Buddha was asked: “What have you gained from meditation?” The Buddha replied, “Nothing at all.”

what-have-you-gained-199x300A reader called Gerald wrote to me recently and asked me about a “fishy” quote:

Hello! I have come across this quote and would like to know your input. (smells fishy). Thank you! Buddha was asked: “What have you gained from Meditation?” He replied: “Nothing.” “However”, Buddha said, “let me tell you what I lost : Anger, Anxiety, Depression, Insecurity, Fear of Old, Age and Death.”

That one’s as fishy as a barrel of mackerel.

This particular quote is found in many variants. The locus classicus for this particular version would seem to be Eknath Easwaran’s introduction to his translation of the Dhammapada, which itself is the source of a number of Fake Buddha Quotes. Here’s the relevant portion of the introduction:

Someone once asked the Buddha skeptically, “What have you gained through meditation.”

The Buddha replied, “Nothing at all.”

“Then, Blessed One, what good is it.”

“Let me tell you what I lost through meditation: sickness, anger, depression, insecurity, the burden of old age, the fear of death. That is the good of meditation, which leads to nirvana.”

That was first published in 1985.

That in turn seems to be based on something published in 1973 — World Buddhism, Volume 22 — by the World Fellowship of Buddhists.

It may be stating the case too strongly to say that in meditation one seeks to gain nothing. For there is an increase in happiness and peace of mind. But when asked, “What have you gained from meditation?”, the answer would be: “It is not what I have gained that is important but rather what I have diminished, namely, greed, hatred, and delusion.”

This is clearly not the Buddha who is supposed to be speaking, but simply a hypothetical meditator.

The quote — as indicated — is found in a number of forms on various blogs as well as in a few books. One book attempts to make the quote a bit more similar to the style of the Pali canon by throwing in a “blessed one”:

Someone once asked the Buddha: “What have you gained through meditation?” The Buddha replied, “Nothing at all.”

“Then, Blessed One, what good is it?”

The Buddha said: “Let me tell you what I have lost in meditation: sickness, depression…

It would have been better also to have reverted to the traditional “greed, hatred, and delusion” that World Buddhism used, especially given that the Buddha was hardly immune to sickness, and in fact died of food poisoning.

28 thoughts on “Buddha was asked: “What have you gained from meditation?” The Buddha replied, “Nothing at all.””

  1. Can you explain what you mean by saying on you website the following? “…especially given that the Buddha was hardly immune to sickness, and in fact died of food poisoning.”
    Food poisoning is NOT sickness.
    Sickness, or perhaps illness, is something that happens due to various imbalances in mind, body and spirit. Food poisoning is not a sickness like malaria, T.B., or pneumonia.
    Can you explain why you have made this incorrect assertion?

    1. I’m not at all clear what point you’re trying to make.

      Food poisoning is the result of ingesting harmful bacteria, such as salmonella sp. It’s therefore an infectious disease in the same way as tuberculosis or pneumonia. Malaria is of course a parasitic infection, but still an infection.

      The scriptures describe Buddha getting ill on several occasions. At one time his personal physician diagnosed that his “humors” were out of balance, and prescribed various purgatives. Another time the Buddha was “gravely ill” and had a disciple recite the Dhamma as his treatment.

      Are you trying to assert that the Buddha did not in fact get ill? If so, you have a very peculiar view of the kind of person he was, and of the nature of spiritual awakening.

  2. Regarding the Lord Buddha died from food poisoning,

    Below is one of the question from King Milinda (2nd Century BCE) and the answer from Enlightened Nagasena Thero. There is a series of questions from King Milinda and answers from Enlightened Nagasena Thero.

    King Milinda; Dear thero, Lord Buddha preached that the alms given just before the attaining Buddha hood and alms given before he faces the Nibbana, give most fruitful results to the giver than other givings. But monk Sangeethikaraka, has said that after having the last alms giving by Chunda Karmaraputhra, L.Buddha got sick severely. So thero, how can Chunda Karmaraputhra collects more fruitful results after making the L.Buddha sick…?

    Enlightened Nagasena thero; Dear king, both sayings are correct but you have wrong understanding. L.Buddha’s last meal was not prepared only by C.Karmaraputhra, but also ‘Devas’ from more luxurious worlds also added their alms it knowing the fruitful result of it. L.Buddha never got sick because of his last meal, but at the last moment he bears his body, it got more weaken as a result of L.Buddha’s decision to face the Nibbana.

      1. Fake quote? Right quote? Correct quote? No quote? quote on quote?
        It really doesn’t matter…….
        What matters is that we learn and try to be a better person. Don’t look for the source of the message, it doesn’t matter where it came from or who wrote or said it. If it makes sense and if it encourages you to be a better person that’s all it matters. It is good to be curious but sometimes You gotta Let go- relax- and you might just HOLD- what might make you secure and stable.🙏🤙 EVERYONE feels certain amount of regret or guilty when they do wrong and EVERYONE feels certain amount of satisfaction or feel accomplished when they do something good(regardless-of their background or religion). Before everything we are just HUMANS. Stay quite and you might hear the answer.

        1. It’s possible to try to be a better person and communicate truthfully, Pema. In fact one is part of the other. And so I prefer to follow the practice of ensuring that my communication is truthful, so that if I say something is from the Buddhist scriptures, then it actually is. As a wise person once said, “truth is better than bullshit.”

          I also like to follow the Buddha’s advice that when you hear that a quote is attributed to him you should check out its authenticity. He thought it was important that he was quoted accurately. Of course we’re all free to disagree with him. I mean, what did he know? 😉

        2. Pema, I guess you’re right in that it probably doesn’t matter where good advice comes from, if we apply it to our lives and find that it brings benefit.

          On the other hand, if the question is “did Mr X says this particular thing?” and the answer is “no” there’s no harm in sharing that either.

          All good. 🙂

        3. The “matter” of it is that the Buddha was such an exceptional source of wisdom that it is worthwhile to try to keep his teachings as unadulterated by misquotation and false attribution as possible. Preserving the dharma as the Buddha gave it is a labor of love and devotion. No one forces us to help in this work, but we should be grateful that it is being done.

  3. Dear Admin,

    Lord Buddha has been the only religious preacher how had the moral to say,
    “Now, Kalamas, don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, ‘This contemplative is our teacher.’ When you know for yourselves that, ‘These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness’ — then you should enter & remain in them”.

    I copied it form your own website. The Buddha Dharma (Teaching) has the characteristic of ‘Sandittika’ means come see and investigate it yourselves. Don’t believe just as Buddha has preached.

    Buddhism is preached by a MAN who was born in this earth. not from a god or son of god what so ever. Furthermore Lord Buddha states that any religion which teaches the 4 Noble Truths and the Noble 8 fold paths, is a right religion to follow.

    Buddhism teach something which is achievable in this very life by us. The levels of concentration of mind (Dyaana) is achievable in this very life through Buddhist Meditation. A person how has ended Craving, Hate and Ignorance and achieved Dyaana such as Sotapanna, Sakurdagami, Anagami, Arhat and the Buddhahood wouldn’t go around and showoff that they have achieved Dyaana. It can only be found out by a person who has achieved the same or above level.

    Enlightened Nagasena Thero was a Buddhist Monk who had become Arhat. a certain person has a high power of mind and also ‘Irdi’ (supernatural) powers. Me and you both are lay people. But those levels of concentration of mind and Irdi powers can be achievable by both of us in this very life if we follow the right path. There for condemning a statement of someone who had higher levels of concentration of mind by a lay person can not be acceptable. I would only have accepted your statement condemning the Enlightened (Arhat) Nagasena Theros statement only if you were an Arhat Buddhist Monk or a Buddha.

  4. The quote I’ve heard more often goes: “Buddha sai, ‘Truly, I have attained nothing from this complete, unexcelled enlightenment.'”

    Do you know where that one comes from? Quick research seems to suggest Huang-Po.

      1. So that’s as follows:

        Subhuti again asked, “Blessed lord, when you attained complete Enlightenment, did you feel in your mind that nothing had been acquired?”

        The Buddha replied:

        “That is it exactly, Subhuti. When I attained total Enlightenment, I did not feel, as the mind feels, any arbitrary conception of spiritual truth, not even the slightest. Even the words ‘total Enlightenment’ are merely words, they are used merely as a figure of speech.”

        It’s certainly similar, although the topic is Enlightenment rather than meditation.

    1. That’s from the Diamond Sutra, or at least from a very old translation of that text. More modern translations express that verse rather differently, which may mean that they’re better translations or that there are variants. I’m afraid I’m not qualified to know!

  5. Your website is fake, either u may be christian, muslim or hindu?
    So u are presenting hateful writings.

    1. I’m confused. Why do you think that my letting people know about misattributed quotes is hateful?

  6. Book: “zen teachings of haung po” by John blofeld states on page 38:
    “Therefore the Buddha said: ‘I truly attained nothing from complete I excelled Enlightenment’ it was for fear that people would not believe this that he drew upon what is seen with the five sorts of vision and spoken with the five kinds of speech. So this quotation is by no means empty talk but expresses the highest truth”

    Huang Po reiterates this quote from the Buddha a few times in the book.

    1. Thanks for that. The Heart Sutra too makes the point that there is no attainment.

      However, riven the very different content of the rest of the two suspect quote, I suspect that the resemblance to the Prajnaparamita literature is coincidental.

  7. how dare you man To against buddhism.how do you know this is fake and who are you to say thats fake quotes. lord Buddha is a greatest teacher in the world beyond earth. After your death you defenitly suffer in the hell. 10000% sure about that. Even gods not against our lord buddha. So you like a dust comPare with our lord buddha.

    1. Cherith, I think you might have misread the page: this is clearly in support of Buddhism, not against it.

  8. Doesn’t seem fake. Just misquoted and often biased by whomever heard and interpreted it by their own perceptions. Just like this blog. No harm done. It’s the story of the blind holy men describing the elephant all over again. Ha ha. Namaste to you.

  9. Thank you for all the sleuthing that you have done and continue to do, and pointing out what is correct and what is not. It was very helpful to me.

  10. No place for anger and non-buddhistic harmful, blind adherences, fact checking is of utmost importance in buddhist philosophy! Namo Buddhaya.

    1. What a relief it is to read your comment, Sreeman. It seems that a lot of people get very upset when the attributions of quotes they like are fact-checked. My “fan mail” page is full of interesting comments!

  11. There is this from Huang Po’s On The Transmission of Mind, translated by John Blofeld:

    Therefore the Buddha said: ‘I truly obtained nothing from Enlightenment.’

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