“Practice the dhamma to perfection. Do not practice it in a faulty manner.”

I was asked about this one today:

Practice the dhamma to perfection. Do not practice it in a faulty manner. He who follows the teaching in the proper manner will live in peace and comfort both in this world and in the next.

My correspondent was suspicious of the “next life” reference, but that’s actually fine. In fact there wasn’t anything that flagged this one up as being “off” for me. I can well imagine the Buddha of the Pali scriptures using these words.

It turns out, though, that these are not quite the Buddha’s words. I feel like I’m being a pedantic killjoy in pointing this out, but this quote is actually from a modern paraphrase of a scriptural verse, and isn’t itself canonical.

It’s from “Treasury Of Truth: Illustrated Dhammapada” by Weragoda Sārada Mahā Thēro, page 717.

This is Sārada’s commentary on verse 169. In Thanissaro’s translation this is:

Live the Dhamma well.
Don’t live it badly.
One who lives the Dhamma
sleeps with ease
in this world & the next.

Sārada’s translation is similar:

Fare in Dhamma coursing well,
In evil courses do not fare
Who dwells in Dhamma’s happy
In this birth and the next.

The paraphrase is fine. No harm done. But it’s not entirely genuine either. I’m just keeping the record straight for anyone who’s interested in being strictly accurate. Weragoda Sārada Mahā Thēro deserves the credit for this quote rather than the Buddha.

“Love the whole world as a mother loves her only child.”

This one was brought to my attention recently as a quote I haven’t written up. My correspondent was very suspicious of it, and in a way he was right: it’s not at all typical of how the early scriptures quote the Buddha.

It was however from a sutta (Buddhist scriptural discourse) that I know very well, although I’d characterize it as a good paraphrase rather than an actual quote.

It’s from the Karaniya Metta Sutta:

Just as with her own life
A mother shields from hurt
Her own son, her only child,
Let all-embracing thoughts
For all beings be yours.

You can find the entire sutta (which isn’t very long) on Access to Insight.

Lawrence Khantipalo Mills’ translation on Sutta Central is as follows:

Just as a mother at the risk of life
loves and protects her child, her only child,
so one should cultivate this boundless love
to all that live in the whole universe.

The original stresses the mother protecting rather than loving her child, so a better paraphrase would be “Love the whole world as a mother protects her only child.” Still, it’s not too far off as it stands. I can’t bring myself to call this “fake” but it’s also not an actual quote, so I’ve put it in my “fakeish” category. No disrespect is intended by this categorization.

“The gift of food is the gift of life.”

This quote, “The gift of food is the gift of life,” was passed on to me by a reader called Ilya. He was suspicious because he thought “the gift of life” didn’t sound like the kind of thing the Buddha would say. Also, it was very closely tied to just one source: the Buddhist Global Relief website.

As it happens, Buddhist Global Relief is a wonderful organization. Here’s something of their history:

In 2007 the American Buddhist scholar-monk, Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, was invited to write an editorial essay for the Buddhist magazine Buddhadharma. In his essay, he called attention to the narrowly inward focus of American Buddhism, which has been pursued to the neglect of the active dimension of Buddhist compassion expressed through programs of social engagement. Several of Ven. Bodhi’s students who read the essay felt a desire to follow up on his suggestions. After a few rounds of discussions, they resolved to form a Buddhist relief organization dedicated to alleviating the suffering of the poor and disadvantaged in the developing world. At the initial meetings, seeking a point of focus, they decided to direct their relief efforts at the problem of global hunger, especially by supporting local efforts by those in developing countries to achieve self-sufficiency through improved food productivity. Contacts were made with leaders and members of other Buddhist communities in the greater New York area, and before long Buddhist Global Relief emerged as an inter-denominational organization comprising people of different Buddhist groups who share the vision of a Buddhism actively committed to the task of alleviating social and economic suffering.

Bhikkhu Bodhi is of course the foremost translator of Buddhist texts in the modern world, so it would be ironic if a fake quote were to be associated with an organization whose founding he inspired. While this quote isn’t exactly fake, it’s also not a direct quotation from the scriptures but more like a paraphrase of part of this sutta:

“In giving a meal, the donor gives five things to the recipient. Which five?

“He gives life [or duration of life] (āyu). He gives beauty (vaṇṇa). He gives happiness (sukha). He gives strength (bala). He gives intelligence [or as Thanissaro has it, quick-wittedness] (paṭibhāna).”

It’s an accurate paraphrase, since it doesn’t distort what’s being said, but it’s not of course a quote. It’s possible that it does exists as a quote somewhere, but I think it’s unlikely. If you know of anything, please let me know. Until then I’m classifying this as “fakeish.”

And while I have your attention, why don’t you head over to Buddhist Global Relief’s website and make a donation?

“To conquer oneself is a greater task than conquering others.”

This isn’t a million miles away from being a scriptural quotation, but it’s really a paraphrase. In the Dhammapada chapter on “The Thousands,” verses 103–104 include the following:

103. Though one may conquer a thousand times a thousand men in battle, yet he indeed is the noblest victor who conquers himself.

104. Self-conquest is far better than the conquest of others. Not even a god, an angel, Mara or Brahma can turn into defeat the victory of a person who is self-subdued and ever restrained in conduct.

“To conquer oneself is a greater task than conquering others” presumably corresponds to the beginning of verse 104.

In Pali this is “Attā have jitaṃ seyyo yā cāyaṃ itarā pajā.”

And in very literal English that’s “Oneself (attā) indeed (have) conquered (jitaṃ) better (seyyo) than (yā cāyaṃ) other (itarā) beings (pajā).”

There’s nothing there about a “task,” but the quote in question is a reasonable paraphrase: not fake, but not a strict translation. Somewhere between genuine and fakeish.

“However many holy words you speak however many you read, what good will they do you if you do not act on them?”

“However many holy words you speak however many you read, what good will they do you if you do not act on them?”

This popular quote is a paraphrase of verses 19 and 20 from the Dhammapada. It’s not very literal, but it more or less makes the same point as the original, so I’ve classed it as “Fakeish” rather than “Fake.”

Here’s Buddharakkhita’s version from Access to Insight:

19. Much though he recites the sacred texts, but acts not accordingly, that heedless man is like a cowherd who only counts the cows of others — he does not partake of the blessings of the holy life.

20. Little though he recites the sacred texts, but puts the Teaching into practice, forsaking lust, hatred, and delusion, with true wisdom and emancipated mind, clinging to nothing of this or any other world — he indeed partakes of the blessings of a holy life.

So it’s not a quote, but not a million miles off.

The reference to reading is an anachronism, of course. At the time of the Buddha the scriptures were recited rather than written down.

“Your days pass like rainbows, like a flash of lightning, like a star at dawn. Your life is short. How can you quarrel?”

Sanjiv Desai passed this one on to me today. I’d never seen it before, although it seems it’s everywhere…

“Your days pass like rainbows, like a flash of lightening, like a star at dawn. Your life is short. How can you quarrel?”

I thought that one might come from Thomas Byrom’s kinda-made-up “translation” of the Dhammapada, or from Jack Kornfield’s “Buddha’s Little Instruction Book.” It turns out it’s a bit of both.

Byrom has:

Hate never yet dispelled hate.
Only love dispels hate.
This is the law,
Ancient and inexhaustible.
You too shall pass away.
Knowing this, how can you quarrel?

This is meant to be a translation of verses 5 and 6 of the Dhammapada, which in Buddharakkhita’s quite literal translation is:

Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal.

There are those who do not realize that one day we all must die. But those who do realize this settle their quarrels.

Byrom’s version is actually pretty accurate by his standards. A lot of the time he just wrote his own poetry, more or less ignoring what the Pali text actually says.

Jack Kornfield, in his Buddha’s Little Instruction Book (page 19), turned Byrom’s loose translation into:

“Life is as fleeting as a rainbow, a flash of lightning, a star at dawn. Knowing this, how can you quarrel?”

Then in “A Lamp in the Darkness,” Jack altered this further to:

“Your days pass like rainbows, like a flash of lightening (sic), like a star at dawn. Your life is short. How can you quarrel?”

The imagery almost certainly comes from another text altogether: the Mahayana Diamond Sutra.

So you should view this fleeting world
As a star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.

So it’s an interesting conglomeration, this one! It embodies things the Buddha said (and even though the Diamond Sutra was composed long after the Buddha’s death, the concluding verse is similar to some things he’s recorded in the Pali scriptures as having taught).

For example this:

“Just as a dewdrop on the tip of a blade of grass quickly vanishes with the rising of the sun and does not stay long, in the same way, brahmans, the life of human beings is like a dewdrop.”

Or this:

Form is like a glob of foam;
feeling, a bubble;
perception, a mirage;
fabrications, a banana tree;
consciousness, a magic trick —
this has been taught
by the Kinsman of the Sun.
However you observe them,
appropriately examine them,
they’re empty, void
to whoever sees them
appropriately.

But despite these similarities, “Your days pass like rainbows, like a flash of lightening, like a star at dawn. Your life is short. How can you quarrel?” is definitely not a direct quotation.

“If you cannot find a good companion to walk with, walk alone, like an elephant roaming the jungle. It is better to be alone than to be with those who will hinder your progress.”

This quote is from the scriptures, although it’s a little truncated. Ideally omissions from quotes should be marked by ellipses, but that hasn’t happened in this case:

“If you cannot find a good companion to walk with, walk alone, like an elephant roaming the jungle. It is better to be alone than to be with those who will hinder your progress.”

As soon as I saw it I was reminded of a verse from the Dhammapada, and my instincts turned out to be right.

However, it’s not exactly a quote, but an adaptation of two Dhammapada verses:

329. If for company you cannot find a wise and prudent friend who leads a good life, then, like a king who leaves behind a conquered kingdom, or like a lone elephant in the elephant forest, you should go your way alone.

330. Better it is to live alone; there is no fellowship with a fool. Live alone and do no evil; be carefree like an elephant in the elephant forest.

So, this isn’t quite fake, but is kind of in a gray area, being more of an interpretive paraphrase than an actual quotation.

I’m afraid I have no idea of its origins, since it’s not in any books on Google Books, as fas as I’ve found, although the last part of the quote is very similar to a piece of advice given in Instant Karma, by Barbara Ann Kipfer (2003): “Choose to be alone rather than be with those who will hinder your progress.”

But you may be surprised at how common such sentiments, and even precise turns of phrase are. For example, at the tender age of 14, George Washington apparently compiled a list of 110 rules for civility. Rule number 56 was, “Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for ’tis better to be alone than in bad company.”

“Always be mindful of the kindness and not the faults of others.”

Adrian Rush sent me this quote, along with the comment following it:

“Always be mindful of the kindness and not the faults of others.”

Sounds suspect to me. So many of these fake quotes going around make the Buddha sound like a 2,500-year-old version of Oprah. The Buddha’s philosophy merits more than being reduced to feel-good, new-age, fortune-cookie philosophy.

Anyway, I’ve been an armchair Buddhist for about a decade, and I’ve never run across this quote in my studies.

I think Adrian was right to be suspicious. I’m 99.9% sure this isn’t a canonical quote, and that at best it’s a paraphrase.

According to Frank MacHovec’s 2007 book, Buddha, Tao, Zen, “Be mindful of the kindnesses and not the faults of others” (note the absence of “always” and the use of “kindnesses” rather than “kindness”) was a saying of Master Chin Kung of the Amida Society.

Some of the sayings attributed to Master Chin Kung are actually from the Dhammapada, including the following one which may be the inspiration for the quote in question:

Do not focus on the rudeness of others, what they do or leave undone. Focus instead of what you have done and left undone.

This is clearly a rendition of Dhammapada verse 50, which in Buddharakkhita’s translation is:

Let none find fault with others; let none see the omissions and commissions of others. But let one see one’s own acts, done and undone.

Verse 50 of the Dhammapada is from a chapter called The Flowers, and another of master Chin Kung’s sayings is also reminiscent of verses from that chapter:

“Saying pleasant words without meaning them is like a beautiful flower with no fragrance.”

This is obviously drawn from verse 51:

Like a beautiful flower full of color but without fragrance, even so, fruitless are the fair words of one who does not practice them.

How the specific version “Always be mindful of the kindness and not the faults of others,” with its addition of “always” and the change from “kindnesses” to “kindness” came to be, I can’t say. It’s in a book of “Buddha Quotes” (many, if not most of which are fake), but the book was published in 2013, and since Google says there are 25,000 instances of the quote on the web, the saying must have been around for a while.

“Do not overrate what you have received, or envy others. He who envies others does not obtain peace of mind.”

Jacob Lewis, with a columbia.edu email address, wrote to me about this one:

“Do not overrate what you have received, or envy others. He who envies others does not obtain peace of mind.”

He said he’d seen it silk-screened on a tapestry in Asheville, NC.

It’s a rather odd, and slighly inaccurate, translation of the 365th verse of the Dhammapada. I’m rating this one as “Fakeish” rather than “Fake” because it’s simple a case of bad translation.

Here’s Buddharakhita’s translation:

One should not despise what one has received, nor envy the gains of others. The monk who envies the gains of others does not attain to meditative absorption.

And here’s Thanissaro’s:

Gains:
don’t treat your own with scorn,
don’t go coveting those of others.
A monk who covets those of others
attains
no concentration.

For some reason the translator has taken “na atimabbeyya” (one should not despise, slight, or neglect) to mean “one should not overrate,” thus reversing the meaning of the original.

I don’t know who the translator was, but the earliest instance of this quote that Ive found on Google Books is in a 1956 book called “The Wisdom of the Living Religions,” by Joseph Gaer. Unfortunately Google Books doesn’t let me look inside the book, even to see a snippet.

“Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.”

Today a non-Buddhist friend, trembling no doubt at the thought of incurring my wrath and scorn by posting a quotation erroneously attributed to the Buddha, asked me on Twitter whether “Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth” was a genuine Buddha quote.

This is an interesting one. I’ve seen it around a lot on quotes sites and in books, mostly attributed to the Buddha (but once to Confucius and another time to Colin Powell) and it’s never rung any alarm bells. My instant gut response was it sounded like something the Buddha might have said.

In the exact form given above, the quote first appears in Google Books in a 2003 work, A Way Forward: Spiritual Guidance for Our Troubled Times, by Anna Voigt and Nevill Drury. The recent provenance made me wonder if this was still a genuine quote (it did more or less ring true), but with altered wording.

I did a bit of digging around and found the canonical original sitting on my bookshelf, in the Pali Text Society’s Gradual Sayings, Volume I. It’s in “The Book of the Threes,” and in full it runs like this:

Monks, there are these three things which are practiced in secret, not openly. What are they?

The ways of womenfolk are secret, not open. Brahmins practice their chants in secret, not openly. Those of perverse views [that’s philosophically rather than sexually perverse views] hold their views secretly, not openly. These are the three things…

Monks, there are these three things which shine forth for all to see, which are not hidden. Which three?

The disc of the moon shines for all to see; it is not hidden. The disc of the sun does likewise. The Dhamma-Discipline [dhamma-vinaya] of a Tathagata [Buddha] shines for all to see; it is not hidden. These are the three things.

So “Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth” has its origins in a genuine Buddha quote, although its paraphrased and simplified. I’m pleased to have my instincts validated.

A contracted form of the canonical version dates at least to the early twentieth century. For example in The Essence of Buddhism by Pokala Lakshmi Narasu (1907) we see:

Three things shine before the world and cannot be hidden. They are the moon, the sun, and the truth proclaimed by the Tathagata

The resemblance is obvious, especially if we highlight the parts that the contemporary quote and the 1907 version have in common:

Three things shine before the world and cannot be hidden. They are the moon, the sun, and the truth proclaimed by the Tathagata

The word order has been rearranged (we nearly always say “sun and moon,” not “moon and sun”) and the word “long” has been inserted, but otherwise the two versions are identical.

However the version I was originally asked about, I can’t accept as a canonical quotation. It’s simply a rather poor paraphrase.