A man said to the Buddha, ‘I want Happiness.’

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A man said to the Buddha, “I want Happiness.”
Buddha said, first remove “I”, that’s ego,
then remove “want”, that’s desire.
See now you are left with only Happiness.

I only recently started seeing this one doing the rounds, and at first I ignored it, because it was so obviously fake that I didn’t think anyone would take it seriously, any more than they would think that the Dalai Lama really had gone to a hot dog vendor and asked him to make him one with everything.

And yet, it seems some people really do think that this play on words really is a conversation from some Buddhist scripture. It ain’t.

For a start, this joke wouldn’t even work in Pāli because its conjugation of verbs is rather different from English. So for example, hoti is the Pāli verb to be. While in English we indicate the first person use of this verb by adding a personal pronoun, forming “I am,” in Pāli it’s the ending of the verb that changes. To say “I am” the verb hoti becomes “homi.”

So there’s no separate word for “I” that we can remove from whatever verb would represent “want” (it might be the verb kāmeti, to desire). We’d have to remove “I” and “want” at the same time, since they’re inseparable. And maybe that’s a more Buddhist teaching, since in Buddhism the problem with our sense of personal identity is that we cling to it.. The Buddha didn’t eradicate references to himself from his speech, but he made it clear that there was nothing that he clung to as part of his sense of self. We get rid of the problem of the self by ceasing to cling to the self. The clinging and the clinging to self vanish simultaneously.

I’ve no idea where this quote originated. I’m assuming that someone was making a little Buddhist-themed joke rather than trying to claim that this is actually a canonical quote, but I haven’t, so far, managed to find a source. Or at least not an original one.

Anyway, it would be silly for me to take this little pun too seriously. I only decided to write it up because so many people have been concerned about people who seem to think it might be a genuine scriptural quote. If you’re one of those people, I have the address of the Dalai Lama’s hot dog vendor, if you’re interested. But be warned, you have to have the exact money, because he can’t issue change. Change, after all, comes from within.

41 thoughts on “A man said to the Buddha, ‘I want Happiness.’”

  1. It doesn’t matter if the quote is fake or not, it doesn’t matter if Budha really give that speech. You just need to take the essence.

    1. As Einstein said, “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted in important affairs.” So, yes, it does matter.

        1. Of course. I work on that every day. But remember to take your own advice. An aversion to the concept of accurate citations is also a form of ego.

  2. “In matters of truth and justice, there is no difference between large and small problems, for issues concerning the treatment of people are all the same. Anyone who doesn’t take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either.

    The full quote is slightly different and in context sends an entirely different message.

    And just because Einstein said it, does that make it truthful.

    1. You’re absolutely correct that something is not necessarily true just because Einstein said it. I didn’t, however, make that claim.

      In this particular case I think he’s entirely correct: being casual with the truth — in effect saying “it doesn’t matter if this information is bullshit, I’m going to pass it on anyway” — is something that matters, if you take the truth seriously.

      I’m afraid I also don’t see how the extra sentence “sends an entirely different message.” The message is the same in both instances: if you take truth seriously, then “small matters” matter.

      Your version of the quote, incidentally, is different from the version in the Einstein Archives, which is as follows: “In matters concerning truth and justice there can be no distinctions between big problems and small, for the general principles which determine the conduct of men are indivisible. Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted in important affairs.”

    2. The quote from Einstein is a translation of the original german, which was as follows :
      Wenn es sich um Wahrheit und Gerechtigkeit handelt, gibt es nicht die Unterscheidung zwischen kleinen und grossen Problemen. Denn die allgemeinen Gesichtspunkte, die das Handeln der Menschen betreffen, sind unteilbar. Wer es in kleinen Dingen mit der Wahrheit nicht ernst nimmt, dem kann man auch in grossen Dingen nicht vertrauen…

      Regardless of what the official Einstein archives say, I find your translation accurate. I got the german from quoteinvestigator (https://quoteinvestigator.com/2014/04/15/large-truth/)

      However, I don’t agree that your translation sends an “entirely different message”. I am struck by the description of satan as “the father of lies”. I have come to believe that every wrongdoing starts with a lie to yourself. A person who has developed the habit of “carelessness with the truth” (lying, let’s face it) has the ability to lie to themselves. This can easily come into play in their behaviour in “great matters”.

      Actually, what is a great matter? How do we know anything is more important than anything else? Often not, alas, until it is too late!

      Thank you all for the thoughtful discussion

      _()_

  3. The quote is right no matter whether it was said by Buddha or not. Ego and desire indeed a important cause of suffering. Besides why be a Buddhist or a christian when you can be a freethinker? Ideals(truth, love, forgiveness, etc.) matter not ideologies.

    1. Ah, but I’ve never made the claim that a quote’s truth depends on who said it. All I’m doing here is clarifying whether quotes are scriptural or not.

      I’ve never thought that being a Buddhist means you have to adopt an ideology. What did you have in mind when you wrote that, Juan?

  4. It is the absolute truth. Ego and desire are the two greatest sources of misery and unhappiness. It is the substance and the content and the truth in the quote which really matters, so we should not be bickering about the source or the authenticity. First let us seek the truth, and then we shall really ‘see’. Sincerely seek the truth, and it shall set you free.

    1. The contents of a quote surely matter. But so does misrepresenting a quote’s origins. I’d like to assume that the concept of accurate citations is not somehow a problem for you.

      1. No, it doesnt matter where the quote came from, as long as it is the absolute truth. And our intuitions and experience will confirm, whether a quote is absolutely true or not, and that is all that matters. We should stop quibbling over insignificant trifles, and only seek the truth, regardless of the source.

        1. No one’s suggesting “quibbling,” Sushil. I’m simply suggesting that people don’t pass on false information (or untruth) regarding the origin of quotes.

          I find it strange, though, that you want to “seek the truth” and yet at the same time seem to regard the truth of the attribution of a quote to be insignificant. As Einstein said, “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted in important affairs.”

  5. I like the “quote”! It is very Buddhist even though there is no record of Sakyamuni actually saying those exact words. I’d like to see more loving kindness in these discussions.

  6. I didn’t like your condescending tone. It wasn’t so obviously fake that this very new student of Buddhist teachings wouldn’t take it seriously. The sentiment made sense and as a new learner I didn’t yet know that looking at such a pun, seriously, would require being silly.

    1. When I said “it would be silly to take this little pun too seriously” I meant it would be silly for me to take it too seriously, and to spend too much time on debunking it.

      I mean no insult to anyone who is new to Buddhism or unfamiliar with its teachings, since they’ve little or no basis for knowing what is and what isn’t likely to be genuine, although I’d hope that some people at least would recognize that this kind of word-play is very unlikely to work in a foreign language.

      1. Thank you Bodhipaksa. I suspect my own insecurities were at play because I would normally be slower to presume things were inflection isn’t possible. Thank you for the clarification.

        I see what you mean about language. My favorite Socrates’ quote is stated more than one way for the same reason.

  7. Another problem is that, if the disciple in question removes ‘I’, as instructed, then there is no ‘you’ (or ‘him’) available to be left with happiness.

    Big thumb up for your useful blog, Bodhipaksa. You might like to know that the version of this non-quote which google-led me here was attributed to Richard Gere. It might be fun to compile a top-10 chart of the spontaneously guessed gurus of Heard-It-Someplace-Or-Other Buddhism. 😀

    Keep up the good work, sir!

  8. I’m a bit confused about why so many don’t understand the issue with not mis-attributing quotes. It doesn’t matter if it is something the person would agree with, the point is that … um … he *didn’t* say it. Instead of being dishonest and attributing the quote to the Buddha (or whoever), look up the source, or just leave it without a source, not that hard!

    Why does this matter? If you follow the ‘logic’ of ‘it’s fine if it’s right’ or ‘agrees with what they would’ve said’ then why not write an entire book and publish it with “The Buddha” as the author? When we quote someone, it indicates that these are there exact words. When you comment on what someone said, it’s your own words and interpretation, so if we are to start making up quotes and putting them in the Buddha’s mouth, who’s to determine what the Buddha would and wouldn’t have agreed with? How about we use quotes for quoting the actual words, thus letting the person speak for themselves.

    Finally, I believe the quote is a misrepresentation of the Buddha’s teachings in being overly simplistic, and thus in missing the importance of practicing the path and developing insight.

  9. Every language is different…. in my mother tongue there is no word for am ….but I is in every language ….in my mothertongue its मे मि …cant understand your logic ….

  10. “This finger that points to the moon is not from the hand that contained the most mainstream and popular finger that pointed to the moon. Wah Wah Wah…”.

    What matters is not what hand the finger sits on, but the direction in which it points. If it manages to drift one’s gaze to the moon, who cares who’s hand the finger sits on.

  11. The quote summarize the part of Buddha’s teaching, translated to English language, that is obvious to anyone who knows the basics of Buddhism. Yes, the words you quote are not exact because you need to translate them from a language other than English, but they don’t change the essence of the message. That is what matters the most. The same thing goes with thousands of other famous quotes from ancient Greek and Eastern philosophers, but that doesn’t mean that we should put a big “FAKE” over it.

    “I find it strange, though, that you want to “seek the truth”, but yet you contradict yourself without realizing it, that tells a lot about your character and your ability to “seek the truth”.

    For example, you wrote;
    “You’re absolutely correct that something is not necessarily true just because Einstein said it. I didn’t, however, make that claim”.

    “As Einstein said, “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted in important affairs.” So, yes, it does matter.

    “I find it strange, though, that you want to “seek the truth” and yet at the same time seem to regard the truth of the attribution of a quote to be insignificant. As Einstein said, “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted in important affairs.”

    ” I’ve never made the claim that a quote’s truth depends on who said it”.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m here to give you a reality check.

    1. I appreciate your desire to provide me with a reality check. However…

      The entire point of this site is to distinguish, among all the many quotes that circulate on social media (and elsewhere) which come from the Buddhist scriptures and which are misattributed or invented. Sometimes misattributed or invented quotes happen to align closely to what the Buddha taught, but that still doesn’t make them genuine quotes.

      You said, “Yes, the words you quote are not exact because you need to translate them from a language other than English, but they don’t change the essence of the message.” Well, no, the words are not exactly the same as those the Buddha used because someone made this story up, not because it’s been translated.

      You quoted a few things I’ve said, and apparently believe that there’s some kind of internal inconsistency. I’m not clear what that is however. Perhaps you’d be kind enough to explain?

  12. You wrote, “Sometimes misattributed or invented quotes happen to align closely to what the Buddha taught, but that still doesn’t make them genuine quotes.”

    It doesn’t matter if they are genuine quotes as long as they don’t change the genuine thought of an original writer, that is the point. I understand the point of this site, but that doesn’t mean that you should label the writer’s original thoughts as “FAKE”, just because they are not literally translated into English.

    “You wrote, “Well, no, the words are not exactly the same as those the Buddha used because someone made this story up, not because it’s been translated.”

    “the words are not exactly the same…” again, you missed the point. The story is not completely made up, as I said before, the essence of the message is what matters the most. Sometimes is hard to translate the exact words to English language and keep the essence of the message.

    “FAKE” is not an appropriate term. The word “fake” is thrown around so often it’s beginning to lose meaning. You present yourself as the qualified person to distinguish “fake” Buddha’s quotes, but you don’t realize there are other real Buddha’s quotes which prove that the quote you cited is not so “FAKE”;

    “Happy are those who have overcome their egos; happy are those who have attained peace; happy are those who have found the Truth”.
    ‘There is no fear for one whose mind is not filled with desires.”

    And many others…

    1. “It doesn’t matter if they are genuine quotes as long as they don’t change the genuine thought of an original writer, that is the point.”

      A quote is a group of words taken from someone’s writing or speech. If you take the essence of what someone says and rephrase it in different words, then that’s not a quote, but at best a paraphrase. If you then take that rephrased statement or paraphrase and present it as being a quote from the original speaker or writer, then that’s a misattribution. The little story in question here is not a quote.

      “The story is not completely made up, as I said before…”

      That’s simply incorrect. Someone composed this rather trite thing. It isn’t even an rough adaptation of anything from the scriptures.

      “‘FAKE’ is not an appropriate term.”

      I use the term fake because it’s descriptive, but I admit that it’s also meant to be a little provocative. It is, however, often appropriate. I believe it is here.

      “You don’t realize there are other real Buddha’s quotes which prove that the quote you cited is not so ‘FAKE'”

      It’s an invented quote. It’s fake. I’m afraid no amount of legitimate quotes can “prove” that it’s not.

      “Happy are those who have overcome their egos…”

      That sounds pretty fake too. Which scripture is that meant to be from?

  13. Again, you missed the point. Like I said before, sometimes you can’t really translate the exact words into English and keep the essence of the message, that’s why paraphrasing is necessary. That’s a well known fact. Also, in those ancient writings, the essence of the message is usually in large text blocks. In other words, we need to summarize the main idea, so we could understand it in English, and remember it easily. That’s why paraphrasing is necessary also. We need to summarize that complex thoughts in a meaningful way.

    When you’re translating the complex thoughts of ancient or extinct languages into modern-day English, it’s very hard to be concise and keep the essence of the message. Sometimes it’s necessary to cut out redundancy, hyperbole and fluff and keep the essence of the message by paraphrasing. Quoting is almost always reserved for situations where the words of the original author are found to be the best for expressing any idea.

    As I said in my first post, the quote summarize the part of Buddha’s teaching translated into English, that is obvious to anyone who knows the basics of Buddhism.

    Buddha’s teaching is based on the concept of no-self (anatta), therefore it is based on the concept of no-ego. This is the central doctrine of Buddhism. That’s why you contradict yourself without realizing it. Buddha had many conversations with the people with the concepts of ego/self (attavada), asking Buddha for guidance to happiness. Claiming that someone completely made this story up is really frivolous to say the least.

    The anattā-doctrine has been clearly and unreservedly taught only by the Buddha, wherefore the Buddha is known as the anattā-vādi, or ‘Teacher of Impersonality’. It is the only really specific Buddhist doctrine, with which the entire Structure of the Buddhist teaching stands.

    Fake is something which is completely wrong. Just because you don’t understand it, doesn’t mean it’s FAKE. Never judge the books by its cover.

    1. I know you think I’ve missed the point, but really it’s quite simple. A quotation accurately reproduces what someone said. This does not reproduce what the Buddha said. Therefore this is not a quotation from the Buddha. It purports to be a quotation from the Buddha. Something that purports to be something it’s not is a fake. So this is a fake quotation, or, if you will, a Fake Buddha Quote.

      You said “paraphrasing is necessary,” and that’s certainly the case. I’ve been teaching Buddhism for decades, and I paraphrase the Buddha’s teachings all the time. But a paraphrase is not a quotation.

      Face facts; let go of your attachment. As the Buddha did (as far as we know) say, “Those who grasp at perceptions and views go about the world butting heads.”

      I think we’re done here…

      1. Nobody ever claimed that is a direct quotation. Where did you get that idea from? With little effort, I found it’s from a book called “Sayings Of Buddha”, published June 1st 1957 by Peter Pauper Press.

        You wrote, “I know you think I’ve missed the point, but really it’s quite simple. A quotation accurately reproduces what someone said. This does not reproduce what the Buddha said. Therefore this is not a quotation from the Buddha…
        I’ve been teaching Buddhism for decades, and I paraphrase the Buddha’s teachings all the time. But a paraphrase is not a quotation.”

        That’s a contradictory statement. The Buddha wrote nothing during his lifetime. As I said before, you contradict yourself without realizing it. His teachings were preserved orally; they did not begin to be committed to writing until some four centuries after his death. Around the beginning of the Common Era, new texts, referred to as the Mahayana sutras, began to appear, clamming to be a word of Buddha. So by your logic, all Buddha’s teachings should be “FAKE”, because they are not a direct quotations from Buddha.

        It’s a well known fact that all Buddha’s quotes are paraphrased, because no one can ever remember exactly how something was said.

        It’s fake, fake this, fake that… A “fake” is something that has been deliberately altered or invented to deceive people. A fake quote is a quote created or adapted to imitate a genuine thing with intent to deceive.

        There is nothing fake about so-called “quote” you cited, because Buddha’s teaching is based on the concept of No-Ego. And “Taṇhā” – which means “thirst, desire, wish”. It is an important concept in Buddhism. Remember “I” and “want”? According to a well known saying from Buddhism, “Emotion arise from Desire, hence an Illusion.” That’s the basics of Buddhism. By the way, I’m not a Buddhist.

        This thread is a nice example of how confusing Buddhism can be to someone not familiar with its teachings. Fortunately, most of the comments agree with me, like a first comment from Ali;

        “It doesn’t matter if the quote is fake or not, it doesn’t matter if Budha really give that speech. You just need to take the essence.”

        As I said before, you present yourself as the qualified person to distinguish “fake Buddha’s quotes”, and someone who’s “teaching Buddhism for decades”, but yet you don’t realize that Buddha didn’t write anything himself.

        “I think we’re done here…”

        1. “Nobody ever claimed that is a direct quotation. Where did you get that idea from?”

          I dunno, maybe the fact that the Fake Buddha Quote in question contains the words “Buddha said” and purports to describe a conversation?

          It’s possible that it’s from the book you mention, but if your basis for saying that is nothing more than the fact that the quote is found on the Goodreads page for the book I’d say you’re on shaky ground. The quotes there are user-contributed, and some of the quotes on that page are in Hungarian 🙂 But I’ve ordered the book just in case.

          “His teachings were preserved orally; they did not begin to be committed to writing until some four centuries after his death …”

          Yes, I know all that. You’ll find that same information on this site. You could try searching for the word “orally,” for example.

          “So by your logic, all Buddha’s teachings should be ‘FAKE’, because they are not a direct quotations from Buddha.”

          There’s not one word in the Buddhist scriptures that we can definitively say was uttered verbatim by the Buddha, although I have no doubt that much of what’s in them is very close to what he said. However if something purporting to be from the Buddha isn’t in the scriptures or can be shown to have been created by someone other than the Buddha, then it’s fake, in the same way that if someone were to claim that Shakespeare said “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” we can know it’s fake because a) it’s not in any work known or believed to have been written by him and b) because we can identify the true author as having been Ronald Reagan or one of his scriptwriters.

          “There is nothing fake about so-called ‘quote’ you cited.”

          Even you’re putting the words “quote” in scare-quotes. LOL! I agree. It’s not a quote. You even tried to argue in your opening sentences that it doesn’t purport to be the Buddha’s words.

          “This thread is a nice example of how confusing Buddhism can be to someone not familiar with its teachings.”

          LOL. I’ve been studying and practicing Buddhism since the 1970s, have had several books published, have been published in an academic journal, and have a Master’s degree in Buddhism. I think I have a little familiarity with the Buddha’s teachings 🙂 But it’s a nice attempt at a dig.

          “Fortunately, most of the comments agree with me.”

          There is nothing fortunate about being in the company of other people who are wrong — if you agree with them.

          “you don’t realize that Buddha didn’t write anything himself”

          LOL! Oddly enough, that’s not new information to me.

          “I think we’re done here…”

          This time for real. All you seem to have left are self-contradictions and attempted insults. Your next comment will go in the trash unread.

          1. Judging by the fact that you have done a masters and have “ben studying and practising Buddhism since the 1970s”, I estimate you are perhaps in your late 50s or early 60s, however, it seems that wisdom does not grow with age in this case.
            For someone who claims to have studied and practised Buddhism as well as having numerous books published, the ego and the reaction you express is ironic, to say the least.
            I understand some of your points as well as the opposing arguments and it is a shame that through all of your knowledge, you neglect to remember to have an open mind instead of a closed one. I guess on the internet you can act as you wish, just like the hundreds of thousands ‘trolls’ that comment in this manner every single day.

          2. If you don’t like my responses, you probably wouldn’t have liked the Buddha very much. He was apparently fond of using the term “worthless man” to refer to people who misrepresented his teaching.

            Anyway, I thought I was being fairly polite, especially given the nonsense that “Ancient Wisdom” was spouting 🙂

            I certainly think I have an open mind. I’m open to valid evidence or logic. Unfortunately “Ancient Wisdom” offered little of either. He was also incorrect in asserting that the quote in question comes from the book, “Sayings of Buddha.”

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