“All things are perfect exactly as they are.”

I know of nothing in the Pali canon to suggest that the Buddha thought that everything was perfect as it was. His emphasis was more on the fact that everything we can experience is unsatisfactory (“Sabbe sankhara dukkha”). Digging a little deeper into that statement, we can find that the “problem” of dukkha is that we in fact expect that there are experiences we can have that are satisfactory. And we seem to spend our entire lives pursuing those experiences, and trying to avoid unpleasant ones. But as the Buddha pointed out, everything that supports our experiences is impermanent, and thus changing (“Sabbe sankhara anicca”) and so no experience can in fact provide any kind of lasting happiness, peace, or security.

This perspective might sound a little bleak, and so far it is. But there’s more. Once we accept that all experiences are changeable, and we cease to expect any individual experience to provide lasting happiness, peace, or security, we can actually attain the happiness, peace, and security that we’ve been seeking all along. So in a sense, the problem is not with “things” (experiences, etc.) but with our attitude to them. However I don’t think the Buddha would have ever then made the leap to saying that everything is perfect. This would be a highly misleading statement, because things are quite obviously, and on very important levels, not perfect. There is war, famine, poverty, discrimination, etc., and the Buddha in no way encouraged us to ignore these things.

This Fake Buddha Quote is quite widespread on the internet, but it hasn’t, at least in this exact form, made it into many books yet. So far I’ve only found it in Good Day, Bad Day: Teaching as a High-Wire Act, by Ken Winograd (2005), page 44; and Seven Masters, One Path, by John Selby (2012), page 77.

The Winograd quote is interesting, because it presents the quote in the context of a poem:

How wonderful!
How wonderful!
All things are perfect
Just as they are.

A book from 1994, The Joy of Sects, by Peter Occhiogrosso, has the Buddha saying

How wonderful. How wonderful. All things are enlightened exactly as they are.

This comes from a Zen tradition, which I’ll allow Bernie Glassman and Rick Fields’ 1996 Instructions to the Cook to explain:

What did the Buddha discover? There are many different answers to this question. But the Zen Buddhist tradition I studied says simply that when the Buddha attained realization, he opened his eyes to see the morning star, and exclaimed. “How wonderful, how wonderful! Everything is enlightened. All beings and all things are enlightened just as they are.”

And this story is found in Dogen’s Shobogenzo:

Shakyamuni Buddha said, “When the morning star appeared, I and the sentient beings of earth simultaneously attained enlightenment.

This story isn’t found in the Pali canon, where the Buddha’s first words after awakening (according to the Pali commentators) were:

Through many a birth in samsara have I wandered in vain, seeking the builder of this house (of life). Repeated birth is indeed suffering!

O house-builder, you are seen! You will not build this house again. For your rafters are broken and your ridgepole shattered. My mind has reached the Unconditioned; I have attained the destruction of craving.

So what we seem to have, as best I can figure out, is that the Zen tradition evolved a story of the Buddha’s exclamation at the time of his enlightenment, which is along the lines of the Buddha announcing that “all beings are awakened,” and this turned into “all things are awakened,” and in turn this turned into “all things are perfect.”

But it may not be as straightforward as this. In 1975’s Zen Philosophy, Zen Practice, by Thích Thiện Ân, we read:

When we attain the actualization of the Supreme Way, we come to realize that all things are perfect just as they are.

This teaching of all things being perfect seems to have its own place in the Zen tradition.

And it’s an experience that can arise in meditation as well. I’ve had deep meditations myself in which time and space disappear, and there is a profound letting go in which all things appear to be perfect, just as they are.

Of course this teaching (“all things are perfect”) has resonances in Christian thinking, which may be one reason it’s caught on. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica has “Existence is the most perfect of all things.” Spinoza also made similar statements.

It always helps the spread of a Fake Buddha Quote when the saying in question resonates with pre-existing ideas.

13 thoughts on ““All things are perfect exactly as they are.””

  1. All things are perfect as they are because they are that way to maximize chances of spiritual growth. If everything was perfect in a hedonistic way then spiritual growth would come to a halt and we would wander around even more purposeless than we do within our contemporary culture.

    1. I think it would be difficult to explain to a child who is starving or being sexually abused that “things are perfect as they are” in order to maximize their chances of making spiritual growth, Camel.

  2. What about this one, which I think is also “fake”:
    “When someone asked the Buddha what he had gained from meditation, he said, “Nothing. However, let me tell you what I have lost: fear, insecurity …(some more words)
    Can’t find this in Pali Canon. Fake? What say ye?

  3. Actually, the way I learned it (in a Zen tradition — you can’t say *the* Zen tradition since there are so many) is that each thing is complete. Not perfect, complete. There is a difference.

  4. Dear Bodhipaksa,

    Thank you for creating a site for people can discuss about the sayings which regarding as fake Buddha quotes. As a Vietnamese Buddhist, I think the quote ‘Things are perfect as they are’ may not actually come from the historical Buddha but it reflects the meaning as the same sayings ‘Please accept the reality as it is’. So it helps people not to be much hurry doing something perfectly before understanding and accepting the state of perfection of things they have (the important step) then people will gradually make it better day by day.

    As you said above, ‘it would be difficult to explain to a child who is starving or being sexually abused that ‘things are perfect as they are’, I understand that when the horrible things happen, we should not use any quotes to excuse and ignore the unhappy feelings of people, especially the child who is hunger, thirsty or sexually abused. In these particular situations, we have to take care of each child with all our heart and encourage them that they are safe now and we can do everything again. By walking together with the unhappy child, we can heal their wounds and help them overcome their own inner hurts.

    Therefore, I think the saying ‘Things are perfect as they are’ is still meaningful and reflect the Buddha spirit at the crucial point that we should accept what all we have at the moment even something is terrible (because if we cannot avoid it, we have to deal with it by all our strength). This quote can help us calm down and of course, find a better way to figure out the bad things surrounding us by a conscious heart.

    Best regards,
    Duc Tan Nguyen

    1. I really don’t see much sense in what you’re saying here. The Buddha talked about “Seeing things as they really are,” but that refers to seeing the reality of change, unsatisfactoriness, and non-self.” He talked about having equanimity, which means not having resistance toward unpleasant feelings.

      He didn’t talk about “accepting things as they are,” which conveys a completely different meaning and is likely to be extremely misleading, and to cause people to behave unskillfully, for example by ignoring other people’s suffering or otherwise not changing things that really ought to be changed (e.g. social and political systems).

      In any event, the Buddha did not give this teaching, “All things are perfect exactly as they are,” which is the main point.

  5. By discussing each Buddha quote, some are labeled ‘fake’, other are labeled ‘authentic’, it helps us travel far inside our mind to think the true meaning and gives us opportunities to connect to other deeper layers of knowledge. Back to the statement ‘All things are perfect exactly as they are.’, based on my viewpoint, it is not a fake Buddha quote even we try to prove it is fake. Here are some explanations:

    1. Let me stop you there. If something is said to be a quote by the Buddha but it’s not found in the scriptures, then it’s what I call a “fake quote.” Several paragraphs that try to explain how the quote is (or isn’t) in line with what the Buddha taught don’t change the fact that it’s not something we can legitimately claim the Buddha said.

  6. By using scriptures to identify which quotes are fake or authentic, is not a perfect method because it is put the Buddha quotes in physical form but actually it should be in mental form. So I think a better method to check wether a quote reflect the Buddha spirit or not, we should use both literature review (scriptures) and more important using our intuitive mind and feelings to find the happiness and compassion in each words. This method gives people a powerful tool to check the truth by themselves not only relying on anyone even teachers or books in the times we cannot find good teachers or books around.

    1. If you want to know whether a teaching is true or not, then according to the Buddha then you do indeed need to check it out in practice (or accept the testimony of the wise). But if you want to know if a quote is accurate, then you need to look at a primary source, which in this case is the scriptures.

      Without approval and without scorn, but carefully studying the sentences word by word, one should trace them in the Discourses and verify them by the Discipline. If they are neither traceable in the Discourses nor verifiable by the Discipline, one must conclude thus: ‘Certainly, this is not the Blessed One’s utterance; this has been misunderstood by that bhikkhu — or by that community, or by those elders, or by that elder.’ In that way, bhikkhus, you should reject it. [Digha Nikaya]

    2. Rather than publish your most recent, rather long comment, I’ll just address one thing that was in it.

      “you mean that we should strictly follow the teachings which is carved in stone (scripture) rather than words which cannot find in any original sources.”

      I haven’t said a single word about what teachings you or anyone else should follow. Follow whatever teachings you want. What I’ve done is defend the unremarkable claim that if a quote isn’t found in the scriptures there is no justification for saying that it’s a quote from the Buddha.

      The fact that you so radically misrepresent what I said is one of the reasons this conversation is, from this point, over.

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