“The moment we are enlightened within, we go beyond the voidness of a world confronting us.”

Zentrepreneurism By Allan Holender

This one was brought to my attention back in January of this year, but unfortunately I was busy with other things and didn’t take the time to write it up. However, having dealt yesterday with a quote that purported to be from the Buddha but was actually from a work attributed to Seng-Ts’an (Jianzhi Sengcan), I was prompted to look again — for Seng-Ts’an has returned!

John Foley, who originally passed this one on to me, commented that he wasn’t even sure if it made sense:

The moment we are enlightened within, we go beyond the voidness of a world confronting us.

This isn’t of course the Buddha, although you’ll find it cited as such, for example on Beliefnet, or in the horribly titled “Zentrepreneurism” by Allan Holender (2006). (In passing, may I propose the term “crapmanteau word” for portmanteau words that are torturously hideous?)

This quote is actually from the 20th well-known century Japanese scholar DT Suzuki’s translation of Seng-Ts’an’s “On Believing in Mind” (Hsin-Hsin Ming). You’ll find it in his 1935 “Manual of Zen Buddhism,” page 78.

Suzuki’s translation is rather quirky. It’s easily misunderstood as being about, say, the shallowness of contemporary life. Here’s an alternative, from Richard B. Clarke’s 1973 translation, found in his “Hsin-Hsin Ming: Verses on the Faith-Mind”:

To awaken even for a moment
is to go beyond appearance and emptiness.

This terminology is much more traditionally Buddhist—or at least Mahayana Buddhist.

“Appearance” is how things appear to the unawakened mind: separate, apparently real, and having some kind of essence. “Emptiness” is shunyata,” which here means “lacking in self-nature.” In other words, although we may think of objects (ourselves included) as really existing, separate from the world surrounding them, and as having some kind of essence that is their real nature, they’re not like that at all. All things are dependently arisen on the basis of other things. Nothing is separate. At least that’s the Mahayana take.

In the Pali scriptures (one of the sets of writings closest in time and form to the Buddha’s original oral teachings), the Buddha talks about emptiness as well. Here’s one lovely little sutta, the Suñña (“Empty”) Sutta, which — if you cut out the repetition and condense it a little, sounds not unlike the Heart Sutra:

Then Ven. Ananda went to the Blessed One and on arrival, having bowed down to him, sat to one side. As he was sitting there he said to the Blessed One, “It is said that the world is empty, the world is empty, lord. In what respect is it said that the world is empty?”

“Insofar as it is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self: Thus it is said, Ananda, that the world is empty. And what is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self? The eye is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self. Forms… Eye-consciousness… Eye-contact is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self.

“The ear is empty…

“The nose is empty…

“The tongue is empty…

“The body is empty…

“The intellect is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self. Ideas… Intellect-consciousness… Intellect-contact is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self. Thus it is said that the world is empty.”

Compared to Seng-Ts’an, the Buddha’s saying something a bit different and more specific here: that none of the six sense objects (mind objects such as thoughts and memories being the sixth), their respective organs (mind again being the sixth), and the aspects of consciousness that are aware of them, are oneself. The Buddha was encouraging us not to define ourselves in any way. You are not what you’re aware of. You’re not what’s being aware. You’re not even the process of awareness. Trying to pin down what you are only leads to “self view,” and the Buddha said he saw no self view that would not lead to suffering. So, the message is, stop trying to define yourself or to identify anything as being yourself, and thus let go of your most fundamental mode of clinging.

In the Phena (“Foam”) Sutta, the Buddha takes each of the five khandhas, or “accumulations” that constitute the mechanism of experience, and says that each is empty. Here’s what he said about the khandha of form (rupa).

Monks, suppose that a large glob of foam were floating down this Ganges River, and a man with good eyesight were to see it, observe it, and appropriately examine it. To him — seeing it, observing it, and appropriately examining it — it would appear empty, void, without substance: for what substance would there be in a glob of foam? In the same way, a monk sees, observes, and appropriately examines any form that is past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near. To him — seeing it, observing it, and appropriately examining it — it would appear empty, void, without substance: for what substance would there be in form?

The other four khandhas — feelings, perceptions, volitional tendencies, and consciousness — are described using different images, but they’re treated identically.

This has a very similar feel to Seng-Ts’an’s statement (at least in the Clarke version), although Seng-Ts’an’s Mahayana perspective is that we need not just to see the emptiness that lies behind appearances, but to go beyond both appearance and emptiness. I don’t think this is something that the Buddha ever explicitly suggested, although perhaps it’s implied in his teaching.

Thanks again to John Foley for passing this one along.

“Don’t keep searching for the truth, just let go of your opinions.”


This quote, “Don’t keep searching for the truth, just let go of your opinions,” is often attributed to the Buddha, sometimes to “unknown,” and occasionally (and perhaps more accurately) to Seng-Ts’an, aka Sengcan, who died in 606.

Or at least it’s in a work, Hsin-Hsin Ming, that’s attributed to him, although he may not have written it. The first lines of this work are very well known:

The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences.
Let go of longing and aversion, and it reveals itself.
Make the smallest distinction, however, and you are as far from it as heaven is from earth.

The quote in question, or at least a variant of it, is found later on:

Do not search for the truth; only cease to cherish opinions.
Do not hold to dualistic views, avoid such habits carefully.
If there is even a trace of right and wrong, the mind is lost in confusion.

The “Don’t keep searching for the truth, just let go of your opinions” version is found in Jack Kornfield’s “Buddha’s Little Instruction Book.” Presumably it’s his paraphrase of Seng-Ts’an.

The Buddha in fact had a lot to say about letting go of (or not clinging to) opinions, although the term he used was ditthi, or view. In the Cula-Sihanada Sutta (the Shorter Discourse on the Lion’s Roar) he says:

…with the fading away of ignorance and the arising of true knowledge he no longer clings to sensual pleasures, no longer clings to views, no longer clings to rules and observances, no longer clings to a doctrine of self

In the Sallekha Sutta, he says:

Others will misapprehend according to their individual views, hold on to them tenaciously and not easily discard them; we shall not misapprehend according to individual views nor hold on to them tenaciously, but shall discard them with ease — thus effacement can be done.

Abandoning attachment to views is not something that’s done easily, or all at once. The Buddha repeatedly pointed out the need to renounce wrong (spiritually limiting) views and to embrace right (spiritually liberating) views. Only in this way can we reach non-view. In fact, one of the most famous similes in the Buddhist scriptures, found in the Alagaddupama Sutta, describes right view as being like a raft that helps us cross a river to get to the further shore—awakening. The raft is abandoned once its job is done, but without the raft of right view we have no way of making progress.

Living without views does not mean that one doesn’t have or express statements of fact. It’s simply indicating that the realized being does not need to speculate or have opinions about reality. She or he sees reality, and her or his statements are merely a description of what has been seen, engineered to help others see the same thing.

Thanks to Rob Myers for passing this one on.

“If we could understand a single flower we could understand the whole universe.”

This isn’t the Buddha, although many websites say it is. So far I haven’t found it in any books.

“If we could understand a single flower we could understand the whole universe” is very similar to another Fake Buddha Quote that I’ve documented, “If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.” That one’s from Jack Kornfield’s delightful “Buddha’s Little Instruction Book,” which is not a book of canonical quotes (as the name might suggest) but sayings that have been “distilled and adapted” for contemporary life.

Now that I’ve seen the two quotes side by side, I wonder if Jack distilled and adapted the “if we could understand a single flower we could understand the whole universe” quote.

Anyway, the quote I’m discussing here may well be an adaptation of something Borges wrote: “Tennyson said that if we could understand a single flower we would know who we are and what the world is” (“Jorge Luis Borges: A Personal Anthology,” page 136). This is so close to our suspect quote that I believe it is almost certainly the original template.

Borges’ reference is to Tennyson’s poem, “Flower in the Crannied Wall.”

Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower—but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.

The closest the Buddha said to this that I’m aware of is that the entire world can be understood within this fathom-long body. This is from the Rohitassa Sutta:

“I tell you, friend, that it is not possible by traveling to know or see or reach a far end of the world where one does not take birth, age, die, pass away, or reappear. But at the same time, I tell you that there is no making an end of suffering and distress without reaching the end of the cosmos. Yet it is just within this fathom-long body, endowed with perception and cognition, that I declare that there is the world, the origination of the world, the cessation of the world, and the path of practice leading to the cessation of the world.”

The word “world” here doesn’t refer to the world of atoms and subatomic particles and forces, and all it makes up. It refers to the world of our experience. (Jayarava has an article on this topic.) The Buddha referred to this “world of experience” as being “the all” (sabba) and said that there’s nothing we can know outside of that. He’s not saying that there’s no external reality, just that all we can ever know if our experience of whatever external reality there might be.

You could be forgiven for thinking that if the Buddha’s saying we can understand ourselves then we’d understand the whole world in the sense that we’d know in detail how a computer works (or how to cure cancer, or to travel faster than light). But that’s not what he’s saying. His point (as I understand it) is that in looking closely at our experience of the body and mind we’ll understand the arising and passing away of our perceptions, thoughts, and emotions, and through doing that we can liberate ourselves from craving, aversion, and delusion, as well as the suffering they bring.

The association of both these quotes with the Buddha may arise from a story in the Zen tradition (not found in the earlier scriptures) where the Buddha is sitting silently with his monks (and presumably nuns, although inevitably they are ignored), and instead of delivering a discourse he holds up a single flower. One disciple, Mahakashyapa, smiled, showing that he had understood the Buddha’s teaching. This led to Mahakashyapa becoming the Buddha’s heir, and the first patriarch of the Chan (later Zen) lineage. This story is, of course, completely ahistorical. apart from anything else, the Buddha specifically chose not appoint any successor. But spiritual traditions, when their authority is called into question, like to create validating myths. And the story very elegantly makes the point that spiritual awakening is not a matter of understanding words, but of seeing/experiencing in a particular way.

(Thanks to Doni W. for bringing this quote to my attention.)

“The past is already gone, the future is not yet here. There’s only one moment for you to live.”

I’m quite sure this quote, which was sent to me the other day, is fake: “The past is already gone, the future is not yet here. There’s only one moment for you to live.”

The Buddha talked a little about the past, present, and future, although not as much as you might assume, based on contemporary teachers’ emphasis on that theme. However he didn’t talk in this way: “There’s only one moment for you to live.” That’s far too metaphorical and poetic for the language of the Pali canon.

The scriptural model for the quote is likely the Bhaddekaratta Sutta, where the Buddha, in Thanissaro’s translation, says,

What is past is left behind.
The future is as yet unreached.
Whatever quality is present
you clearly see right there,
right there.

As you can see, the first two stanzas are in essence identical to our suspect quote, but while the last sentence emphasizes seeing what is arising in the present, it’s not saying that there’s only one moment for us to live. Yes, one could draw that conclusion from what is said, but that’s an interpretation, not a quotation.

I think the fake quote arises from a paraphrase by Thich Nhat Hanh. In talks he’s said things like “The Buddha said that the past is already gone, the future is not yet here; there is only one moment for you to live: that is the present moment” (1998).

This is clearly not a quote. Yet in later books, like 2008’s “Breathe, You Are Alive,” the quote starts “The Buddha said…” and is put in quotation marks.

The fault here may well be with Thich Nhat Hanh’s editors. When assistants take his talks, transcribe them, and edit them into books published under his own name, the difference between “the Buddha said that…” and “the Buddha said…” can get lost. This turns a paraphrase into a quote, or at least a “quote.” It’s an easy error to make.

“The secret of happiness lies in the mind’s release from worldly ties.”

12733579_969056473186994_4410220237074096210_nAn alert reader spotted this quote in the form of an illustration by Molly Hahn’s “Buddha Doodles”: “The secret of happiness lies in the mind’s release from worldly ties.” It struck him as being fake, and he was right.

The Buddha did of course talk about happiness, but not of a “secret of happiness.”

This quote seems to originate in an article in the British Buddhist Society’s journal, “The Middle Way,” from February 1974. Here’s the passage in question:

In the Anguttara Nikaya we learn that while staying in Alavi the Buddha was asked by Hatthaka the following very direct questions : ‘Is the Blessed One joyful and contented with his lot ? Does he live happily ?’ Not surprisingly the Buddha replied, ‘Yes dear friend I live happily. My life is filled with happiness’. ‘But how can this be sir’, Hatthaka persisted, ‘for your thin robes and this inadequate carpet of dry leaves cannot possibly protect you against the bitter cold of the long night and the inhospitality of the rough ground ? How can you really be happy?

‘I am nevertheless’, replied Gotama, ‘Do you imagine that happiness is only possible in a palace ?

Is a man certain of happiness if he lives in luxury with his devoted family in a fine house with honest and efficient servants ?’ ‘Yes sir, he is’.

‘Perhaps he may be … in the beginning. But is he not also liable to be uneasy about his possessions ?

Is not such a person subject to fear, envy, gossip and jealousy and can his happiness long endure in the face of all the conflicts that arise from his being forced to keep continual watch on his wealth ?’

‘That is certainly true sir. Such a man must indeed be subject to all kinds of anguish due to his riches. In spite of appearances I suppose he could not really be called a happy man’.

‘Friend’, concluded the Buddha, ‘though it may not appear so, judged by my material circumstances, I am free from sorrow and all the troubles of worldly life. I am not continually harassed with the tiresome details of social life. I have cut off at at the root the whole tree of sorrow and misery, and have eradicated all need for greed, malice and delusion and also those sins inseparable from selfishness. Therefore I am truly happy.

Remember my friend :

The secret of happiness lies
In mind’s release from worldly ties.

You’ll notice that the quote here is in the form of a rhyming couplet, and it’s “mind’s release” and not “the mind’s release.”

The original sutta is easily identifiable as the Hatthaka Sutta (AN 3.34).

In Thanissaro’s version, linked to above, the closing verse is:

Always, always,
he sleeps in ease:
the brahman totally unbound,
who doesn’t adhere
to sensual pleasures,
who’s without acquisitions
& cooled.
Having cut all ties
& subdued fear in the heart,
he sleeps in ease,
having reached peace
of awareness.

Bhikkhu Bodhi’s version is:

He always sleeps well,
the Brahman who has attained nibbana,
cooled off, without acquisitions,
not tainted by sensual pleasures.

Having cut off all attachments,
having removed anguish in the heart,
the peaceful one sleeps well,
having attained peace of mind.

So it appears that the author of the article (who’s name I can’t see, since I’m struggling with Google Books’ snippet view) was paraphrasing heavily. Perhaps he got the quote from somewhere, or perhaps he made it up in order to summarize the Buddha’s verse as a couplet. I’m certain it’s not genuine, though.

PS. Buddha Doodles has a book that just came out. Judging by their website I strongly suspect there are other Fake Buddha Quotes in the book. The illustrations are charming, however!

“On the long journey of human life, faith is the best of companions; it is the best refreshment on the journey; and it is the greatest property.”

This was passed on to me today by Bhikkhu Nyanatusita: “On the long journey of human life, faith is the best of companions; it is the best refreshment on the journey; and it is the greatest property.”

It is not a canonical quote. It’s from a Japanese publication called “The Teaching of Buddha” (also sometimes called “The Buddhist Bible”). It’s published by a charitable organization that leaves the books in hotel rooms to inspire travelers. I’ve heard that every hotel room in Japan has a copy.

It’s been in publication since at least the 1930s. My own copy is from 1985, and it’s the 115th edition! There are some scriptural passages in there, but mostly it’s a collection of non-scriptural writings explaining a Pure Land approach to the Dharma.

Many Fake Buddha Quotes have come from this book, no doubt because people assume that a book called “The Teaching of Buddha” is a compendium of the Buddha’s words. Or perhaps they see a quote with the attribution “The Teaching of Buddha” and assume it’s Buddhavacana.

I can’t imagine the Buddha referring to an individual human lifetime as a “long journey.” He seemed to emphasize the brevity of human life, not its length, except when talking about the round of samsara. I found a passage on Access to Insight that reads: “But it is impossible to find a realm in the round that I have not already passed through in this long journey (dīghena addhunā).”

In referring to an individual lifetime, the Buddha was more apt to say things like “Life is difficult and brief and bound up with suffering” (The Salla Sutta) or “faster than the speed of the devas who rush ahead of the sun and moon, the force of one’s life span comes to an end” (Dhanuggaha Sutta). Life is short! Practice!

“If we fail to look after others when they need help, who will look after us?”

This one is more or less legitimate. It’s from a well-known passage in the Vinaya (the book of monastic conduct) about a monk who was sick. In the Access to Insight translation it’s “If you don’t tend to one another, who then will tend to you?”

Your version has been changed from second person to first, but otherwise it’s accurate, and it would seem excessively nit-picking to call it fake.

What happens in the story is that the Buddha comes across a sick monk, lying in his own urine and excrement, who isn’t being taken care of by the other monks. He asks Ananda to go fetch some water, and then:

The Blessed One sprinkled water on the monk, and Ven. Ananda washed him off. Then — with the Blessed One taking the monk by the head, and Ven. Ananda taking him by the feet — they lifted him up and placed him on a bed.

Then the Blessed One, from this cause, because of this event, had the monks assembled and asked them: “Is there a sick monk in that dwelling over there?”

“Yes, O Blessed One, there is.”

“And what is his sickness?”

“He has dysentery, O Blessed One.”

“But does he have an attendant?”

“No, O Blessed One.”

“Then why don’t the monks attend to him?”

“He doesn’t do anything for the monks, lord, which is why they don’t attend to him.”

“Monks, you have no mother, you have no father, who might tend to you. If you don’t tend to one another, who then will tend to you?

Whoever would tend to me, should tend to the sick.

“Imagine that every person in the world is enlightened but you. They are all your teachers, each doing just the right things to help you learn perfect patience, perfect wisdom, perfect compassion.”

I’ve found this misattributed to the Buddha in a number of books:

Imagine that every person in the world is enlightened but you. They are all your teachers, each doing just the right things to help you learn perfect patience, perfect wisdom, perfect compassion.

This bears no resemblance to anything in the Buddhist scriptures. It turns out that it’s from page 83 of Jack Kornfield’s lovely “Buddha’s Little Instruction Book,” which is not (as the title might erroneously suggest) a collection of quotes from the Buddha but is instead a collection of contemporary sayings on practice, some of which are loosely based on scriptural sources, but which are mostly (as far as I can make out) of Jack’s own devising.

Geri Larkin, in her book “Stumbling Toward Enlightenment,” has an unacknowledged borrowing of the first part of the quote, and has paraphrased the rest:

Imagine that every person in the world is enlightened but you. Everyone is your teacher and they are doing just the right things to motivate you to learn whatever it is you need to know.

This quote can be found, presented as a Buddha quote, in books such as Larry Chang’s “Wisdom for the Soul,” Sylvia Lafair’s “Don’t Bring It to Work,” Angela Paul’s “It’s Hard Being Human,” and, most ironically, in Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat’s “Spiritual Literacy.”

It’s also frequently attributed to the Jesuit priest and psychotherapist, Anthony de Mello, although so far I’ve seen nothing to suggest that that attribution is correct.

“As rain falls equally on the just and unjust, do not burden your heart with judgments but rain your kindness equally upon all.”


This is widely quoted as being from the Buddha. It seems to be an amalgamation of a quote from the New Testament and a loose paraphrase of the Lotus Sutra, which is a Mahayana scripture.

The first part is Matthew 5:44-45.

“But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you, that ye may be the children of your Father who is in Heaven. For He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”

The rest sounds like a paraphrase from the “Lotus Sutra”:

“Know, Kashyapa! It is like unto a great cloud Rising above the world, Covering all things everywhere, A gracious cloud full of moisture; Lightning-flames flash and dazzle, Voice of thunder vibrates afar, Bringing joy and ease to all. The sun’s rays are veiled, And the earth is cooled; The cloud lowers and spreads As if it might be caught and gathered; Its rain everywhere equally Descends on all sides, Streaming and pouring unstinted, Permeating the land. On mountains, by rivers, in valleys, In hidden recesses, there grow The plants, trees, and herbs; Trees, both great and small, The shoots of the ripening grain, Grape vine and sugar cane. Fertilized are these by the rain And abundantly enriched; The dry ground is soaked, Herbs and trees flourish together. From the one water which Issued from that cloud, Plants, trees, thickets, forests, According to their need receive moisture. All the various trees, Lofty, medium, low, Each according to its size, Grows and develops Roots, stalks, branches, leaves, Blossoms and fruits in their brilliant colors; Wherever the one rain reaches, All become fresh and glossy. According as their bodies, forms And natures are great or small, So the enriching rain, Though it is one and the same, Yet makes each of them flourish.

In like manner also the Buddha Appears here in the world, Like unto a great cloud Universally covering all things; And having appeared in the world, He, for the sake of the living, Discriminates and proclaims The truth in regard to all laws. The Great Holy World-honored One, Among the gods and men And among the other beings, Proclaims abroad this word: “I am the Tathagata, The Most Honored among men; I appear in the world Like unto this great cloud, To pour enrichment on all Parched living beings, To free them from their misery To attain the joy of peace, Joy of the present world, And joy of Nirvana….

Upon all I ever look Everywhere impartially, Without distinction of persons, Or mind of love or hate. I have no predilections Nor any limitations; Ever to all beings I preach the Law equally; As I preach to one person, So I preach to all. Ever I proclaim the Law, Engaged in naught else; Going, coming, sitting, standing, Never am I weary of Pouring it copious on the world, Like the all-enriching rain. On honored and humble, high and low, Law-keepers and law-breakers, Those of perfect character, And those of imperfect, Orthodox and heterodox, Quick-witted and dull-witted, Equally I rain the Law-rain Unwearyingly.”

The idea of the Buddha of the Pali canon talking in terms of non-judgement is rather ludicrous. His emphasis was on terms of judging wisely rather than on not judging at all. For example here are Dhammapada verses 256-257:

To pass judgment hurriedly
doesn’t mean you’re a judge.
The wise one, weighing both
the right judgment & wrong,
judges others impartially —
unhurriedly, in line with the Dhamma,
guarding the Dhamma,
guarded by Dhamma,
he’s called a judge.