Yesaṃ natthi piyaṃ, natthi tesaṃ dukkhaṃ (those who have no dear ones have no suffering).

In the light of the Buddha’s other teachings on lovingkindness, we have to assume that he’s talking here about “dear ones” to whom one is attached, as opposed to having lovingkindness or compassion. In another situation, in the Mettā Sutta, the Buddha encouraged us to love all beings as if they were our own children:

Just as a mother would guard her child, her only child, with her own life, even so let him cultivate a boundless mind for all beings in the world.

What’s the difference between Visākha’s pain-inducing (grand)mother’s love and the mother’s love that Buddha encourages us to have to all beings?

In the latter case we’re cultivating mettā, or lovingkindness, which is a desire that beings be well and happy. We don’t have to know people to have mettā for them. We don’t even have to like them. In fact we can dislike them and still have mettā for them.

But in the former case, why does Visākha have love for her children and grandchildren? And what kind of love is that? For sure, she wants them to be well and happy, but does she feel the same way about all children, including children unrelated to her? We can assume that she doesn’t. She loves her children and grandchildren because they are her children and grandchildren. In other words there’s a form of possession and ownership that is characteristic of the love she feels. This sense of our children being part of ourselves is no doubt familiar to every parent.

The love Visākha feels is called pema, which is attached affection. The word pema comes from the same root as piyaṃ, or “one who is dear.” Pema is very different from mettā, where there is no such sense of possession. With mettā we want all children to be well and happy.

This doesn’t mean that we won’t experience pain when someone we have mettā for dies. I find it hard, in fact, to imagine the kind of “love” that would be so detached that it would not lead to suffering when the object of that love has died.

The well-known Sallatha Sutta suggests to me that the dukkha that we are spared by having “no dear ones” (i.e. no one to whom we are attached) is the added suffering that comes from being unable to bear the pain of loss:

In the case of a well-taught noble disciple, O monks, when he is touched by a painful feeling, he will not worry nor grieve and lament, he will not beat his breast and weep, nor will he be distraught. It is one kind of feeling he experiences, a bodily one, but not a mental feeling.

The noble (i.e. enlightened) disciple still experiences painful feelings, and these would, I assume, include the feeling of loss. the fact that the passage I just quoted refers to a “bodily” rather than a mental feeling needn’t trouble us; the pain of loss is experienced at least partly as a physical pain, and it can even be alleviated with painkillers, according to neuroscientific research. At any rate the principle that non-reactivity prevents us becoming distraught over physical pain also prevents us from becoming distraught over mental pain. Whether you regard loss as physical or mental, the principle is the same.

The noble disciple does not “worry nor grieve and lament, he will not beat his breast and weep, nor will he be distraught.” There’s no resistance to the loss. It’s accepted.

It’s also a different kind of loss. Rather than the disappearance of something that is in some sense ours, we simply have the simply the disappearance of someone we’d wished well. In both cases there’s a sense of being deprived of a human presence which has been intertwined with our own, but in the case of attachment there’s the added sense of the loss being a personal affront.

The Buddha’s advice to Visākha tries to place her loss in the context of the universality of death. People die every day. The more we remember this, the less distraught we will be when someone close to us dies. We’ll still feel the pain, but we’ll be better placed to bear it with mindfulness and self-possession, since we won’t think, as people tend to, that we’ve been uniquely singled out for the experience of bereavement.

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