“In separateness lies the world’s great misery, in compassion lies the world’s true strength.”

Today, my skills as a Fake-Buddha-Quote-ologist were called upon once again. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it.

A Twitter friend asked me what I thought of this quote:

In seperateness [sic] lies the world’s great misery, in compassion lies the world’s true strength ~ Buddha

My gut response was that it stank. In my fairly extensive reading of the Pali canon (not to mention Mahayana Sutras) I don’t recall the Buddha ever talking about our “separateness.” It’s a popular topic of discourse in modern Buddhist writing (I’ve written about it myself in Living as a River) but the Buddha just didn’t use that language (or if he did, it’s not been recorded). He talked a lot about misery, but he talked of the origins of misery lying in greed, hatred, and delusion. Now I know you can interpret greed, hatred, and delusion in terms of separateness (again, I’ve done so) but the point is that the Buddha didn’t use that language.

And the Buddha just didn’t use language like “in compassion lies the world’s true strength.” The “world’s true strength”? I’m not even clear what that would mean, anyway. So my gut feelings tell me this is a genuine Fake Buddha Quote.

This one has murky origins, and the “quote has thickened” over the years, it would appear.

My first recourse in investigating such matters is Google Books. The first appearance I could find of “In separateness lies the world’s great misery” was in 1993, in Wayne Muller’s “Legacy of the Heart: The Spiritual Advantages of a Painful Childhood” (p. 155). But the second part of the quote is absent.

“In compassion lies true strength” (without “the world’s”) crops up first on page 108 of “Human Values and Abnormal Behavior: Readings in Abnormal Psychology,” by Walter D. Nunokawa: a book from 1965. But the Buddha isn’t mentioned. Of course it could be a complete coincidence that this phrase is similar to our Fake Buddha Quote. In fact I think it’s likely that it is a coincidence.

The full quote puts in an appearance in “Sorrow Mountain: The Journey of a Tibetan Warrior Nun,” by Ani Pachen and Adelaide Donnelley (2002), where Gyalsay Rinpoche is quoted as saying, “Remember the words of Buddha: ‘In separateness lies the world’s greatest misery, in compassion lies the world’s true strength’” (page 79). Here it’s “greatest” rather than “great” misery.

The version with “great misery” rather than “greatest” appears first in “Let It Begin with You: Your Personal World Peace Guidebook,” by Viki Hurst, which has a quotes section at the back. I think we can assume that Hurst was the originator of this version, although she may have picked it up from a magazine or some other publication that Google has not yet scanned. I’ve found seven books that appear to have copied Hurst’s misquotation of “Sorrow Mountain.” These things metastasize rapidly once they get into circulation, and Google currently lists more than 4,000 web sites that contain that quote, the majority of which attribute it to the Buddha.

It’s possible that Gyalsay Rinpoche in “Sorrow Mountain” is quoting a Tibetan source, but I think it’s more likely he’s simply teaching what he understands Buddhism to be, and putting words in the mouth of the Buddha.

At present, therefore, I see no evidence suggesting that this quotation is canonical, and I’m reasonably confident in declaring it a Fake Buddha Quote.

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