“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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“Just as treasures are uncovered from the earth, so virtue appears from good deeds, and wisdom appears from a pure and peaceful mind. To walk safely through the maze of human life, one needs the light of wisdom and the guidance of virtue.”

quote-just-as-treasures-are-uncovered-from-the-earth-so-virtue-appears-from-good-deeds-and-wisdom-buddha-26653

This one immediately struck me as fake when I saw it on a list of “25 Quotes From Buddha That Will Change Your Life”:

“Just as treasures are uncovered from the earth, so virtue appears from good deeds, and wisdom appears from a pure and peaceful mind. To walk safely through the maze of human life, one needs the light of wisdom and the guidance of virtue.”

The first sentence seemed more or less OK, but did you know they had mazes 2,500 years ago in India? Neither did I. Of course it could have simply been an idiosyncratic translation, but my suspicions were aroused. And rightly so, as it happened, since this quotation is from a book called “The Teachings of Buddha,” by Bukkyō Dendō Kyōkai. Although this book, which is the Japanese equivalent of the Gideon’s Bible, does contain some scriptural translations, most of it consists of commentarial passages — teachings about Buddhism.

The quote in question comes from this passage:

Those who seek the path to enlightenment must first remove all egoistic pride and be humbly willing to accept the light of Buddha’s teachings. All the treasures of the world, all its gold and silver owners, are not to be compared with wisdom and virtue.

To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one’s family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one’s own mind. If a man can control his mind he can find the way to Enlightenment, and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come to him.

Just as treasures are uncovered from the earth, so virtue appears from good deeds, and wisdom appears from a pure and peaceful mind. To walk safely through the maze of human life, one needs the light of wisdom and the guidance of virtue.

The Buddha’s teachings, which tells [sic] people how to eliminate greed, anger and foolishness, is [sic] a good teaching and those who follow it attain the happiness of a good life. [page 80]

In context, you’ll see that the passage is clearly commentarial rather than scriptural.

This may be a case of the book title having caused confusion. When a quote is followed by the attribution “The Teachings of Buddha,” it’s easy for the casual reader to assume that the quote is the words of the Buddha. The same phenomenon has happened with Jack Kornfield’s charming work, “Buddha’s Little Instruction Book.” This, along with “The Teachings of Buddha,” is the source of a significant percentage of the Fake Buddha Quotes found on this site.

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“Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant with the weak and wrong. Sometime in your life, you will have been all of these.”

The following quotation proved very reluctant to divulge its source:

“Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant with the weak and wrong. Sometime in your life, you will have been all of these.”

I made efforts to track this down, but didn’t get any further than it being “attributed to” a journalist who worked for a now-defunct newspaper. Fortunately the redoubtable Garson O’Toole of the website, Quote Investigator, researched it early last year. The original source seems to have been a piece in “Parade Magazine,” which is a glossy supplement included with many American Sunday newspapers. Quote Investigator says that on December 30, 1973 the front page of Parade included the following:

Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the wrong. Sometime in life you will have been all of these.

The only difference between this and our Fake Buddha Quote is that the original has “tolerant of the weak and the wrong” rather than “tolerant with the weak and the wrong.”

The copyright indicated that “Walter Scott” was the author. This was the pen name of a celebrity gossip columnist called Lloyd Shearer, who wrote “Walter Scott’s Personality Parade” for Parade from 1958 to 1991.

Although fragments of the quotation had already been used by other writers, O’Toole “believes Shearer assembled the resolutions and should be credited with crafting the full expression.”

Although this is widely cited as being a Buddha quote, and is included as such in at least two books (“101 Selected Sayings of Buddha” and “A la Carte Buddhism: A Path to Lasting Happiness”), you’ll have gathered that this is obviously not from the Buddhist scriptures. The Buddha did indeed encourage compassion and empathy, but there’s nothing in the scriptures that’s remotely like this saying. The closest I can think of is this:

“There are these five facts that one should reflect on often, whether one is a woman or a man, lay or ordained. Which five?

“‘I am subject to aging, have not gone beyond aging.’ This is the first fact that one should reflect on often, whether one is a woman or a man, lay or ordained.

“‘I am subject to illness, have not gone beyond illness.’ …

“‘I am subject to death, have not gone beyond death.’ …

“‘I will grow different, separate from all that is dear and appealing to me.’ …

“‘I am the owner of my actions, heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my arbitrator. Whatever I do, for good or for evil, to that will I fall heir.’ …

“These are the five facts that one should reflect on often, whether one is a woman or a man, lay or ordained.”

The purpose here is less to do with compassion than it is to do with recalling the precariousness of life in an attempt to remind us to take responsibility for what we do in the brief time we have here. This passage in effect is saying, “Your time here is short: what are you going to do with it?”

The passage I’ve just quoted goes on to say that we should then reflect that we are not alone in being in this existential situation. Contemplating other beings in this way, especially after I’ve connected with the fragility of my own life does, I’ve found, lead to a sense of tenderness and compassion for others.

Another faint resonance is with the Buddha’s teaching of the brahmaviharas, or divine abidings. These four qualities embrace: kindness (metta), compassion (karuna), joyful appreciation of the skillful (mudita), and equanimity (upekkha). Lloyd Shearer’s words include tenderness for the young (which could be a way of talking about metta), compassion for the aged (which is karuna), sympathy for the striving (mudita is often talked of as “sympathetic joy,” and tolerance of the weak and wrong (tolerance being a component of upekkha). Perhaps this resemblance is coincidental, or even just in my head, but I can’t help wondering if Shearer had had some exposure to Buddhist teachings.

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A poor man asked the Buddha, “Why am I so poor?”

a poor man asked the buddha

I’ve seen this particular Fake Buddha Quote several times now:

A poor man asked the Buddha, “Why am I so poor?”
The Buddha said, “you do not learn to give.”
So the poor man said, “If I’m not having anything?”
Buddha said: “You have a few things,
The Face, which can give a smile;
Mouth: you can praise or comfort others;
The Heart: it can open up to others;
Eyes: who can look the other with the eyes of goodness;
Body: which can be used to help others.”

The broken English (“If I’m not having anything?”) suggests that it was written by someone in India. With a little literary polishing it would make a fine Hallmark card to give to your Buddhist friends on Wesak, but it’s not something that’s from the scriptures.

In fact this little fable seems to be brand new; I haven’t found any instances of it on the web earlier than 2013. So far it doesn’t seem to have made it into any books, although surely that’s just a matter of time, since I’ve seen this appearing in a post by the well-known Western Buddhist teacher Lama Surya Das, for example.

There’s nothing at all un-Buddhist about the advice given here, although I don’t recall the Buddha having described the practice of giving in such a way.

Dāna and cāga (giving, liberality, generosity) were practices that the Buddha strongly promoted, and that he saw as absolutely foundational to spiritual practice. Although he primarily talked of giving not only in terms of material things, but also in non-material ways, he seems to have conceived of the latter mainly in terms of the “gift of Dhamma” (i.e. the teachings):

There are these two kinds of gifts: a gift of material things and a gift of the Dhamma. Of the two, this is supreme: a gift of the Dhamma.

Householders were typically expected to give material things in order to support the monastics. Monastics were expected to give the Dhamma, in order to spiritually support the householders.

He never, as far as I know, talked of smiling, praise, etc., as forms of giving.

I know of one teaching, the Dhana Sutta (Discourse on Wealth), where other non-material forms of giving are at least implied:

These, monks, are seven forms of wealth.
The wealth that is confidence (saddhā),
the wealth that is virtue (sīla),
the wealth that is conscience (hiri) and remorse (ottapa),
the wealth of listening (suta), generosity (cāga),
with discernment (paññā) as the seventh form of wealth.

Since in the Buddha’s view wealth had to be shared in order that it be legitimized, there’s an implication that these seven things (the last of which would correspond to the giving of Dhamma) are forms of giving.

More explicitly, in the Abhisanda Sutta the Buddha described the practice of ethics (sīla, number 2 in our list above) as a form of giving, and where he referred to the five precepts as “five great gifts

There is the case where a disciple of the noble ones, abandoning the taking of life, abstains from taking life. In doing so, he gives freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless numbers of beings. In giving freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless numbers of beings, he gains a share in limitless freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, and freedom from oppression. This is the first gift…

(This formula is repeated for the other four precepts.)

According to Professor Damien Keown, in “A Dictionary of Buddhism,” the dāna-pāramitā, or perfection of generosity, is seen in the Mahāyāna as having three aspects:

  1. The giving of material things,
  2. The Giving of Security and freedom from fear,
  3. and the giving of the Dharma

If we take the sutta references I’ve given above, we can see that the Mahāyāna teaching is simply a systematization and clarification of what the Buddha taught.

So, once again, the message in our fake quotation is very Buddhist in content, but it’s not a scriptural quotation and isn’t a genuine quote from the Buddha. It’s more akin to the teaching technique of creative storytelling that I’ve discussed elsewhere. This can be a valid form of teaching, but in this instance we’re not even talking about a paraphrase of something the Buddha’s recorded as saying, but something entirely invented.

Although I’ve said that the version of the quote we’re discussing looks like it came from India, it may in turn be based on a parable told by the Taiwanese teacher Dharma Master Cheng Yen and published on the web in March 2013 as “How to Give, for the Person Who Has Nothing.” This shares many elements of our Fake Buddha Quote. For example it starts with the poor man asking the Buddha:

“I am destitute and have nothing. How am I to practice giving?”

and continues:

The Buddha smiled compassionately at the man and told him, “You don’t need to be rich to give. Giving doesn’t require money. Even in poverty, with no material possessions to your name, you can still give.”

“How is this possible? What is considered ‘giving’ then?” the man asked.

“Let me teach you seven ways you can give without needing any money at all,” the Buddha replied.

“The first way you can give is to smile…”

It’s rather a long passage so I’ll let you read the rest on the original site.

The first five (of seven) forms of giving that are listed here correspond exactly to the five in our suspect quote, so I’m reasonably confident it’s an adaptation and condensation of the teaching by Dharma Master Cheng Yen, unless of course both are based on a source that I haven’t yet tracked down.

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US Postal Service Puts Fake Maya Angelou Quote on a Stamp

10Angelou-superJumbo

Self-described “nerdy lexicographer” Erin McKean (for whom I have an intellectual crush) discusses today in the New York Times how the US Postal Service has included a misattributed quote on a stamp commemorating the poet and author Maya Angelou.

The quote, “A bird doesn’t sing because he has an answer, it sings because he has a song,” has obvious resonances with the title of Angelou’s “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings,” and it’s a line she herself quoted, but the actual author is the children’s book author Joan Walsh Anglund.

McKean discusses “Churchillian Drift,” which is the phenomenon by which a quotation becomes misattributed from a less to a more well-known source. That perfectly describes the process of formation of many of the Fake Buddha Quotes on this site.

The term comes from the tendency to ascribe witty political sayings to Winston Churchill.

“Churchillian Drift,” McKean says, “is about reinforcing expressions with the comforting bulwark of a familiar authority.”

She describes how one of her own coinages (which I have to say I don’t find particularly memorable) became associated with a fashion editor by the name of Diana Vreeland—apparently she’s famous—to the point where McKean has even been accused of plagiarizing “Vreeland’s” words.

The column’s well worth reading.

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Recommended site: Antiviral

A surprising amount of the stuff that’s passed around in social media is fake. Some of it should be obvious, like articles from the satirical publication The Onion that are read as if they were genuine news stories. Some are more difficult to spot, although many of them should by rights have social media users’ bullshit detectors registering 11 on a scale of one to ten.

To help us sift the gold dust from the coal dust is a relatively new feature on Gawker.com called “Antiviral.” That’s “anti–viral images, news stories, etc.” The blog doesn’t just debunk fake stories, but confirms real ones. The site describes its mission like this:

Occasionally, against all odds, you’ll see an interesting or even enjoyable picture on the Internet. But is it worth sharing, or just another Photoshop job that belongs in the digital trash heap? Check in here and find out if that viral photo deserves an enthusiastic “forward” or a pitiless “delete.”

It’s well worth dipping into as a reminder of how many attempts there are to dupe us, and how much gullibility exists in the world. Many people seem to have the motto “It must be true; I read it on the internet.”

Much of the most popular manipulation is political, and is designed to tap into our outrage. What else would explain the many people who believed this crappy photoshop of President Obama to be genuine?

can't breathe

A lot of it is designed to manipulate us through our sense of “cuteness.” Apparently the sight of this supposed “Madagascar monkey” was enough to completely disable the critical faculties of hundreds of thousands of people.

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There’s a lot of bull crap out there. When you see something that’s too good to be true: check. It usually is.

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“Who is your enemy? Mind is your enemy. Who is your friend? Mind is your friend.”

I spotted this one on Twitter, in one of Jack Kornfield’s tweets. And he’s used the quote in at least a couple of his books — The Wise Heart and A Lamp In the Darkness.

Who is your enemy? Mind is your enemy. Who is your friend? Mind is your friend. Learn the ways of the mind. Tend the mind with care.

I don’t know what it’s origins are, but I’m quite sure it’s not from the Buddhist scriptures. It’s very slightly reminiscent of two verses from the Dhammapada:

42. Whatever harm an enemy may do to an enemy, or a hater to a hater, an ill-directed mind inflicts on oneself a greater harm.

43. Neither mother, father, nor any other relative can do one greater good than one’s own well-directed mind.

These verses are saying, in effect, that the mind can do us worse harm than an enemy or give us greater benefits than, if not a friend, then at least a relative, although the Buddha doesn’t say here that the mind is either a friend or an enemy.

Apparently riffing off of these verses, Buddhadasa says:

The enemy of the misdirected mind is born in the mind and of the mind. With the mind well directed and fixed on dhamma [truth], the enemy is absent, and the friend is there instead.
[Me and Mine: Selected Essays of Bhikkhu Buddhadasa, page 139]

The closest I’ve found to the exact words Jack Kornfield quotes is actually from a Hindu source, the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 6, Verse 6):

For him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his mind will remain the greatest enemy.

Also reminiscent of our suspect quote is a conversation between King Pasenadi of Kosala, and the Buddha.

As he was sitting to one side, King Pasenadi Kosala said to the Blessed One: “Just now, lord, while I was alone in seclusion, this train of thought arose in my awareness: ‘Who are dear to themselves, and who are not dear to themselves?’ Then it occurred to me: ‘Those who engage in bodily misconduct, verbal misconduct, & mental misconduct are not dear to themselves. Even though they may say, “We are dear to ourselves,” still they aren’t dear to themselves. Why is that? Of their own accord, they act toward themselves as an enemy would act toward an enemy; thus they aren’t dear to themselves. But those who engage in good bodily conduct, good verbal conduct, & good mental conduct are dear to themselves. Even though they may say, “We aren’t dear to ourselves,” still they are dear to themselves. Why is that? Of their own accord, they act toward themselves as a dear one would act toward a dear one; thus they are dear to themselves.'”

“That’s the way it is, great king! That’s the way it is! Those who engage in bodily misconduct, verbal misconduct, & mental misconduct are not dear to themselves. Even though they may say, ‘We are dear to ourselves,’ still they aren’t dear to themselves. Why is that? Of their own accord, they act toward themselves as an enemy would act toward an enemy; thus they aren’t dear to themselves. But those who engage in good bodily conduct, good verbal conduct, & good mental conduct are dear to themselves. Even though they may say, ‘We aren’t dear to ourselves,’ still they are dear to themselves. Why is that? Of their own accord, they act toward themselves as a dear one would act toward a dear one; thus they are dear to themselves.”

While the words “friend” and “enemy” don’t appear here, similar semantic ground is covered.

I find the conclusion to Pasenadi’s train of thought to be very interesting: that although we may say we hate ourselves we still tend to lavish attention on ourselves in the way we would toward a dear friend. We may say we hate ourselves, but we rarely take people we ate out to dine in restaurants or buy them wide-screen televisions…

Anyway, there’s nothing at all un-Buddhist about the quote in question — it just doesn’t seem to be something the Buddha said.

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