“There are those who discover they can leave behind confused reactions…”


“There are those who discover
they can leave behind confused reactions
and become patient as the earth;
unmoved by anger,
unshaken as a pillar,
unperturbed as a clear and quiet pool.”

I was asked about this one earlier today, after a reader spotted it on the Facebook feed of Spirit Rock retreat center, who seem to have created a graphic of it (which has since been deleted, although I managed to retrieve it from my browser cache) attributing the quote to the Buddha, and giving Dhammapada verse 49 as the source.

Obviously the person who asked me about it was suspicious. I was too, at least about parts of it.

First, though, the attribution given is clearly wrong. Dhammapada verse 49 is about monks going from village to village as bees go from flower to flower.

“Confused reactions” is also not exactly the kind of expression you get in the early Buddhist scriptures. It’s a term from modern psychology. The similes, though, are very traditional. For example verses 81 and 82 of the Dhammapada contain similar imagery in the same order:

Just as a solid rock is not shaken by the storm, even so the wise are not affected by praise or blame.

On hearing the Teachings, the wise become perfectly purified, like a lake deep, clear and still.

My guess was that the quote in question was more likely to be a paraphrase or adaptation of these, or some other verse or verses, from the Dhammapada.

Dhammapada verse 95 was the obvious candidate:

There is no more worldly existence for the wise one who, like the earth, resents nothing, who is firm as a high pillar and as pure as a deep pool free from mud. (Buddharakkhita’s translation)

And this turned out in fact to be the case. This is taken from Ajahn Munindo’s “A Dhammapada for Contemplation.”

The title suggests that Munindo was aiming to produce an adaptation rather than a translation: a text that is more relatable than the more literal versions.

In this verse, for example, Munindo does an interesting treatment of the original term “samsara,” which literally means “faring on,” and which refers traditionally to the endless rounds of rebirth.  Buddharakkhita rendered to this as “worldly existence.” Thanissaro renders samsara as “traveling on,” which is literal but not very helpful to the reader not familiar with Buddhism.  Samsara is from a verb meaning “to go, flow, run, move along,” and a prefix, sam-, which means together. It has the meaning of “to go on endlessly,” or “to come again and again.”

Munido renders this as “confused reactions,” which are of course to be abandoned.  This a good way to shift our attention to the present-moment experience of the mind , and from the concept of rebirth (which is not here and not now). It’s worth pointing out that samsara is right here and right now, and that on a psychological scale it does involve the process of confused grasping and aversion, or “reacting,” in modern parlance.

In terms of practice and reflection Munido’s framing of samsara is useful. It’s more an interpretation than a translation, though. Of course all translation involves interpretation to a degree, especially when it comes to terms like samsara, which are not part of the reader’s cultural frame of reference.

Since this quote also takes great liberties with the overall structure and style of the Dhammapada verse, I have to say it doesn’t do a good job as a literal translation, although of course that a literal translation wasn’t Munindo’s intent. So I’m categorizing this as “fakish” rather than fake or genuine.  This version of Dhammapada verse 95 is so different from the original that I really think it should be credited to Ajahn Munindo and not the Buddha.

“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

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.”

“If you want to know the past, look at your present. If you want to know the future, look at your present.”

This one was passed on to me this morning by a reader who had spotted it on Facebook.

It’s all over the web, and in several books as well.

The earliest occurrence of it that I’ve seen in a book is from 1992, in Tarot of the Spirit, by Pamela Eakins, page 314. Rather handily, Eakins gives a reference, and points us toward the late Roshi Philip Kapleau’s The Three Pillars of Zen. The page she gives as a reference (294) doesn’t contain the quote, but the glossary at the end of the book contains the following in its definition of “karma.”

Thus our present life and circumstances are the products of our past thoughts and actions, and in the same way our deeds in this life will fashion our future mode of existence. (p. 408)

A reader of this blog called Wiposhka (see comments below) points out that Nichiren Daishonin wrote in his treatise, “The Opening of the Eyes”:

Likewise, the Contemplation on the Mind-Ground Sutra states: “If you want to understand the causes that existed in the past, look at the results as they are manifested in the present. And if you want to understand what results will be manifested in the future, look at the causes that exist in the present.”

This may well be what Roshi Kapleau was paraphrasing in his glossary.

This Sutra isn’t one I’m familiar with. According to the Nichiren Buddhism Library, this is the 心地観経 — Hsin-ti-kuan-ching (Chinese) or Shinjikan-gyō (Japanese) —which is “a sutra translated by the Indian monk Prajnā, who went to China in 781.”

Our quote, “If you want to know the past, look at your present. If you want to know the future, look at your present” seems to be to be a reasonable paraphrase of “If you want to understand the causes that existed in the past, look at the results as they are manifested in the present. And if you want to understand what results will be manifested in the future, look at the causes that exist in the present.”

The Chinese scriptures are very varied in terms of authenticity. There’s nothing exceptional about that, since the same could be said about the Buddhist scriptures in any country. Some of the Chinese scriptures are straight translations of works taken from India. Some are compilations and systematizations of those works. Some are apocryphal, having been composed in China, the famous Heart Sutra being one of them.

The sutta we’re discussing here seems to be Taisho No. 159, and to have the full title, 大乗本生心地観経/大乘本生心地觀經 (Dai-jō-hon-jō-shin-ji-kan-gyō). This is according to the website of Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai, the Japanese “Society for the Promotion of Buddhism.” The website says of this work:

This sūtra consists in all of 13 chapters, describing in the main the practice and discipline of the monk. However, Chapter 2, called ‘Chapter on Requital of Moral Obligations,’ discusses obligations to one’s parents, one’s fellow sentient beings, the king and the Three Treasures (Buddha, Dharma, and Saṃgha), and for this reason this sūtra has frequently been made use of in Japan.

As far as I’m aware there is no translation of this sutra available, and as a non-reader of Chinese I’m not in a position to say whether Nichiren was correct in saying that the quote comes from it. For now I’m going to leave it with the designation “fakeish,” a rather unsatisfactory label, by which I mean in this case “undetermined.”

The Buddha is often hard to quote, and that’s especially the case when it comes to technical points like the operation of karma. So I’ll offer you here some words from Bhikkhu Thanissaro, who explains the Buddhist teaching of karma in relation to the past and present in an introduction to his translation of the Devadaha Sutta:

The general understanding of this teaching [on karma] is that actions from the past determine present pleasure and pain, while present actions determine future pleasure and pain. Or, to quote a recent book devoted to the topic, “Karma is the moral principle that governs human conduct. It declares that our present experience is conditioned by our past conduct and that our present conduct will condition our future experience.” This, however, does not accurately describe the Buddha’s teaching on karma, and is instead a fairly accurate account of the Nigantha [Jain] teaching, which the Buddha explicitly refutes here. As he interrogates the Niganthas, he makes the point that if all pleasure and pain experienced in the present were determined by past action, why is it that they now feel the pain of harsh treatment when they practice asceticism, and no pain of harsh treatment when they don’t? If past action were the sole determining factor, then present action should have no effect on their present experience of pleasure or pain.

In this way, the Buddha points to one of the most distinctive features of his own teaching on kamma: that the present experience of pleasure and pain is a combined result of both past and present actions. This seemingly small addition to the notion of kamma plays an enormous role in allowing for the exercise of free will and the possibility of putting an end to suffering before the effects of all past actions have ripened. In other words, this addition is what makes Buddhist practice possible, and makes it possible for a person who has completed the practice to survive and teach it with full authority to others.

It’s not uncommon, actually, for people to present as “the Buddhist teaching of karma” things that the Buddha explicitly refuted. Many times I’ve seen Tibetan Buddhists, in particular, make claims like “everything that happens to us is the result of karma,” even though that’s a teaching explicitly refuted in the Devadaha Sutta. For example, Lati Rinpoche talked about the Jewish Holocaust of the Second World War as follows:

“The victims were experiencing the consequences of their actions performed in previous lives. The individual victims must have done something very bad in earlier lives that led to their being treated in this way.”

I’ve seen other Tibetan teachers with more nuanced views, but this idea of everything that we experience being the result of our own past actions is a common one.

There’s an expanded version of this quote, which goes:

If you want to know the past, to know what has caused you, look at yourself in the present, for that is the past’s effect. If you want to know your future, then look at yourself in the present, for that is the cause of the future.

This is commonly attributed to the Majjhima Nikaya, or Middle Length Sayings, which is a Buddhist scripture, although those words are not to be found in that work.

“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.