They’re everywhere you look: Twitter, Facebook, blogs, quotes sites — even in books by well-known Buddhists. Fake Buddha Quotes abound.
To those who are familiar with the Buddhist scriptures, these Hallmark-style quotes attributed to the Buddha ring false, but it seems many people are preferentially attracted to the fake variety.
It’s hard sometimes to pinpoint why they sound fake. Usually it’s the language, which may be too flowery and poetic. Sometimes it’s the subject matter, which sounds too contemporary. The thing is, that although the Buddhist scriptures are vast (way larger than the Bible) they’re often not very quotable, or at least they tend not to have the immediate appeal that some of the fake variety has.
One question that arises though is whether there’s such a thing as a Genuine Buddha Quote. And in a sense there’s not. The earliest scriptures we have were passed down for hundreds of years before being committed to writing. What was passed down was no doubt simplified, edited, and made easier to memorize through chanting by being made repetitious. Hence the mind-numbing boringness of much of the Pāli canon. Some of what was passed down as the Buddha’s words probably wasn’t even his words to start with. After a few generations, who would be able to tell if a particular saying was just a popular piece of folk-wisdom, or something the Buddha actually said.
And then there are later Buddhist scriptures that were definitely not in any literal sense the word of the Buddha, although they may be of great spiritual depth. These Mahāyāna scriptures are all arguably Fake Buddha Quotes.
So if there’s no such thing as a for-sure, no-doubt-about-it Genuine Buddha Quote, then how can there be such a thing as a Fake Buddha Quote? Well, if something being passed around on Facebook can be definitively traced down to a source that isn’t Gautama Buddha, then that’s an obvious misattribution, and definitely not a Genuine Buddha Quote. Of if a saying’s origins can’t yet be traced, but the idiom and subject matter are so far removed from those of recognized Buddhist scriptures, then that’s (almost certainly) fake.
Then there’s another category. Some translators of Buddhist texts aren’t so much translators as Khalil Gibran wannabes who creatively render the Buddha’s words into a “new, improved” version that expresses their own views of spirituality but are so far from the original meaning that they’re essentially fake.
Another question: does this matter? Some people get very upset over this question. If their favorite Buddha Quote — about kittens and puppies, perhaps — is pointed out as not being traceable to the Buddha and perhaps attributable to some contemporary or historical writer, they tend to get annoyed. It’s as if you’re invalidating the inherent goodness of kittens and puppies. But that’s not my point here. Pointing out that something was not said by the Buddha doesn’t invalidate the quote. It just removes false attribution. Kittens and puppies are fine, but let’s be clear about the attribution of our quotes, where we can.
Again, does it matter, if the quote seems to be spiritually valid? If you’re one of those people who don’t think factual accuracy matters, then I guess this doesn’t matter. I’m not one of those people, though.
Would the Buddha care? I’ve been told often that he wouldn’t It’s amazing how much insight some people have into the Buddha’s mind. It’s as if they know exactly how he thought, and oddly he seems to agree with them a lot. Well, if you look at the Buddhist scriptures, there are many occasions where someone comes to the Buddha and tells him that they’ve heard that he has made a certain statement. If the statement is not something the Buddha has said, he tended to put his questioner straight in no uncertain terms.
So the Buddha seems to have been concerned about Fake Buddha Quotes, 2,500 years ago. I’m sure there will be new Fake Buddha Quotes being passed around 2,500 years from now. But hopefully this site will slow down their spread.
54 thoughts on “About”
My heartfelt reverence for the untiring mission for true enlightenment, in today’s language understandable by the people. Can not stand it to see Lord Buddha as commodity and confusing the peace searching people with fake paths to Nirvana.
My best wishes for the endevour.
Dear Bodhipaksa, Thanks so much for this website. I have seen many fake Buddha quotes on Facebook and have encountered people on the internet who consider themselves Buddhists, but know nothing of the authentic teachings of the Buddha, just the fake quotes. I have been studying the Sutta Pitaka (both the Wisdom editions trans. by Bodhi Bhikkhu, Bhikkhu Nanamoli, Maurice Walsh and a series of anthologies of Sutta translations by Thanissaro Bhikkhu) for quite awhile now so I’m pretty good at knowing what is a real quote and one that looks fishy. And I do think it is important to know what is authentic Buddhist teaching and what is not. One leads to the deathless, the other, who knows where it might lead?
Thank you Bodhipaksa!
I have found your site very imformative and amusing! I feel that is very important to attribute as best as we can otherwise messages will get morphed and lost in translation! I will enjoy reading your posts!
I remember the days I started commenting on social media websites. I spread many quotes never thinking about the source of them. Later I started thinking where do they come from, but couldn’t find any trace.
So I find this website is very useful for me. Meanwhile, I agree that there can be many questions such as ‘what is genuine’, ‘does it really matter’ etc and as you have rightly mentioned there will be many such new quotes. However, I appreciate your effort to ‘slow down’ their spread.
Great site, thank you.
I would like to translate some of your posts for a forum where I take part, If you don’t mind.
Feel free, but please include a link back to the original page you’re translating.
I will do so.
Thanks for this site. I came here after stumbling on the moon, sun and truth quote and wondering. As a writer, I agree that words matter.
On the other hand, I guess I’m a little surprised (and really kinda saddened) at the cranky, condescending tone. But, hey, I know only the basics about Buddhism (I’m a questioning Christian, sort of,) so what do I know? Don’t yell at me, please!
Sometimes I can be cranky, for sure. I can’t say whether my tone comes across as condescending, although perhaps that’s just another manifestation of my crankiness!
I don’t think you’re either. I think you’re spot on.
I love this site! While my background is Buddhist, I think I love this site above all as a cyber anthropology! I’ve always been fascinated about how jokes and stories spread and change, for me, your detective work in how of fake buddha quotes evolve is an adventure!
Thank you. I have to say I appreciate appreciation 🙂
Lord Buddha’s all teachings lead to one direction only. That is Nibbana.
If the quote does not simply comply this rule, it is a fake quote.
Thanks for maintaining such site.
Thank you sirs for the interesting conversation on the meaning of ‘dipa’. To conclude my part in the discussion, I think my position is best summed up in these words from our host:
“One question that arises though is whether there’s such a thing as a Genuine Buddha Quote. And in a sense there’s not. The earliest scriptures we have were passed down for hundreds of years before being committed to writing. What was passed down was no doubt simplified, edited, and made easier to memorize through chanting by being made repetitious. Hence the mind-numbing boringness of much of the Pāli canon. Some of what was passed down as the Buddha’s words probably wasn’t even his words to start with. After a few generations, who would be able to tell if a particular saying was just a popular piece of folk-wisdom, or something the Buddha actually said.”
What I said there is, I hope, technically correct, Malcolm. At the same time, scholarship tends to assume, by convention, that what is in the scriptures is what the Buddha said, unless there’s a very good reason for thinking otherwise. And sometimes there are such reasons!
My task here isn’t to identify genuine Buddha quotes, since of course that’s a fruitless exercise., but to identify quotes purported to be from the Buddha but which aren’t in the Buddhist scriptures or can be proven to come from elsewhere.
I very much appreciate this site! My husband is a minister who often asks me to search online to find the source of quotes that he remembers from poetry or various other sources. I am continually distressed by how few people seem to care about accurate quotation and citation. My pet peeve is the myriad sites devoted to quotes that give only the name of the supposed author of the words without bothering to say in what work those words appear.
Thank you, Terri. I guess most quotes sites are mainly, or exclusively, interested in making money from advertising. Verifying quotes, or finding the sources for them, would eat into their profits. And yes, it is distressing (and surprising) how few people care about accurate citations. From the volume of hate mail I get, it seems more people are angry at citations being questioned than are bothered by attributions being false.
I just wanted to add my thanks to those above. You are performing a great public service. And for what it’s worth I enjoy your writing style; I don’t find it condescending at all. I think it’s a great combination of passionate, perturbed, and amused. Please continue!
My name is Shaheed Smith. I am a african-amerian sufi muslim who admires your website. Question which buddhist scriptures, should i read that are close to buddha’s teachings. I do admire this ancient sage as well as muhammad, jesus, krishna, and other great teachers.
Thanks for writing. I have a page of recommended titles on this site, but if you’re going to consider just one work to start off with I’d suggest the Dhammapada, and in particular Gil Fronsdal’s translation.
All the best,
Its me Shaheed Smith the african american sufi muslim. I have read certain translations of the dhammapada. I have a question. In the dhammapada chapter 14 verse 181 it states in certain translations how the gods envy. In another translation it states that the gods will hold you dear. I read this verse in certaing dhammapadas online and at libraries. one online dhammapada where it states how they envy(the gods) is
or you can type in dhammapada online
Much love and light
Thanks. I’m not sure what your question is, though…
All the best,
Hi bhodipaksa my questions is why in certain translations of the dhammapada it states that the gods envy and in other certain translations it state that they hold you dear.
Good question. On Access to Insight, Buddharakkhita has “hold dear” and Thanissaro has “envy.” The Pali verb is piyahati, which the Pali Text Society dictionary has as “envy.” It may be that “hold dear” is an error or that piyahati has a range of meanings wider than the PTS dictionary indicates. The latter would be more likely if a lot of translators have chosen the “hold dear” translation.
this is Shaheed Smith
Thanks bhodipaksa i admire your website
Much love and light
Thank you for meta xxx
I should think that most people who have had something attributed to them that they didn’t say would make a correction.
I feel that factual accuracy matters. But I also feel that if something meaningful is derived, then maybe this more important?
There is this Koan, it brought me near to enlightenment, but then I discovered it wasn’t genuine, so I threw it away.
“I feel that factual accuracy matters. But I also feel that if something meaningful is derived, then maybe this more important?”
And how about presenting something that’s both meaningful AND accurate? Is that so hard?
Thank you for publishing my comment, and for replying.
Yes I agree, meaningful AND accurate would be the ideal.
I personally don’t use social media, read quotes or share quotes. I just found this site today because I saw the “It is better to conquer yourself” quote on a youtube comment with no attribution given to it. I was curious as to who had said this (I thought Buddha) so I searched for it and ended up here.
The fact that I now know Buddha did not say this has not really change its value for me. I just now know not to say; “and Buddha said” I can see that from a historical and academic point of view it would be important to separate the real from the fake. And pointing out obviously made up quotes (I don’t know what goes on in social media) would be desirable.
Yes, for many people it’s not going to make any difference. So far however I’ve written about over 200 quotes that are falsely attributed to the Buddha. There are many that I haven’t yet had a chance to write about. Collectively, these give a completely false view of the kind of thing the Buddha said, and in some cases they seriously misrepresent his teachings. It’s got to the point where most blog posts based on lists of “Buddha quotes” contain mostly misattributions. And even people who purport to be Buddhists get taken in by, and propagate, these false quotes. It seems some fact-checking is in order 🙂
Thank you for this massive work. It has been a constant source for me for rechecking Buddha attributed quotes that I felt fishy. Your work is making immense, invaluable positive difference to people like me. I feel protected from going astray. Thank you. We are grateful to have you in our times. 🙂
Thank you so much for this website Bodhipaksa. As a person who has been enormously helped by the Dhamma, I think it is extremely important to keep real Dhamma available to people. Nowadays I always verify Buddhist texts and quotes on “access to insight” and on your website too.
Thanks for your kind comment, Michael!
Would you say there is still benefit in a fake quote if it aids someone along their own journey ?
Like your site btw 👍
The attribution or misattribution of a quote doesn’t, in theory, affect whether it’s true or helpful or not, so yes, some “fake” quotes can be beneficial.
With respect, Bodhipaska, I think your site is wholly unnecessary; the absurdly fake quotes are usually obvious to everyone so readily dismissed – the ones that lead to comfort, relaxation and support for the reader are actually beneficial. For instance, the quote on ‘concentrate on the Now’, you dismiss that, saying Buddha said see the Now the same as the past and future – that’s fine, but concentrating on the Now is the core to the Sattipattana Sutra on Mindfulness, and many have benefited by doing so – e.g. more time spent listening to each other fully, attending to your kids more fully, etc. If this has come about by a Buddha quote, then why have the arrogance to say you know better (as indeed you are)? And thereby upturn an important teaching, and applicable to humanity today, as ever; raising compassion in this troubled world, no bad thing. So while you may think you’re doing Buddhism a service, kindly think again – if it brings more curiosity and interest in the Buddha’s teachings, then this can only be a good thing. None of the weightier quotes are gross-misrepresentations of the Tathagata, as far as my Buddhist-trained eyes can see; so please let the Buddha be. It’s fine.
I’m sorry that you find my quest to inform people as to whether supposed Buddha quotes are actually scriptural so upsetting.
My intention is quite simple: to let people know whether or not quotes that purport to be from the Buddha are actually from the Buddhist scriptures. Some of the quotes that aren’t scriptural (i.e. are “fake”) are very misleading and directly contradict the Buddha’s teachings. Some of them are harmless or may even be, in my humble opinion, an improvement upon the scriptures. Nowhere do I equate quotes’ scriptural legitimacy with their validity as teachings.
Dear Bodhipaksa, I have been a fan of your blog since its beginning and once highlighted the value if it on my blog. At present I am writing a life of the Buddha based only on the info in the Pali Tipitaka and would like to ask you something about fake Buddha quotes. If possible could you contact me, Bhante Dhammika
I’d be happy to, Bhante.
Can you link me to a sutta where the Buddha corrects someone misattributing quotes to him? I know I’ve seen it before but can’t find it at the moment. Thanks for all the work you’ve put into this site. It is super helpful and important.
Sure. Here are a couple of suttas where someone misrepresents the Buddha’s teaching and he responds to them by saying (in Sujato’s rather mild translation): “Silly man, who on earth have you ever known me to teach in that way?”
Thanks for the appreciative comment. It’s so much nicer to receive than all the hate mail I get!
“Monks, these two slander the Tathāgata. Which two? He who explains what was not said or spoken by the Tathāgata as said or spoken by the Tathāgata. And he who explains what was said or spoken by the Tathāgata as not said or spoken by the Tathāgata. These are the two who slander the Tathāgata.”
Source: AN 2:23
Dude, I like your style. Attribution to Terry.
Thank you for this gem. Your website has been a constant go to place for me whenever i have a suspicion about any random Buddha image in background quotes I saw on whatsapp, internet and where not.
With every single day, new and new fake quotes are coming up. this is truly sad and dangerous. Buddha had said, the dhamma doesnt vanish from the world unless its counterfeit is born. and your efforts are truly helping in prolonging the emergence of counterfeit.
My heartfelt gratitude to you. I Have been veryyy late to say thanks. But I guess its better to be late than to never express gratitude. Thank you Bodhipaksa. Veneration to you. May you be happy.
I just want to say thanks for the site, I use it often when teaching about representations of contemporary Buddhism here at Szeged University (Hungary).
Also I found hilarious this anecdote, wondering if you may heard it, when during a party James Whistler made a particularly witty remark and the present Oscar Wilde exclaimed: “I wish I had said that.” Whistler replied: “You will, Oscar, you will.”
(source, also fact-checking the story itself: https://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/09/05/oscar-will/)
Thank you, and thanks for the QI link. That website is a treasure!
I am in no way a scholar or a Buddhist. But I practice Buddha teachings in the form of Vipassana meditation as taught by S. N. Goenka. In his courses he warns us that the teachings must be kept pure. That they need nothing added or removed.
The work you do is very important!
Gratitude and Metta from Colombia.