The quote in question is from an old book called The Teaching of Buddha: The Buddhist Bible: A Compendium of Many Scriptures Translated from the Japanese. The book contains a mixture of commentary and scripture, and although it is translated from the Japanese, some of the scripture is quite clearly from the Pali Dhammapada. The verse in question is smack bang in the middle of other identifiable Dhammapada quotations, but is not itself from the Dhammapada. I’ve put the verses from The Teaching of Buddha (which are not numbered in the original) on the left, and, for comparison, translations from Access to Insight on the right.
|Verses from Teaching of the Buddha||Verses from the Dhammapada|
|On a trail a man should travel with a company of equal mind or one who has a better mind; one had better travel alone than to travel with a foolish man.||61. Should a seeker not find a companion who is better or equal, let him resolutely pursue a solitary course; there is no fellowship with the fool.|
|An insincere and evil friend is more to be feared than a wild beast; a wild beast may would your body but an evil friend will wound your mind.||[???]|
|So long as a man can not control his own mind, how can he get any satisfaction from thinking such thoughts as, ” This is my son, ” or ” This is my treasure ? ” A foolish man suffers from such thoughts.||62. The fool worries, thinking, “I have sons, I have wealth.” Indeed, when he himself is not his own, whence are sons, whence is wealth?|
|To be foolish and to recognise that one is fool, is better than to be foolish and imagine that one is wise.||63. A fool who knows his foolishness is wise at least to that extent, but a fool who thinks himself wise is a fool indeed.|
|A foolish man, though he associates with a wise man, cannot understand the wise man’s wisdom.||64. Though all his life a fool associates with a wise man, he no more comprehends the Truth than a spoon tastes the flavor of the soup.|
So we have a sequence of verses from the Dhammapada, with this rather odd interpolation, which is of an entirely different style.
What’s going on?
The “wild beast” verse is from a Mahayana Sutra called the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, or Nirvana Sutra. This is not the same work as the Pali Mahaparinibbana Sutta.
I found this referenced in Nichiren Daishonin’s complete works, in his “Reply to Hoshina Gorō Tarō”:
“Have no fear of mad elephants. What you should fear are evil friends! Why? Because a mad elephant can only destroy your body; it cannot destroy your mind. But and evil friend can destroy both body and mind.”
In Yamamoto’s 1973 translation (you’ll find it on page 307) it’s:
“The Bodhisattva-mahasattva sees both the evil elephant and the evil friend as one and not two. Why so? Because both destroy one’s own self. The Bodhisattva never fears the evil elephant, but fears the evil friend. Why? The evil elephant only harms the body, not the mind. The evil friend destroys both.”
The Mahaparinirvana Sutra was composed in India in the 1st century, long after the Buddha’s death. In the fifth century it was substantially expanded by the Chinese translator Dharmakshema. Although it’s therefore from a Buddhist scripture, there’s no evidence that the historical Buddha said this (or if he did, I haven’t yet found it).
The organization that publishes “Teaching of Buddha” follows Nichiren, which may be why they slipped a verse he quoted in amongst the Dhammapada verses.
There is at least one passage where wild elephants and evil friends are in proximity, but there’s no mention of body or mind being harmed:
“The bhikkhu, reflecting properly, avoids a fierce elephant, a fierce horse, a fierce ox, a fierce dog, a snake, a tree-stump, a thorny place, an abyss, a precipice, a refuse-pit and a cesspool. If a bhikkhu dwells in such an improper place, resorts to such an improper resort and keeps company with evil friends, his wise fellow-bhikkhus would suspect him of involving himself in evil circumstances. Reflecting properly, he avoids improper places, improper resorts and evil friends.”
This is from the Sabbasava Sutta.
Here’s an interesting parallel with our “wild beast” quote:
He is much more to be feared than any lion you see at a wild beast show, because a lion can only hurt your body ; Satan can hurt your body and soul.
Coincidence? Almost certainly. The quote is from The Children’s Friend (1852), edited by William Carus Wilson. Wilson, by another coincidence, shares part of his name with Paul Carus, an early translator of the Dhammapada, whom I mentioned above.
Wilson, according to Wikipedia was the inspiration for Mr Brocklehurst, the autocratic head of Lowood School, depicted by Charlotte Brontë in her 1847 novel Jane Eyre. He received an apology from the author after he considered suing her over the depiction.
The Buddha certainly had plenty to say about evil friends. Here’s something he said to the householder Sigala:
“These four, young householder, should be understood as foes in the guise of friends:
he who appropriates a friend’s possessions,
he who renders lip-service,
he who flatters,
he who brings ruin.
“In four ways, young householder, should one who appropriates be understood as a foe in the guise of a friend:
he appropriates his friend’s wealth,
he gives little and asks much,
he does his duty out of fear,
he associates for his own advantage.
“In four ways, young householder, should one who renders lip-service be understood as a foe in the guise of a friend:
he makes friendly profession as regards the past,
he makes friendly profession as regards the future,
he tries to gain one’s favor by empty words,
when opportunity for service has arisen, he expresses his inability.
“In four ways, young householder, should one who flatters be understood as a foe in the guise of a friend:
he approves of his friend’s evil deeds,
he disapproves his friend’s good deeds,
he praises him in his presence,
he speaks ill of him in his absence.
“In four ways, young householder, should one who brings ruin be understood as a foe in the guise of a friend:
he is a companion in indulging in intoxicants that cause infatuation and heedlessness,
he is a companion in sauntering in streets at unseemly hours,
he is a companion in frequenting theatrical shows,
he is a companion in indulging in gambling which causes heedlessness.”