“It is not because no one sees the truth that it becomes an error.”

Michael, from France, asked me about the following quote this morning: “It is not because no one sees the truth that it becomes an error.”

It was immediately obvious that the quote wasn’t from the Buddha, but it also seemed to be peculiar in its wording and unclear what it was actually try to say.

A quick search on Google brought an attribution to the Buddha in the very first result, so there are certainly people who think this is from the Buddha. The majority of attributions on the web are to Gandhi, however. But that doesn’t mean much since, as you’re no doubt aware, there are many misattributed quotes floating around.

Interestingly, though, this quote does seem to go back to Gandhi, although this version is a little truncated and even garbled. The original, which is from a piece Gandhi wrote for the journal, “Young India,” in 1925, is as follows:

“An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it. Truth stands, even if there be no public support. It is self sustained.”

That makes much more sense.

I haven’t been able to check the original source to confirm the citation, but the full version of the quote is found in a collection of Gandhi’s writings called “All Men Are Brothers,” first published by UNESCO and the Columbia University Press in 1958, and edited by Krishna Kripalani.

We can be reasonably confident that this is a quote by Gandhi, and that it’s not something the Buddha said.

On the topic of taking something to be true simply because it’s repeated frequently, this is something the Buddha specifically warned us to avoid, in the famous Kalama Sutta: “Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor…”

The Kalama Sutta itself has been widely misquoted, and these misquotations have given rise to at least two Fake Buddha Quotes:

  • “…after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.” [Read more here]
  • “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” [Read more here]

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