“The instant we feel anger we have already ceased striving for the truth, and have begun striving for ourselves.”

This one struck me as being off. The language of “striving for ourselves” is too idiomatic and modern for the Buddha. Was it a rather too free translation, perhaps? Maybe another one of Jack Kornfield’s paraphrases of Buddhist teaching from his lovely little book, Buddha’s Little Instruction Book?

It was quite easy to track this quote to Thomas Carlyle’s 1829 essay “Voltaire,” and more fully it reads:

A wise man has well reminded us, that ‘in any controversy, the instant we feel angry, we have already ceased striving for Truth, and begun striving for Ourselves.’

You may note that the version ascribed to the Buddha has “anger” for “angry” (the former does sound more Buddha-like) and has “the truth” rather than Truth.

But who is the “wise man” who Carlyle is quoting?

According to the Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern English and Foreign Sources (1899) it’s from Goethe, but that’s the only attribution to Goethe that I’ve seen. A Fake Goethe Quote, perhaps?

According to Day’s Collacon: an Encyclopaedia of Prose Quotations (1884) these are the words of a Rev. A. Alison, although again this is the only source on Google books that connects him with the quotation. Interestingly, however, Carlyle mentioned having heard Alison preach in Edinburgh, and complimented his clear elocution and eloquent style. It seems not unlikely that Carlyle might have been recounting a quotation he heard at a sermon, which would explain the difficulty of tracing the ultimate origins of the quote.

The Rev. Archibald Alison, however, published in 1790 an “Essay on the Nature and Principles of Taste,” and in 1814 two volumes of sermons. I’ve found neither of these books online, but perhaps one day they’ll be scanned and the quote’s origins found. Or perhaps the quote is from another source altogether.

My money’s on Alison. But I’m quite sure this is not a quote from the Buddha.

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