“A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things that renew humanity.”

Marianne Marquez’ Why the Buddha Smiled — a book of photos accompanied by Buddha Quotes (many of them fake) — is the gift that keeps on giving, as far as this Fake-Buddha-Quote-ologist is concerned. Here’s one that immediately struck me as suspect:

Teach this triple truth to all: A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things that renew humanity.
(original here)

The language of “renewing humanity” is just way off, and “life of service and compassion” is too contemporary for this to be a canonical quotation.

One later source (2007) is a book called The Dead Guy Interviews, by Michael A. Stusser. The book is fiction: it’s imagined conversations with famous dead people. The quote is certainly more quotable than some other excerpts from what the Tathagata shared with Stusser, such as:

The Buddha: I have many devoted followers in Seattle.

and

The Buddha: I’m happy to be the icon for self-reflection

and

The Buddha: Now it is you who are kvetching like a Jewish bubbe.

What can be confusing about a book like Stusser’s is that it contains a compilation of things the Buddha actually said, things Stusser made up, and recycled Fake Buddha Quotes that he no doubt picked up on the web. I’m not sure if even I can always reliably tell the difference (references to Seattle, Yiddish, and Victoria’s Secret aside). Some people will assume real Buddha quotes are Stusser’s fictions, while others will take some of the fiction to be genuine quotations.

But where did Stusser get his quote from? It’s floating around on the internet, of course, but the earliest book source I’ve been able to find was Elaine Parke’s 2001 Join the Golden Rule Revolution, where the quote appears full-fledged. Where did she get it from? Sadly, I just don’t know. Google is unfortunately not very good at letting us search for sources on the web by date; the results are often impossible (such as a Facebook or Twitter post being time-stamped February, 2001, although neither of those services existed at that time).

Although this isn’t a quotation from the Pali canon, it’s clearly related to a canonical teaching called the four sangaha vatthuni. These are mentioned in a famous discourse called the Sigalovada Sutta, where the Buddha says

Generosity and kind words,
Conduct for others’ welfare,
Impartiality in all things [alternatively: “exemplification” of the good];
These are suitable everywhere.

These four winning ways make the world go round,
As the linchpin in a moving car.
If these in the world exist not,
Neither mother nor father will receive,
Respect and honor from their children.

The first two lines of this quotation correspond closely to “A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion” (these being the first three of the four sangaha vatthuni, or virtues promoting social harmony). But it’s a stretch to say that “things that renew humanity” is even a reasonable paraphrase of “These are suitable everywhere” or even of “These four winning ways make the world go round,” although the notion of revolving does suggest renewal, in the sense that each day is a new beginning.

Who added the “renew humanity” words? I’m afraid I just don’t know. Because that language is so far from the idiom the Buddha used, I can’t quite stretch to calling this quote “fakeish,” and have to declare it a Fake Buddha Quote, despite the fact that part of it is based on a scriptural source.

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2 thoughts on ““A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things that renew humanity.””

  1. Its “just” a modern phrasing, valued Upasaka:

    “These four winning ways make the world go round” is not different to “renew humanity”.

    You find the message also in Seasonable Gifts:

    In the proper season they give —
    those with discernment,
    responsive, free from stinginess.
    Having been given in proper season,
    with hearts inspired by the Noble Ones
    — straightened, Such —
    their offering bears an abundance.
    Those who rejoice in that gift
    or give assistance,
    they, too, have a share of the merit,
    and the offering isn’t depleted by that.
    So, with an unhesitant mind,
    one should give where the gift bears great fruit.
    Merit is what establishes
    living beings in the next life.

    renew humanity” is simply a synonym for “what establishes living beings in the next life” better rebirth or letting the world go around in best manner.

    So Atma would say its minimum “fakeish” (a horrible merely freakish word, maybe you like to call it “Quotes that needs further explaining” or something like that, there is actually no different in using a noun or adjective) if not next to Dhamma.

    1. You hold the record. I believe that’s 13 critical comments in a row, Johann. Perhaps you should find a site that you like more?

      Perhaps also you are unclear on the concept of what a quote is. A quotation is an accurate rendering of what someone said — not something that’s not even vaguely similar, but you can pretend it’s so if you try very hard. I mean, “renew humanity” is a synonym for “what establishes living beings in the next life”? That’s an enormous stretch. I’m literally laughing.

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