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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“Whoever is careless with truth in small matters cannot be trusted in important affairs.”

einstein quote

These days, when people tell me that it’s nitpicking to discuss whether quotes attributed to the Buddha actually come from the Buddhist scriptures, I often counter with this quote from Einstein:

“Whoever is careless with truth in small matters cannot be trusted in important affairs.”

Of course we could do with a Fake Einstein Quote website, but as it happens this one is genuine. It comes from the piece of writing he was engaged in at the time of his death.

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“It doesn’t matter who said it, as long as it’s inspiring.”

live_laugh_love_hitler2

One of the most common comments I receive from people who object to the notion of accurate citations is that it doesn’t matter who said a quote, as long as it’s inspiring.

So there should be no problem with the quote above, then?

This is from Matthew Inman, author of The Oatmeal cartoon, which I generally find hilarious. Of course I rarely take attributions on the web at face value, and so I dug into the origins of the quote. It doesn’t seem to have anything to do with Hitler at all, but is adapted from a prize-winning poem by Bessie Stanley (1879–1952). According to Wikipedia, Stanley wrote the poem in essay form in 1904. Arranged as a poem, it goes like this:

He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much;
Who has enjoyed the trust of pure women, the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children;
Who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
Who has never lacked appreciation of Earth’s beauty or failed to express it;
Who has left the world better than he found it,
Whether an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
Who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had;
Whose life was an inspiration;
Whose memory a benediction.

The phrase “lived well, laughed often, and loved much” was very quickly paraphrased as “live well, laugh often, love much. For example, in a speech given in Niagara Falls on June 23, 1908, Mr G. P. Conard, Secretary of the Association of Transportation and Car Account Officers, said:

Paraphrasing Stanley, these men have achieved, and are still achieving, the full measure of success, for they live well, laugh often, and love much; they gain the trust of noble men and women, and the love of little children….” etc., etc., etc.

I like what Ingram is going with his Fake Hitler Quote — lulling people with a “new agey” sort of message and then clobbering them over the head with the name “Hitler” to show them that attributions do in fact matter. No doubt however we’ll now see this quote circulating on the internet and appearing in books, incorrectly attributed.

One more point — if a quote’s source didn’t in fact matter then it’s not likely that people would keep attributing them to respected figures like Gandhi, Einstein, and the Buddha. It’s precisely because people do take quotes more seriously when they come from a well-known and respectable source that these misattributions arise.

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“What you think you create, what you feel you attract, what you imagine you become.”

What you think you create, what you feel you attract“What you think you create, what you feel you attract, what you imagine you become.”

This one is commonly attributed to the Buddha, although it’s very modern and law-of-attraction-y. It’s also found as “What you think you become, what you feel you attract, what you imagine you create.”

I haven’t been able to definitively find a source, but I believe it to have been written by Adele Basheer, who designs greetings cards for her company, Intrinsic.

According to her website, “While her personal mantra is the “what you think you create” message, Adele also feels that all it takes is believing…”

The Buddha, on the other hand, pointed out in the Ittha Sutta that if we want qualities like long life, beauty, happiness, status, or a good rebirth, there’s no point simply wishing for those things. Wishing positive things is fine, but we must also engage with the path of practice that leads to them.

He certainly wouldn’t agree with a statement like “all it takes is believing,” and in fact that’s a notion that he roundly ridiculed:

Suppose a man were to throw a large boulder into a deep lake of water, and a great crowd of people, gathering and congregating, would pray, praise, and circumambulate with their hands palm-to-palm over the heart [saying,] ‘Rise up, O boulder! Come floating up, O boulder! Come float to the shore, O boulder!’ What do you think: would that boulder — because of the prayers, praise, and circumambulation of that great crowd of people — rise up, come floating up, or come float to the shore?

I can imagine that discourse raising a few chuckles from the bhikkhus!

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“The greatest goodness is a peaceful mind. The greatest worth is self-mastery.”

atisha

This quote popped up twice today. I saw it first on Google Plus, and then it was mailed to me by a reader:

The greatest goodness is a peaceful mind.
The greatest worth is self-mastery.
The greatest patience is humility.
The greatest meditation is a mind that lets go.

The Universe is sending me a message!

This quote is very similar in form to verses like “Patience is the highest ascetic practice,” which is from the Dhammapada (verse 184), or “Health is the most precious gain and contentment the greatest wealth. A trustworthy person is the best kinsman, Nibbana the highest bliss,” which is also from the Dhammapada (verse 204).

It was also reminiscent of the Mangala Sutta, which contains verses such as:

Self-restraint, a holy and chaste life, the perception of the Noble Truths and the realisation of Nibbana — this is the greatest blessing.

A mind unruffled by the vagaries of fortune, from sorrow freed, from defilements cleansed, from fear liberated — this is the greatest blessing.

But I was doubtful that our suspect quote was actually from the Buddha. And indeed, they seem to come from Atiśa, an Indian teacher who lived from 980–1054 CE (a long time after the Buddha) and who taught in Sumatra and Tibet.

Here are the equivalent verses (along with some others) from Stephen Batchelor’s translation:

The highest nobility is in subduing your own mind.
The highest moral practice is a peaceful mind.
The highest patience is humility.
The highest effort is to abandon attachment to activities.
The highest meditation is the mind without pretension.
The highest wisdom is not to grasp anything as it appears.

These are from Collected Bodhi Leaves Volume IV: Numbers 91 to 121, but unfortunately Batchelor doesn’t say what the name of the original work is. Geshe Wangyal has a translation of these verses as well, in a book called The Door of Liberation: Essential Teachings of the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition but that version is not available on Google Books, and the Amazon “look inside the book” feature doesn’t include the relevant passage for comparison. Since our suspect quote is not identical to Batchelor’s verses, it may be that it’s from Wangyal’s translation. But perhaps it’s from another translation altogether.

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“Alégrate, porque todo lugar es aquí, y todo momento es ahora.”

This Spanish language Fake Buddha Quote (cita de Buda falsa?) was sent to me today. In English it would be “Rejoice, because every place is here and every moment is now.” In fact it may well be a translation from the English.

The earliest I’ve found is from Larry Dossey’s 1989 book, “Recovering the Soul: A Scientific and Spiritual Search” (page 221), where we have:

There are no distant places to go in a nonlocal world. Every place is here and every moment is now.

This lacks the “Rejoice, because…” which may have been added later, or perhaps the book’s version is an unacknowledged quotation. Or maybe this form of words is original to Dossey.

Even if the words are Dossey’s, however, the basic notion goes back much further.

In “A Series of Lessons in Gnani Yoga” by Yogi Ramacharaka, from 1917, we learn that “Universal Consciousness” is a state

…in which Time and Place disappear and in which every place is Here; every period of Time is Now; and everything is “I.”

And even earlier, in 1907’s “Systematic Theology: A Compendium and Commonplace, Volume 1,” Augustus Hopkins Strong tells us that,

Dante speaks of God as him in whom “every where and every when are focused in a point,” that is, to whom every season is now and every place is here.

The Dante reference is to the Paradiso, Canto XXIX: 1-66, “The Creation of the Angels”:

When Apollo and Artemis, the Sun and Moon, the children of Latona, one in Aries the Ram, the other in Libra the Scales, make the horizon their circle, and the zenith is the point from which both hang, till one rises, the other sets, removing themselves from that zone’s scales, both changing hemispheres, so long as that did Beatrice keep silent, with a smile pictured on her face, gazing intensely at the point whose light overcame me. Then she began to speak: ‘I do not ask, I say, what you wish to hear of, since I have seen the point of Creation, on which every where and when is focused.

The notion may go back even further, to the Upanishads, but Dante (early 14th century) is as far as I’ve gone.

Oh, the Buddha? He never said anything like this. He wasn’t prone to grand metaphysical statements of this nature.

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