I was introduced to this particular Fake Buddha Quote by someone who wanted to show me their Buddha quote website. As is often the case, most of his quotes were fake.
This one comes from Shantideva’s Bodhicaryavatara, or “Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life.” Shantideva was an 8th century Indian teacher who was a monk at Nalanda University. This work outlines a Mahayana concept of a compassionate path to awakening—one where your motivation for spiritual growth is not to benefit just yourself but all beings.
There’s a lot of great stuff in the “Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life,” including some very practical reflections for developing patience.
This particular quote is verse 10 from from Chapter 6.
The Dalai Lama is a big fan of Shantideva, and a lot of his teaching is a restatement of things from the Bodhicaryavatara. So his version of the quote above, found in “Dalai Lama: A Policy of Kindness” (page 99) is:
If you have fear of some pain or suffering, you should examine whether there is anything you can do about it. If you can, there is no need to worry about it; if you cannot do anything, then there is also no need to worry.
This one is from a longer quote purporting to be from the Digha Nikaya, which is a legitimate collection of Buddhist scriptures:
Sakka asked the Buddha: “Do different religious teachers head for the same goal or practice the same disciplines or aspire to the same thing?” “No, Sakka, they do not. And why? This world is made up of myriad different states of being, and people adhere to one or another of these states and become tenaciously possessive of them, saying, ‘This alone is true, everything else is false.’ It is like a territory that they believe is theirs. So all religious teachers do not teach the same goal or the same discipline, nor do they aspire to the same thing. But if you find truth in any religion or philosophy, then accept that truth without prejudice.
Sakka is a god, and the Buddha is often portrayed as having conversations with deities in which he gives them spiritual instruction or sometimes (notably in the case of Brahma) shows them up as being pompous blowhards.
“Digha Nikaya” means “Long collection” and it contains 34 suttas (discourses), arranged in three chapters. This particular sutta is the Sakkapañha Sutta, or “Discourse on Sakka’s questions.”
And this particular English rendition is from Anne Bancroft’s “The Buddha Speaks.” This is not the American actress, but an English Buddhist who was, many years ago, part of the same order I was ordained into in 1993. She’s now very elderly, but the last I heard of her she was still going strong. She didn’t ever study Pali to the best of my knowledge, and produced a version of the Dhammapada that is really very inaccurate, and that created at least one Fake Buddha Quote. The whole phenomenon of getting people who don’t know a language to do “translations” is very odd.
It’s the sentence at the end of the long quote above that’s the problem. It’s just not in the sutta! I assume that Bancroft added it herself, although it’s conceivable someone else did and she merely copied it.
Version by Sujato
Here’s Bhikkhu Sujato’s version. I’ve gone on a bit beyond the end of the passage above, so that you can see that there’s nothing corresponding to the sentence in question:
And then Sakka asked another question:
“Dear sir, do all ascetics and brahmins have the same doctrine, ethics, desires, and attachments?” “No, lord of gods, they do not.”
“Why not?” “The world has many and diverse elements. Whatever element sentient beings insist on in this world of many and diverse elements, they obstinately stick to it, insisting that: ‘This is the only truth, other ideas are stupid.’ That’s why not all ascetics and brahmins have the same doctrine, ethics, desires, and attachments.”
“Dear sir, have all ascetics and brahmins reached the ultimate end, the ultimate sanctuary, the ultimate spiritual life, the ultimate goal?” “No, lord of gods, they have not.”
Then Sakka, having delighted in & expressed his approval of the Blessed One’s words, asked him a further question: “Dear sir, do all brahmans & contemplatives teach the same doctrine, adhere to the same precepts, desire the same thing, aim at the same goal?”
“No, deva-king, not all brahmans & contemplatives teach the same doctrine, adhere to the same precepts, desire the same thing, aim at the same goal.”
“Why, dear sir, don’t all brahmans & contemplatives teach the same doctrine, adhere to the same precepts, desire the same thing, aim at the same goal?”
“The world is made up of many properties, various properties. Because of the many & various properties in the world, then whichever property living beings get fixated on, they become entrenched & latch onto it, saying, ‘Only this is true; anything else is worthless.’ This is why not all brahmans & contemplatives teach the same doctrine, adhere to the same precepts, desire the same thing, aim at the same goal.”
“But, dear sir, are all brahmans & contemplatives utterly complete, utterly free from bonds, followers of the utterly holy life, utterly consummate?”
As far as I’m aware there’s nothing corresponding to “But if you find truth in any religion or philosophy, then accept that truth without prejudice” in the scriptures. If you’ve seen it, please let me know.
Other Corresponding Teachings
I don’t think that the Buddha would have disagreed with the statement, though, based on other things that he said. To the Kalamas, who were confused by the many contradictory teachings they heard, he taught, “When you yourselves know: ‘These things are good; these things are not blamable; these things are praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,’ enter on and abide in them.”
And this next one isn’t the Buddha, but Ananda, one of his chief disciples answering a question put to him by the Buddha about whether all paths of practice are valid. But the Buddha, having heard Ananda’s response, approves:
“When — by following a life of precept & practice, a life, a holy life that is followed as of essential worth — one’s unskillful mental qualities decline while one’s skillful mental qualities increase: that sort of precept & practice, life, holy life that is followed as of essential worth is fruitful.”
Those who teach a Dhamma [teaching] for the abandoning of passion, for the abandoning of aversion, for the abandoning of delusion — their Dhamma is well-taught. Those who have practiced for the abandoning of passion, for the abandoning of aversion, for the abandoning of delusion — they have practiced well in this world.
So the quote in question is aligned with the Buddha’s teaching but since it doesn’t appear to be something he’s recorded as having said, it would be best not to refer to it as being one of his sayings.
Incidentally, you might have noticed, as you compared the three versions of the Sakkapañha Sutta above, that there’s nothing in Sujato or Thanissaro’s versions that corresponds to “It is like a territory that they believe is theirs.” That seems to be another interpolation.
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.
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.
When I Googled this quote — “She who knows life flows, feels no wear or tear, needs no mending or repair” — the first ten results all said it was by the Buddha. Many people would take that as confirmation that it was a genuine Buddha quote, but that just goes to remind us that lots of people making a false claim doesn’t make it true. We can also remind ourselves how unwise it is to assume that something must be true because you read it on the internet.
Incidentally there’s a “He who knows life flows…” version as well, although it’s far less popular.
On the grounds of content and style it seemed very unlikely that this would be from the Buddhist scriptures. It turns out to be from the Tao Te Ching, although I doubt it’s a very good translation.
It can be found on page 44 of “The Way of Life According to Laotzu,” by Witter Bynner (1944). It’s part of his translation of chapter 15 of the Tao Te Ching.
How can a man’s life keep its course If he will not let it flow? Those who flow as life flows know They need no other force: They feel no wear, they feel no tear, The need no mending, no repair.
According to Wikipedia, “Harold Witter Bynner, also known by the pen name Emanuel Morgan, (August 10, 1881 – June 1, 1968) was an American poet, writer and scholar, known for his long residence in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and association with other literary figures there.”
Translations of this work vary enormously, and I’m in no position to make judgements about which translations are best, but Bynner’s version is very different from most others that I’ve seen. Other translators’ versions are much closer to each other. Here are just two alternate translations, taken from this very helpful comparison site:
Gia-Fu Feng’s translation (1972):
Who can wait quietly while the mud settles? Who can remain still until the moment of action?
J. H. MacDonald (1996):
Who can be still until their mud settles and the water is cleared by itself? Can you remain tranquil until right action occurs by itself?
I’ve no idea how, or by whose hand, the quote changed form from “Those who flow as life flows…” to “She who knows life flows…” and how it came to be seen as a quote from the Buddha.
These four types of individuals are to be found existing in the world. Which four? The individual who goes with the flow, the individual who goes against the flow, the individual who stands fast, and the one who has crossed over, gone beyond, who stands on firm ground: a brahman.
And who is the individual who goes with the flow? There is the case where an individual indulges in sensual passions and does evil deeds. This is called the individual who goes with the flow.
There was also however the concept of the “stream winner” or “stream entrant” who was someone to had attained entry to the stream that flows to awakening.
One of the few references I know of to life as being like a river is not about “flow” in a positive sense, but to emphasize how brief is our time on earth.
Just as a river flowing down from the mountains, going far, its current swift, carrying everything with it, so that there is not a moment, an instant, a second where it stands still, but instead it goes & rushes & flows, in the same way, brahmans, the life of human beings is like a river flowing down from the mountains — limited, trifling, of much stress & many despairs. One should touch this [truth] like a sage, do what is skillful, follow the holy life. For one who is born there is no freedom from death.
This one has been found attributed to the Buddha in a number of books, blogs, Facebook posts, quote sites, graphics, and so on. To anyone familiar with the Buddhist scriptures it’s quite clearly fake.
It’s often found combined with an entirely separate Fake Buddha Quote, the two together looking like this:
You must love yourself before you love another. By accepting yourself and fully being what you are, your simple presence can make others happy. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.
Thanks to a reader called Rory for bringing this one to my attention.
For the first part of the quote, I found a link to a New Age author called Jane Roberts, who claimed to be channeling some entity called “Seth.” No offense to any Seths out there is intended, but that strikes me as being a rather lame monicker for a spirit guide. It’s better than Nigel or Brian, though, I suppose. Incidentally this isn’t the only fake Buddha quote that was dictated by a spook. “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear” is another.
Anyway, Rory did a bit more legwork and found that this is from Roberts’ “The Nature of Personal Reality,” which was published in 1974. There it’s found in the form:
You must first love yourself before you love another. By accepting yourself and joyfully being what you are, you fulfill your own abilities, and your simple presence can make others happy.
On a website called Metabunk, which debunks fake quotes, Rory shared the origins of the two quotes and he also (bless him) showed that the two quotes were probably combined as a result of someone misreading a 2012 Psychology Today blog post on “The 50 Best Quotes on Self-Love.” The quotes are found listed together, with the first being unattributed and the second attributed to the Buddha. Presumably someone copied these and combined them, not noticing, or perhaps not caring, that they were originally separate.
You’ll notice that in the Psychology Today article the first quote lacks a period so that the two quotes are run together ungrammatically. The AZ Quotes (or Lazy Quotes) graphic above faithfully maintains this error.
It’s taken me a long time to get around to tackling this old chestnut.
What prompts to me write today is a discussion on Google+ where this supposed quote cropped up. In this discussion, someone of a Taoist persuasion referred to the Buddha having said that life is suffering. He referred to Benjamin Hoff’s “The Tao of Pooh,” in which there is a story about Confucius, the Buddha, and Lao Zi, tasting vinegar—which represents, we are told, “the essence of life.” Confucius has a sour look on his face because the heavens and earth are out of balance, the Buddha wears a bitter expression because “life on earth was bitter, filled with attachments and desires that led to suffering,” but the Lao Zi is smiling because he accepts that sourness is a part of life.
The story doesn’t actually quote the Buddha as saying “Life is suffering,” although the person quoting it did. And so do plenty of other people, as you can see from the results of this Google search:
The most ironic one of these is the BuddhaNet article on “Common Buddhist Misunderstandings,” which tries to prevent people misinterpreting the Buddha’s supposed statement that “Life is suffering” by pointing out that it “should not be generalised to “all life is suffering.” But the true “common misunderstanding” is that “life is suffering” is not something that the Buddha ever said. And yet you’ll find this statement everywhere.
One of the people in the Google Plus conversation said:
I have been to many Buddha mediation/lecture sessions where it is readily stated that ‘life is suffering.’ Perhaps that because it’s a more dramatic thing to proclaim than simply life includes suffering, which could easily inspire the response, “What? Life includes suffering? That’s all? But I know that. Everyone knows that! I want my money back!!!!”
Indeed! The Buddha never said that “life is suffering,” just that there is suffering in life. His teaching is about accepting inevitable suffering (the vinegar) with grace and with a peaceful mind, while allowing joy to arise naturally when conditions allow.
“Life is suffering” is often quoted as being the Buddha’s first Noble Truth. And yet the scriptural version of this does not say that life is suffering:
Suffering, as a noble truth, is this: Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, sickness is suffering, death is suffering, sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief and despair are suffering; association with the loathed is suffering, dissociation from the loved is suffering, not to get what one wants is suffering — in short, suffering is the five categories of clinging objects.
So there are a lot of things here that are pointed to as being sources of suffering—in life. But life itself is not one of them, and it’s pointed to as necessarily involving suffering. And nowhere—not in that scripture or in any other—does the Buddha said that life is suffering or that everything is suffering.
The Buddha seems to have believed (although he didn’t say it directly) that some kind of pain was inevitable in life, and that the thing was to learn to accept it gracefully. The teaching of the Two Arrows is on that very theme. It illustrates the difference between how the “untaught worldling” and the “well-taught noble disciple” respond to pain. The first grieves and laments, or tries to escape suffering through the pursuit of happiness, and in doing so merely causes themselves more suffering. The latter accepts suffering without reacting: that is, without lamenting or trying to escape.
The Buddha not only didn’t see life as suffering, but he saw life, well-lived, as a source of great joy. Pleasure and happiness are important components of the path to awakening. They are part of the process of meditation, arising naturally as distractions fall away from the mind.
One problem is that usually by the time people start reading the Buddhist scriptures, they have read dozens of books on Buddhism. Those books say that the Buddha said “Life is suffering” (and a whole bunch more false ideas besides) and those ideas take root in the mind to such an extent that often by the time people encounter the scriptures their pre-existing ideas become a powerful filter through which they interpret everything they read. They can’t see what is actually there, and their preconceptions remain unchallenged.
And then when you tell them that the Buddha never said “Life is suffering” they argue with you or send you hate mail, illustrating the Buddha’s second Noble Truth, which is that suffering arises from clinging…
The book contains a glossary which in turn contains the following entry:
causality (also know as cause and effect). Everything that happens to us is the result of what we have thought, said, or done. What we undergo in this lifetime are the consequences of what we had done in our previous lifetimes, while what we do now will determine what we undergo in our future lifetimes.
I don’t know where the second sentence, “We alone are responsible for our lives,” comes from. It’s a common expression found in many places. I assume that someone cobbled together two separate quotes, or perhaps simply made up the last part, and it’s just coincidence that it was a preexisting saying. After all, you can find that expression here, here, here, and here. These each appear to be independent, and yet identical, statements.
Now it’s not uncommon to hear Buddhists to say that everything that happens to us is the result of our previous actions (karma). But that’s not what the early Buddhist scriptures teach. In fact that view is one that the Buddha argued against, for example by saying “it’s not proper for you to assert that, “Whatever a person experiences — pleasure, pain, or neither pleasure nor pain — all is caused by what was done in the past.”‘
Some Buddhists get very angry and call me names when I tell them that the Buddha, from what we can tell, argued against the idea that everything that happens to us is the result of karma. Presumably their own teachers say otherwise, or for some other reason they hold to that idea strongly. The other way to be unpopular with Buddhists is to say you’re agnostic about rebirth. It’s notable that the things Buddhists most readily get annoyed about are things they can’t verify in their own experience.
One problem with this notion of karma controlling everything is that it tends to lead to a blame the victim mentality. People I know who have been to see certain Tibetan teachers espousing this view have asked if, say, the Jews who were annihilated in the Holocaust supposedly deserved their fate, and the answer has been “Yes.” That horrifies me.
I wish I could find an original source for this quote, but unfortunately I haven’t been able to. I’m 100% sure that this does not come from any Buddhist scripture, but is of very recent vintage.
I’ve found it in a couple of books, but the oldest of these is a self-published work called “Inspiration to Mankind,” by Bendalam Krishna Rao . This book is a collection of quotes attributed to the Buddha — many of them fake. There is no publication date in the book itself, but based on information in Google Books and Archive.org I believe it was published in 2014.
It’s all over the web. The earliest instance I’ve found so far is from approximately 2009, on a Yahoo Questions page where it’s not attributed to the Buddha but is simply described as a “proverb.”
If you find any earlier references, please let me know.
So at the moment I’ve no idea where this quote is from, who wrote it, or how it became attributed to the Buddha. The only thing I’m confident of is that the Buddha never said it.
The Buddha was a fan of silence. He said to his monks that when they gathered they should either talk about Dhamma (the teachings) or remain silent.
A particularly nice quote from the Sutta Nipata discusses how it’s the wise that are silent, while the foolish talk much:
Know this from waters’ flow— those by rocks and pools— such rills and becks gush noisily, great waterways flow quiet.
What is unfilled makes noise but silent is what’s full, the fool is like the pot half-filled, the wise one’s like a lake that’s full.
There’s much mention of space in the scriptures, largely because there is a meditative attainment called “the sphere of infinite space.” That’s not described as being the home of the awakened, however. In fact the Buddha found it unsatisfactory.
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.
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.