“The moment you know how your suffering came to be, you are already on the path of release from it.”

This quote most often seems to be in the form “The moment you know how your suffering came to be, you are already on the path of release from it,” although it’s also found as “If you already see the nature of your suffering, how it has come to be, you are already on your way to liberation.”

In some sources a reference SN II 47 is given. This refers to the Pali Text Society numbering system. “II” refers to the second volume and “47” to the 47th page (in the Pali version of the PTS edition).

This would correspond to SN 12.31, which you can read here: https://suttacentral.net/en/sn12.31

This sutta includes the following:

Venerable sir, one sees as it really is with correct wisdom: ‘This has come to be.’ Having seen as it really is with correct wisdom: ‘This has come to be,’ one is practising for the purpose of revulsion towards what has come to be, for its fading away and cessation. One sees as it really is with correct wisdom: ‘Its origination occurs with that as nutriment.’ Having seen as it really is with correct wisdom: ‘Its origination occurs with that as nutriment, ’ one is practising for the purpose of revulsion towards its origination through nutriment, for its fading away and cessation.

(Technically this is in SN II 48, but the confusion is understandable since the sutta runs over onto a new page.)

In a talk by Thich Nhat Hanh on August 4th, 1996 in Plum Village, France. we find the following:

How that suffering has come to be, that is the second truth. That is about the nature of your suffering. If you already see the nature of your suffering, how it has come to be, you are already on your way to liberation. That is a sentence uttered by the Buddha. Dear friends, if you look into the nature of your suffering, and if you see already what kind of nutriment that has brought about that suffering, you are already on the path of liberation; because everything needs food to grow, to be there, including your suffering. So if you look into your suffering, and if you can see how that has come to be, what kind of food you have fed it so that it is now there as a hard fact, then you are already on the way of liberation, because you have already seen a path of liberation. So the nature of your suffering is the cause of your suffering, the nutriment, the food that you have used in order to feed your suffering.

This seems to be a paraphrase of the sutta above. However the words quoted from the sutta are from the Buddha’s disciple Sariputta, not from the Buddha himself, as Thich Nhat Hanh mistakenly says.

In a later book by Thich Nhat Hanh, “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, we read:

The Buddha said, “The moment you know how your suffering came to be, you are already on the path of release from it.” [Page 45]

This seems to be a condensation of the more expansive version given in the talk, probably created by one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s editors. It’s not uncommon for someone (in this case Thich Nhat Hanh) to summarize a teaching (“The Buddha said that…”), and for someone else (in this case an editor or ghost-writer) to take this to be a direct quote (“The Buddha said…”) and to then pass it on in that form. That seems to be what’s happened here.

So to summarize: this isn’t a quote from the Buddha. It seems to be a paraphrase of a teaching given by Sariputta, the Buddha’s disciple. The paraphrase itself seems to have been created by Thich Hnat Hanh and one of his editors or ghost-writers.

“Life has no meaning in itself but it is itself an opportunity to make it meaningful.”

Pema Yangchen passed this one on to me today, having spotted it on Facebook.

Once a man asked to Buddha “What is the meaning of life?” Buddha simply exclaimed “Life has no meaning in itself but it is itself an opportunity to make it meaningful.”

It’s completely bogus of course. There’s certainly nothing in the Pali canon where the Buddha talks about the “meaning of life,” “the secret of existence,” etc.

The phrase, “the meaning of life,” is actually quite modern, at least in English. Using Google Books I haven’t found any instances of that expression before the mid-1800s. In a journal called “The National Preacher and Village Pulpit,” there’s the following passage in an essay on “Christian Perfection,” by an Amherst professor, the Rev. J. H. Seelye:

[T]he most literal, and perhaps also the most characteristic meaning of life, is an inner energy which is. constantly passing onward and reaching toward an end or consummation.

In an 1853 book, “Hopes and helps for the young of both sexes,” by George Sumner Weaver, we can read:

No youth who has learned the meaning of life is ambitious to fill the place of such people [whose lives lack an object]. Are you, my reader? But let us ask, what is the purpose of life? We answer, it is the formation of a genuine character.

All the earliest references to the “meaning of life” come from a Christian context, at a time when Christianity was emphasizing the development of character.

This makes this quote rather ironic: what does it say about someone’s character that they think it’s acceptable to fabricate a quote and put it in the mouth of the Buddha? I’ve argued that there’s a case for doing this in the context of dramatizing the Dharma, as when a teacher is recounting a story from the Buddhist tradition. But in such cases the words put in the Buddha’s mouth are paraphrases of things he did, according to the scriptures, actually say. In the case of “Life has no meaning in itself but it is itself an opportunity to make it meaningful,” there’s no such justification.

As for the origins of this quote: I don’t know, but strongly suspect that this is an adaptation of something Osho (formerly the Bhagwan Shree Rajnesh) said: “Life has no meaning in itself, you have to bring meaning into it.” (“Dang Dang Doko Dang: The Sound of the Empty Drum.”)

“You stand at the crossroads of the path of love and the path of fear. Which do you choose to follow?”

This one was passed on to me by a reader:

“You stand at the crossroads of the path of love and the path of fear. Which do you choose to follow?”

He’d come across it in a book by Sarah Brewer, called “Relaxation – Exercises and Inspirations for Well-Being.” So far that’s the only place I’ve been able to find the quote as well. I haven’t found even any close variations on it, either in books or on the web.

This is peculiar, since these fake quotes often spread like wildfire, especially when they’re pithy and eloquent, like this one. I can only imagine that Brewer’s book wasn’t widely read!

Sarah Brewer may have taken or adapted this from some other source which hasn’t yet appeared online, or she may simply have made it up.

The basic premise of there being choices between two modes of being is deeply Buddhist, although a duality of love and fear isn’t a model that the Buddha taught, to be best of my knowledge.

A good example of the Buddha recognizing bimodal choices is found in the Dvedhavitakka Sutta, where he reflects on his discovery that on the one hand, thoughts imbued with sensual desire, ill will, and harmfulness led to the affliction of self and other, and to confusion and emotional disturbance, while on the other hand thoughts imbued with renunciation, non–ill will, and non-harmfulness did not lead to affliction of self and other, and instead led to discernment, a lack of emotional turbulence, and Awakening.

More succinctly, there are a series of paired verses in the first chapter of the Dhammapada, illustrating that we have choices in each moment that affect the future course of our lives, including our future well-being.

Talking of the Dhammapada, there are a few verses that show certain forms of love not as the opposite but as the cause of fear! For example:

212. From endearment springs grief, from endearment springs fear. For one who is wholly free from endearment there is no grief, whence then fear?

213. From affection springs grief, from affection springs fear. For one who is wholly free from affection there is no grief, whence then fear?

What Brewer means by “love” isn’t entirely clear, but we could take it to be metta, or lovingkindness. “Endearment” could be understood as “liking,” which leads to fear because when we like someone or something there’s inevitably attachment, and we fear separation. “Affection” could be read as “conditional love,” where again we fear change in the object of our attention, and are quick to shift to ill will or even hatred if things don’t go the way we want them to go.

Metta, on the other hand, is an attitude of well-wishing that transcends and doesn’t rely on “liking” and which don’t require the object of our attention to do certain things or to be a certain way. Because there’s no attachment in metta, it doesn’t lead to fear.

“We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.”

“We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.” You may well instantly recognize these three sentences as the opening of the Dhammapada, and you may wonder what could possibly be wrong with them. Isn’t this just what the Buddha taught? Didn’t the Buddha teach that the world is an illusion? Didn’t the Buddha say things like “We become what we think?”

Well, let’s step back for a moment and look at what the first line of the Dhammapada actually says. In Pali that line is Manopubbaṅgamā dhammā manoseṭṭhā manomayā. I’d translate this as “All experiences (dhammā) are preceded by mind (manopubbaṅgamā), having mind as their master (manoseṭṭhā) created by mind (manomayā).” The only part of this translation likely to be contentious is the word dhamma, (dhammā is the nominative plural), which can have many meanings, including “condition,” “moral quality,” “law,” “practice,” or “teaching.” So rich in meaning is this word that its entry in the Pali Text Society’s dictionary runs to several pages. In this context dhamma doesn’t mean the Buddha’s teachings, but refers to mental factors. Dhammā in the context of these verses has variously been translated as “mental states,” “mental phenomena,” and simply as “phenomena.” I like the word “experiences” because it’s more, well, experiential.

Since the first two verses of the Dhammapada discuss how suffering (dukkha) arises from an impure mins and joy (sukha) from a pure mind, it makes sense to assume that dhammā here refers to those mental states, or to mental states more generally. The essential message is that the qualities of our mind determine whether or not we suffer. There’s nothing in the Pali original that mentions “thoughts” or “the world” at all, never mind that that we are what we think, or that our thoughts create the world.

This particular translation is from a well-loved version of the Dhammapada, by Thomas Byrom. According to his US publisher, Shambhala, Byrom was an Englishman who taught history and literature at Harvard, and Old English, Middle English, and Victorian and modern literature at Oxford. There’s no mention of his having taught or studied Pali, which may explain the poetic, but very non-literal nature of his Dhammapada. it may also explain why the publisher calls Byrom’s version a “rendering” rather than a translation.

Byrom’s religious affiliations seem to have colored his rendering of the Buddha’s words. He was a Hindu, of the non-dualist Advaita Vedanta persuasion, and spent the last years of his life in an ashram in California. Of course a Hindu can faithfully translate a Buddhist text or a Buddhist a HIndu text, but in this case it’s hard to conclude that Byrom, for whatever reason, was moved to present Buddhist teachings as if they were Hindu. Although the Dhammapada doesn’t say that we are what we think, or that we’re created by our thoughts, the Ashtavakragita, which Byrom translated (and perhaps didn’t just “render”) toward the end of his life, says “You are what you think” (1:11). Although the Dhammapada doesn’t say that the world is created by our thoughts, the Ashtavakragita says “All creation, streaming out of the Self, Is only the Self” (2:4), and “When the world arises in me, It is just an illusion” (2:9).

But didn’t the Buddha himself teach that the world is an illusion? I’m sure some Buddhists believe he did, and the existence of Hindu-Buddhist hybrid texts like Byrom’s Dhammapada is no doubt one reason they do. But while the Buddha said that we have delusion (moha) about the nature of the world, and that we have cognitive distortions (vipallasas) he did not say that the world was an illusion, or māyā — an important term in Hunduism, which is found in the Pali scriptures but only to mean something like “deceit,” “fraud,” “hypocrisy,” etc. He didn’t deny the existence of the world, although he did point out that we make gross errors of interpretation regarding the nature of the world, seeing permanence where there is only change, seeing sources of suffering as sources of joy, and believing there is a separate and permanent self when no such entity does or can exist.

Nor did the Buddha teach the notion that we are what we think. He did say, “Whatever a monk keeps pursuing with his thinking and pondering, that becomes the inclination of his awareness,” although it’s clear from the context that he meant simply that indulging in certain kinds of thought — for example sensuous thought — the mind is shaped by that habit. If there was anything that the Buddha thought shaped us on a more profound level, if was not thought, but kamma, or intentional action, which he said we are “born of.”

I’m all for poetry, and Byrom’s Dhammapada is certainly poetic. But for a more poetic version that’s more faithful to the original, I’d suggest that by Gil Fronsdal, which makes no attempt to mold the Buddha’s teaching into a Hindu form.

This article was originally published in Tricycle magazine.

“Ambition is like love, impatient both of delays and rivals.”

“Ambition is like love, impatient both of delays and rivals.”

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 11.01.42 PMI spotted this on a quotes site, and was immediately certain that it wasn’t from the Buddha. Only someone completely unfamiliar with the Buddha’s mode of expression would entertain the notion that it was one of his sayings. It sounds far too literary and bon mot-ish.

It took about two minutes to establish for certain that it was from a 1641 play, The Sophy, by the Anglo-Irish poet and courtier, Sir John Denham.

I was rather surprised to see this on the blog of the well-known author, Paulo Coelho, along with a number of other Fake Buddha Quotes.

Here’s a couple of things the Buddha did say about ambition:

“Let both laymen and monks think that it was done by me. In every work, great and small, let them follow me” — such is the ambition of the fool; thus his desire and pride increase. [Dhammapada, verse 74]

To be of noble birth, with vast ambition and of slender means, and to crave for rulership — this is a cause of one’s downfall. [Sutta Nipata]

“When you like a flower, you just pluck it. But when you love a flower, you water it daily.”


Ugh. In investigating this quote, kindly passed on to me by one of my meditation students, I delved into an entire subculture devoted to saccharine quotes and trite parables, often rife with typos, poor grammar, and the kinds of abbreviations teenagers use in text messages.

This particular one turned up on a Facebook page called “Buddhism: Being truly human.”

What is the difference between “I like you” [and] “I love you”? Beautifully answered by Buddha. Buddha’s answer was so simple. When you like a flower, you just pluck it. But when you love a flower, you water it daily.

It’s also seen as:

When you like a flower, you just pluck it. But when you love a flower , you water it daily…..One who understand this, understand life….
— Buddha

Sometimes it’s not the Buddha to whom the quote is attributed, and the words are presented as an exchange between an unnamed student and master. Some of the earliest versions I’ve found present this, rather absurdly, as a conversation between Alexander the Great and Socrates:

Alexander the Great:
“Sir what’s the difference between “like” and “love”?

Socrates’s answer was a masterpiece:
“When you like a flower, you just pluck it.
But when you love a flower, you water it daily..!

The One, who understand this, understands Life…

Socrates died in 399 BCE, while Alexander was born in 356 BCE. Any conversation they had would have had to be posthumous. (Although Socrates was the mentor of Plato who was the mentor of Aristotle, who was the tutor of Alexander, so there was a connection.)

The quote itself only seems to go back to 2013 or so. Google’s not very good at helping us search by date, unfortunately.

I’m grateful to this quotation, however fake it is. The Buddha talked about “affection” as something to be avoided. The term he used is “pema.” Metta, however, which is love, lovingkindness, or just plain kindness, is to be encouraged. I wrote about this in the context of another (genuine) quotation.

The reason for my gratitude is that I’d never really thought of pema in terms of “liking.” It’s not quite right as a translation, but I think that the difference between liking and loving does point to something that lies in the distinction between pema and metta. At the very least the contrast provides a useful analogy.

The source of our fake quote? I’ve no idea. Presumably it started as a nice little message to be passed around on the web, and then some bright spark thought it would be a good idea to add the Buddha’s name.

“All worldlings are mad.”

The Buddha said “All worldlings are mad.” Except he didn’t. This quote is found in a number of publications, including an essay in “Collected Wheel Publications Volume XXVIII,” and in Sangharakshita’s “A Stream of Stars.” I’ve even quoted it myself. Mea culpa!

Sometimes this is expanded to “Human stupidity is boundless. All worldlings are mad,” which strikes me as harsh, even for one of the Buddha’s bad days. (And I do think he had bad days.)

Yet this expression isn’t found in the Pali canon. Another “Wheel Publication (Number 45/46) has a helpful explanatory note, correcting this misattribution as if had appeared in one of their essays, and pointing out that Buddhaghosa’s Visuddhimagga says “The worldling is like a madman” (ummattako viya hi puthujjano). This expression is found in a number of other commentarial works as well.

A comment comment on Shravasti Dhammika’s site claims that the “All worldlings are mad” quote comes from the letters of the English monk Ñāṇavīra Thera, who was quoting from memory the words of Buddhaghosa. The commenter offers a link to a now defunct Buddhist forum where, apparently, there was an in-depth overview of the quote. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to access this discussion on archive.org, which is a wonderful resource for retrieving information from deceased websites. (It was in fact from there that I was able to find the material to reconstruct this site after it was destroyed by hackers a few weeks ago.) It seems that archive.org is undergoing maintenance at the moment, so I’ll revisit that source again.

The term “worldling” is a translation of “puthujjana,” which simply refers to anyone who isn’t awakened. It’s literally the “many (puthu) folk (jana).” The manyfolk are under the sway of various mental derangements, or as we would say these days, “cognitive distortions.” These are called the four “vipallasas” (or viparyasas in Sanskrit).

The four vipallasas (classically found here) are thinking that impermanent things are permanent, that sources of suffering are sources of pleasure, that things that lack selfhood have selfhood, and that things that are beautiful or wholesome are in fact ugly or unwholesome. In a sense, the manyfolk are indeed under the grip of powerful cognitive distortions amounting to a kind of insanity, but the Buddha certainly doesn’t seem to have said that we are mad.

Even Buddhaghosa doesn’t quite say that worldlings are mad, just that the worldling is like a madman. A simile is a far cry from a statement of fact.

“The no-mind not-thinks no-thoughts about no-things.”

Someone asked me about this rather Zen-ish saying yesterday, which has been ascribed to the Buddha in several books going back to the 1980s, as well as more recently in the usual social media channels.

This seems to be an adaptation of something written by Aldous Huxley, and found in his “Complete Essays: 1939-1956,” page 206.

In Zen the virgin consciousness was called Wu-nien or Wuh-sin—nomind or no-thought. “Taking hold of the not-thought which lies in thought,” says Hakuin in his Song of Meditation, “they (the men of insight) hear in every act they perform the voice of truth.” No-thought not-thinks about the world in terms of no-things. “Seeing into no-thingness,” says Shen-hui, “this is true seeing and eternal seeing.” Words and notions are convenient, are indeed indispensable; for our humanity depends upon their use. The virgin not-thinker makes use of words and notions; but he is careful not to take them too seriously, he never permits them to re-create the world of immediate experience in their drearily human image, he is on his guard…

As you can see, the words are not presented as a quotation, let alone attributed to the Buddha. Huxley’s version is rather simpler: “No-thought not-thinks about the world in terms of no-things.” It seems that somewhere along the line someone thought that this wasn’t obscure enough, and converted the expression to “The no-mind not-thinks no-thoughts about no-things.”

This kind of statement is very Zen. In fact in the Platform Sutra, we read something that may have been the prototype of Huxley’s statement:

Good friends, in this teaching of mine, from ancient times up to the present, all have set up no-thought [munen] as the main doctrine, non-form [musō] as the substance, and non-abiding [mujū] as the basis. Non-form is to be separated from form even when associated with form. No-thought is not to think even when involved in thought. Non-abiding is the original nature of man.

Despite being called a “sutra,” The Platform Sutra doesn’t claim to be the word of the Buddha, but is the work of Hui Neng, the Sixth Zen Patriarch.

25 Mostly Fake Buddha Quotes That May or May Not Change Your Life


An undated blog post by Steven Bancarz, the creator of a website called ‘Spirit Science and Metaphysics’ purports to offer “25 Quotes From Buddha That Will Change Your Life.” Unfortunately, many of the 25 are Fake Buddha Quotes. But which ones?

So far Bancarz’s blog post has been liked or shared over half a million times on Facebook. That means it’s been read by roughly half as many people as visited this entire site last year. Oy, oy, oy! As Mark Twain never said, “A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.”

Let’s take a look at the quotes:

1) “However many holy words you read, however many you speak, what good will they do you if you do not act on upon them?”

This one’s more-or-less genuine. Not a bad start for Mr. Bancarz! Go, Steve!

2) “The way is not in the sky. The way is in the heart.”

Damn. This one is totally Fake.

3) “A jug fills drop by drop.”

This one is genuine, although truncated. Not bad going so far! Can Steve keep it up?

4) “Every human being is the author of his own health or disease.”

Sorry, no!

5) “To understand everything is to forgive everything.”

Oh, no! That one’s fake too!

6) “Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace.”

Whew! This one’s genuine!

Keep going. There’s more on the other side of this cartoon!

Enlightenment is so close! All you have to do is read the right quotes on Facebook!
Enlightenment is so close! All you have to do is read the right quotes on Facebook!

7) “Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.”

Oops! That one’s fake as well!!

8) “No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”

Oh, so close! The middle sentence is kind of fake.

9) “In a controversy the instant we feel anger we have already ceased striving for the truth, and have begun striving for ourselves.”

Oh, dear!

10) “In the sky, there is no distinction of east and west; people create distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true.”

Nope, not the Buddha.

11) “Those who are free of resentful thoughts surely find peace.”

This is more of a paraphrase than a quote.

12) “Hatred does not cease through hatred at any time. Hatred ceases through love. This is an unalterable law.”

Yes! A genuine quote from the Buddha. The original doesn’t mention “love,” but that’s kind of OK.

13) “There has to be evil so that good can prove its purity above it.”

This one’s a stinker!

14) “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.”

Yay! Another genuine quote! Yay!

15) “I never see what has been done; I only see what remains to be done.”

Ooooo! Not even close. I bet you can’t guess who actually wrote this.

16) “The mind is everything. What you think you become.”

You’re killing me here!

17) “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.”

Oh, boy. Mr. Bancarz isn’t doing very well, is he?

If you need a rest from reading, check out the Facebook Buddha video below.

18) “We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.”

This one is problematic in exactly the same way as “The mind is everything. What you think, you become,” above. In fact they’re the same freaking quote!

19) “Work out your own salvation. Do not depend on others.”

Nope. These words are a mangled version of a New Testament quotation, forced into a Buddhist context and then further mangled.

20) “Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.”


Have a donut. It'll help keep your energy up while you continue reading this article.
These donuts put the OM in “nom.”

21) “You cannot travel the path until you have become the path itself.”

Dear Buddha, no!

22) “You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.”

Punishment? I wonder what kind of rebirth you get for passing around Fake Buddha Quotes? ;).

23) “To conquer oneself is a greater task than conquering others.”

This one’s close to being a quotation, but it’s really a paraphrase.

24) “Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.”

It’s not a million miles off, but it’s another paraphrase rather than a quotation.

25) “Have compassion for all beings, rich and poor alike; each has their suffering. Some suffer too much, others too little.”

He’s on a roll, but can Mr. Bancarz end on a genuine quote? Can he? Can he? Oh, no! It’s a really, really terrible fake!

Does it matter?

An inspiring quote is inspiring whoever said it. That’s true. But if you believe that factual accuracy is unimportant, then I have to disagree with you. Truth is better than bullshit.

Falsely attributed quotes may be a small matter, but as Einstein said: “Whoever is careless with truth in small matters cannot be trusted in important affairs.”


So, what’s Mr. Bancarz’s final score? Of his 25 Buddha quotes, three are straight-up genuine, five are paraphrases or thereabouts, and fully 17 are bogus. Even awarded half marks for the paraphrases, he earns a grade of 22% — a solid F.

I think this confirms my long-held suspicion that many people are preferentially drawn to Fake Buddha Quotes. It’s unfortunate that those are the people whose blog posts get shared half a million times on Facebook.


Why not share this one instead!