“If you knew what I know about the power of giving, you would not let a single meal pass without sharing it in some way.”

I was asked today what I made of this quote:

“If you knew what I know about the power of giving, you would not let a single meal pass without sharing it in some way.”

My correspondent said, “I like it very much, but it sounds very much like a later translation/adaptation of something the Buddha might have said, but less soundbite-y and eloquent.”

The exact wording in that quotation is from Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein’s 1987 book, Seeking the Heart of Wisdom, but it’s a reasonably good paraphrase of a passage from the Itivuttika.

Access to Insight has:

“If beings knew, as I know, the results of giving & sharing, they would not eat without having given…”

So this one, happily, is not fake. Or, if we’re prepared to accept that what is canonical is, without good evidence to the contrary, the word of the Buddha, then it’s genuine. It’s at least a genuine canonical quote, even if we are to doubt that the Buddha said anything in the Pali canon.

“We will develop love, we will practice it, we will make it both a way and a basis…”

develop-loveA reader called Geoffrey sent this one to me, saying:

My meditation teacher used this quote but she didn’t know the source of it. It’s really quite beautiful, but I am pretty suspicious it doesn’t come from the mouth of the Buddha.

“It is in this way that we must train ourselves: By liberation of the self through love, We will develop love, We will practice it, We will make it both a way and a basis, Take a stand upon it, store it up, and thoroughly set it going.” – the Buddha

I was suspicious too, but this is actually a canonical quote, and as you Geoffrey says, it’s rather lovely. It’s from the Samyutta Nikaya, and in Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation you’ll find it on page 708:

“Therefore, bhikkhus, you should train yourselves thus: ‘We will develop and cultivate the liberation of mind by lovingkindness, make it our vehicle, make it our basis, stabilize it, exercise ourselves in it, and fully perfect it.’ Thus should you train yourselves.”

So this is basically an accurate quote. I don’t know where Geoffrey’s teacher’s version of the quote comes from. The only Samyutta Nikaya I have is Bhikkhu Bodhi’s.

I think what the Buddha was doing here was encouraging the monks to set their intentions. Those intentions outline a progressive sequence leading roughly from bringing lovingkindness into being, making it increasingly a part of our lives, and finally perfecting it so that there are no thoughts, words, or actions that are not imbued with lovingkindness.

The word translated in the two versions as either “love” or “lovingkindness” is metta. These days my own preferred translation of this term is “kindness.” Metta is the desire that beings be happy and free from suffering, not because we necessarily, know them, like them, are related to them, or in any way connected with them, but simply because we know it’s the nature of beings to wish these things.

“People with opinions just go around bothering each other.”

offending-people1-570x689

“People with opinions just go around bothering each other.”

When I first saw this quote I thought I was certain that it was fake. After a bit of investigation I came to be conclusion that it’s a paraphrase, but close enough to the original to be considered a genuine quote.

The original of this striking verse is found in the Magandiya Suta in the Sutta Nipata, which is generally held to be one of the oldest collection of texts in the Pali canon.

Bhikkhu Thanissaro translates this verse as:

“Those who grasp at perceptions and views
go about butting their heads in the world.”

Fausböll, a 19th century pioneer translator, has:

“But those who grasped after marks and philosophical views, they wander about in the world annoying people.”

Suttas.net has:

“Those attached to the notion ‘I am’ and to views
Roam the world offending people.”*

The original Pali is:

Saññaca diṭṭhiñca ye aggahesuṃ
Te ghaṭṭayantā vicaranti loketi.

My rendition would be:

Those who cling to perceptions (saññā) and views (diṭṭhi)
Wander (vicarati) the world offending (ghaṭṭeti) people.

[Added later: Bhikkhu Varado’s translation, which I just discovered, is almost identical to mine: “Those attached to perception and views / roam the world offending people.”]

So this colorful little gem has strong canonical roots. The form of this quote, “People with opinions just go around bothering each other,” seems to be a minor variant of something from A Path With Heart, a 1993 book by Jack Kornfield: “People with opinions just go around bothering one another” (page 50). What’s missing here compared to the Pali is that in the original it’s “clinging” to views and perceptions that’s the cause of conflict, while Jack merely has “opinions.” But opinions aren’t, in popular parlance, opinions unless they’re views that are clung to, so the difference seems minimal. Still, in the graphic above I’ve included the “clinging.”

The Buddha in fact regarded himself as being free of opinions, and saw opinions as bonds and shackles:

“And how is there the bond of opinions? Here, monks, someone does not understand as it really is the arising, the subsiding, the sweetness, the wretchedness, and the leaving behind of opinions. For one not understanding as it really is the arising, the subsiding, the sweetness, the wretchedness, and the leaving behind of modes of opinion; who, with respect to opinion, is obsessed with passion for opinion, delight in opinion, affection for opinion, intoxication with opinion, thirst for opinion, fever for opinion, attachment to opinion, craving for opinion: this, monks, is called ‘the bond of opinion’. Thus the bond of sensual pleasure, the bond of being, and the bond of opinion.”


* The translator notes that “I am” is not in the quotation, but that its inclusion is warranted by material nearby. That’s just how Pali rolls, bitches.

“If anything is worth doing, do it with all your heart.”

When I first saw this quote on Twitter, my suspicious were aroused. It just seemed too neat and “literary” to be a genuine Buddha quote. But having researched it I’ve concluded that it’s a translation that’s just close enough to the original to be considered genuine.

“If anything is worth doing, do it with all your heart.”

It’s from Eknath Easwaran’s translation of the Dhammapada, which is generally held in high regard, although I confess I haven’t read it. This particular quote is part of verse 313, from the chapter on “Hell.”

Here are some variant translations:

  • If anything is to be done, let one do it with sustained vigor. (Buddharakkhita)
  • If something’s to be done, then work at it firmly. (Thanissaro)
  • If aught should be done, let one do it. Let one promote it steadily.(Narada Thera)
  • If you have something to do, attack it vigorously. (Sangharakshita)

The Pāli is Kayirā ce kayirāthenaṃ daḷhamenaṃ parakkame, which is very literally “If something is to be done, one should do it; one should undertake it firmly.”

Eknath’s “with all your heart” is to my mind a bit of a stretch, but it does idiomatically cover the same territory as “do it firmly.” So this is one of these times when my instincts were slightly off.