“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.

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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“Todo lo que te molesta de otros seres, es solo una proyección de lo que no has resuelto en ti mismo.”

My first attempt at tackling a Spanish-language Fake Buddha (or “Buda”) Quote. Unfortunately I don’t speak any Spanish, but a reader sent this along today:

“Todo lo que te molesta de otros seres, es solo una proyección de lo que no has resuelto en ti mismo.”

He didn’t include a translation, but Google Translate offers up:

“All that bothers other beings is just a projection of what you have unresolved in yourself.”

I assume that Google has for some reason not translated the “te” (I may not know Spanish but I know French and studied a little Latin in school) and that this should actually be:

“All that bothers you about other beings is just a projection of what you have unresolved in yourself.”

Please let me know if I got that wrong.

This quote reflects a very modern psychological perspective, and the language is far too contemporary for this to be a quotation from the time of the Buddha—sorry, “Buda.”

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“Crying with the wise is better than laughing with the fool.”

Crying with the wise is better than laughing with the fool

This one’s not a quote from the Buddha, as some sources say. It’s found in an 1887 book, compiled by Robert Christy, called Proverbs, Maxims, and Phases of All Ages, where it’s described as being a German saying. In that source it’s found in a slightly different form: “Better to weep with the wise than laugh with fools.”

It also contains gems such as “A wise man things all that he says, a fool says all that he thinks,” “Better with the wise in prison than with fools in paradise” (which is also German), and “Wise men learn by other men’s mistakes; fools by their own.”

The Buddha certainly talked about wise men and fools (there’s a chapter on each in the Dhammapada) but our fake verse is too polished to be from the Buddhist scriptures.

Although the Dhammapada chapters I referred to generally treat the topic of the fool and the wise person separately, here’s an example of the Buddha referring to both categories of person in one statement: “Come! Behold this world, which is like a decorated royal chariot. Here fools flounder, but the wise have no attachment to it.”

Here’s one in which the fool and wise person are contrasted, although not in one sentence:

“Monks, these two are fools. Which two? The one who doesn’t see his transgression as a transgression, and the one who doesn’t rightfully pardon another who has confessed his transgression. These two are fools.

“These two are wise people. Which two? The one who sees his transgression as a transgression, and the one who rightfully pardons another who has confessed his transgression. These two are wise people.”

You’ll note that these lack the literary polish of our fake quote. By modern standards they’re rather “clunky” in style.

There is one verse I know from the Pali canon that does have a literary ring to it, but it’s a verse composed by a monk, Godatta, rather than the Buddha. In Ven Dhammika’s translation it’s

The fools offer praise and the wise
offer blame. Truly the blame
of the wise is much better
than the praise of the fool.

In Pali this is:

Dummedhehi pasaṃsā ca,
viññūhi garahā ca yā;
Garahāva seyyo viññūhi,
yañce bālappasaṃsanā.

“The blame of the wise is better than the praise of the fool” would not have looked out of place in Christy’s book of maxims.

Incidentally, you may notice that the term “fool” hardly embodies the “non-judgmental” attitude that so many westerners expect the Buddha to have had. He seems to have been a feisty old coot, and didn’t suffer fools gladly.

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

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

This popular quote is a paraphrase of verses 19 and 20 from the Dhammapada. It’s not very literal, but it more or less makes the same point as the original, so I’ve classed it as “Fakeish” rather than “Fake.”

Here’s Buddharakkhita’s version from Access to Insight:

19. Much though he recites the sacred texts, but acts not accordingly, that heedless man is like a cowherd who only counts the cows of others — he does not partake of the blessings of the holy life.

20. Little though he recites the sacred texts, but puts the Teaching into practice, forsaking lust, hatred, and delusion, with true wisdom and emancipated mind, clinging to nothing of this or any other world — he indeed partakes of the blessings of a holy life.

So it’s not a quote, but not a million miles off.

The reference to reading is an anachronism, of course. At the time of the Buddha the scriptures were recited rather than written down.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That makes much more sense.

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

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

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

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

  • “…after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.” [Read more here]
  • “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” [Read more here]
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“Kindness should be the natural way of life, not the exception.”

I don’t know the origin of this quote. It’s certainly not the Buddha, and the modern phrasing sounds more like Sharon Salzberg or Jack Kornfield. I even wondered if it might be something I’d written.

The Buddha certainly did encourage the development of kindness (metta) as the basic way or relating to others. In a conversation with Cunda, a silversmith, regarding how one purifies oneself, he said:

And how is one made pure in three ways by mental action? … He bears no ill will and is not corrupt in the resolves of his heart. [He thinks,] ‘May these beings be free from animosity, free from oppression, free from trouble, and may they look after themselves with ease!’

On another occasion he said:

Therefore, bhikkhus, you should train yourselves thus: ‘We will develop and cultivate the liberation of mind by lovingkindness, make it our vehicle, make it our basis, stabilize it, exercise ourselves in it, and fully perfect it.’ Thus should you train yourselves.

And in one of his most extensive discourses, the Karaniya Metta Sutta, he describes how kindness should be cultivated for all beings at all times:

Just as with her own life
A mother shields from hurt
Her own son, her only child,
Let all-embracing thoughts
For all beings be yours.

Cultivate an all-embracing mind of love
For all throughout the universe,
In all its height, depth and breadth —
Love that is untroubled
And beyond hatred or enmity.

As you stand, walk, sit or lie,
So long as you are awake,
Pursue this awareness with your might.

As a writer, I have to say that “Kindness should be the natural way of life, not the exception” strikes me as being a poorly constructed sentence. “Natural way of life” is being contrasted with “exception” which I don’t think really works, since these expressions are not of the same kind. “Kindness should be the rule rather than the exception” would work.

This quote is often found in the form “Kindness should become the natural way of life, not the exception.”

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