“If you do not find the solution where you stand where else shall you find it?”

The Twitter user, @AnAmericanMonk, is rather prone to posting Fake Buddha Quotes, incidentally, and most of the quotes he publishes are misattributed. Which leads me to wonder whether some people have an affinity for Fake Buddha Quotes. I’ve noticed that many people who post Buddha quotes are like @AnAmericanMonk, with the majority of their quotes turning out to be fake. This could be partly because much of what the Buddha says isn’t in sound-bites, and it often isn’t in a literary style that we find polished. This may be due to the oral tradition rather than the Buddha’s own choice of words… Couple that with a lack of familiarity with the Buddhist scriptures, and I can see how when these polished nuggets come along with a #Buddha hashtag attached, they catch the eye.

The quote with “truth” in it now sounds much more genuine, although the “where you stand” didn’t ring true.

Google Books brought up a book containing a variant of that variant: “If you can’t find the truth right where you are, where else do you think you will find it?” This time it was attributed to Eihei Dogen, which sounded more plausible. The book in which this quote was offered was Wisdom for the Soul: Five Millennia of Prescriptions for Spiritual Healing, edited by Larry Chang, and Chang kindly provided a citation: “The Practice of Meditation” in The Enlightened Mind: An Anthology of Sacred Prose, Stephen Mitchell, ed., 1991.

From here is was just another quick search on Google Books, and I had a source. The quote is right there on page 101.

I’m now confident that @AnAmericanMonk quote, “If you do not find the solution where you stand where else shall you find it?” is a mangling of Dogen (“truth” having been turned into “the solution”), misattributed to the Buddha. And so I’m therefore equally confident in saying that this is a Fake Buddha Quote.

“The only real failure in life is not to be true to the best one knows.”

I recently came across this one in Twitter. It’s not always attributed to the Buddha there, but it often is.

I also encountered it through following a link to an article by Deb and Ed Shapiro, entitled “What the Buddha Might Say to President Obama.”

Deb and Ed write articles on meditation for the Huffington Post. Deb, coincidentally, is the daughter of Anne Bancroft, who is not the actress, but who was a British Buddhist responsible for a translation of the Dhammapada that is, well, rather “creative” in its renderings. Bancroft is found elsewhere in this blog.

Anyway, on to the quote.

It doesn’t sound anything like the Buddha. It’s not the Buddha.

It seems to be by Frederic William Farrar, an Indian-born Dean of Canterbury who lived from 1831 to 1903, and who wrote several books. I think I’d have liked Frederic. He was a believer that everyone was headed to heaven eventually, and also argued against the notion that one of the great things about being in heaven is getting to watch the eternal torment of souls in hell.

Farrar’s quote was often used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with slight variations. I haven’t found an original, so I don’t know what the exact wording is.

In a 1909 book, “Character Lessons in American Biography for Public Schools and Home Instruction,” by James Terry White, it appears as “There is only one real failure possible; and that is, not to be true to the best one knows.”

This isn’t the only Fake Buddha Quote in Deb and Ed’s article. They also include that old chestnut, “Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.”

“The whole secret of existence is to have no fear.”

You know, in all the years I’ve been reading the Buddha’s teachings, I’ve never once heard him talk in terms of the “secret of life” or the “secret of existence.”

This quote is actually from a talk given by Swami Vivekananda in the US in 1895, in which he is recorded as having said:

The whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Never fear what will become of you. Depend on no one. Only the moment you reject all help are you free.

The fact that the talk was delivered over a century ago made me wonder when people started talking about a “secret of existence.” It struck me as being rather a 19th century expression.

Google Books only gives one result from the 18th century for that phrase, one more (excluding duplicate results) from 1800 to 1820, and then dozens from 1820 to 1830. Even allowing for sample bias in Google’s database, it seems that the phrase only came into vogue in the early 1800s — earlier than I’d thought.

The phrase “the secret of life” seems to have become common much earlier, and is found in books throughout the 1700s.

Even earlier was the phrase “secret of Nature,” which I’ve seen in many books as far back as the 1500s.

When the Buddha talked about “secrets” or things being “secret” he seems to have done so in quite a literal way. He’d talk about people doing evil deeds in secret, and about friends keeping your secrets and sharing their own. But he doesn’t seem to have talked about a “secret of life” or a “secret of existence.”

Nowadays “secrets of life” abound. It seems that many people have discovered this secret and will sell you it in paperback, hardcover, or in ebook format.

Thanks for Bhikkhu Pandit for sending me this quote, which he found on Facebook.

This Fake Buddha Quote also crops up from time to time on Twitter:

“The heart is like a garden: it can grow compassion or fear, resentment or love. What seeds will you plant there?”

A friend drew my attention to this on Facebook, and then two people emailed it to me on the same day. Ever had the feeling that life is telling you to write up a Fake Buddha Quote?

This of course is nothing like the language or imagery that the Buddha is recorded as having used in his teaching.

In fact it’s from Jack Kornfield’s Buddha’s Little Instruction Book, page 11. BLIB is not a book of quotations from the Buddha, as the title seems to suggest to many. Instead, it’s Jack’s rather lovely renderings of the spirit of the Buddha’s teaching into a contemporary style.

The Buddha did use the imagery of seeds, at times. He said things like this:

Just as when seeds are not broken, not rotten, not damaged by wind & heat, capable of sprouting, well-buried, planted in well-prepared soil, and the rain-god would offer good streams of rain. Those seeds would thus come to growth, increase, & abundance. In the same way, any action performed with greed… performed with aversion… performed with delusion — born of delusion, caused by delusion, originating from delusion: wherever one’s selfhood turns up, there that action will ripen. Where that action ripens, there one will experience its fruit, either in this very life that has arisen or further along in the sequence.

As you’ll see, this is a similar message, but expressed very differently.

“To live a pure unselfish life, one must count nothing as one’s own in the midst of abundance.”

I’d seen this one a lot on Twitter, recently. It’s fake.

To live a pure unselfish life, one must count nothing as one’s own in the midst of abundance.

It’s not from the Buddha, but from a Japanese book called The Teaching of Buddha. Titles such as this do tend to lead to confusion.

The Teaching of Buddha is the Japanese Buddhist equivalent of the Gideon Bible, except that the Gideon Bible can be taken as, you know, Gospel, while the Japanese book, as far as I’m aware doesn’t contain any Buddhist scriptures. I’m just about to order a copy, so I’ll soon find out. Several other Fake Buddha Quotes come from this book, and I’m curious to take a look at it. So far all I’ve seen is snippets on Google Books.

Here’s an example from Twitter.

“To force oneself to believe and to accept a thing without understanding is political, and not spiritual or intellectual.”

“To force oneself to believe and to accept a thing without understanding is political, and not spiritual or intellectual.”

Sometimes it truly baffles me that some people think a particular quote comes from the Buddha. This is a case in point, because it’s so unlike the tone and language of any Buddhist scripture.

But this particular one is found on Goodreads, in the books Which God Should I Choose? (page 62), by Ben Kniskern, and The Little Red Book of Yoga Wisdom (unnumbered page), edited by Kelsie Besaw, and on numerous quotations sites and blogs.

The quote is actually from Walpola Rahula’s well-known book, What the Buddha Taught (page 3).

Granted, if you’ve never actually read any Buddhist scriptures then you’d have no understanding of the kind of vocabulary and idiom that the Buddha used (or is recorded as having used) and so you perhaps wouldn’t know that the Buddha didn’t talk like a 20th century intellectual — but yet I’m still surprised that the modernity of the phrasing and vocabulary didn’t trigger some kind of alert in the minds of the many people who have passed this on.

The word “political” stands out for me. I don’t recall the Buddha using any language similar to that. My Pali-English dictionary tells me there is a term, khattadhamma, which means “the law of ruling, political science,” although it’s not clear that the Buddha used this term in any of his discourses. Rather than using concise terms like “politics” or “political” the Buddha’s suttas are far more expansive, and so when “unedifying talk” about politics is condemned it’s talk “about kings, robbers, ministers, armies, dangers, wars” etc. that is mentioned.

I wholeheartedly agree with what Rahula has to say, incidentally. Buddhism is not principally a belief system, but a system of practice. Belief is not absent in Buddhism, and faith is reckoned as an important spiritual faculty. But faith in Buddhism is more like trust or confidence. That trust or confidence is based on experience, and is in turn the basis for practice and exploration. It’s not unlike taking on a hypothesis in a scientific sense and checking it out. The hypothesis is not believed blindly, either in Buddhism or in science, but is the starting point in a search for the truth.

Rahula points out that the Buddha encouraged his disciples to voice their doubts or uncertainties about the teaching, and said that if it was out of respect for him, the teacher, that they didn’t ask questions, they should get a friend to ask for them. It’s this kind of spirit of openness and inquiry that attracted me to Buddhist practice in the first place.

“Awake. Be the witness of your thoughts. You are what observes, not what you observe.”

This is a Fake Buddha Quote.

It seems to have a hybrid origin. The first part — “Awake. Be the witness of your thoughts.” — comes from Thomas Byrom’s “translation” of the Dhammapada. I put the word translation in quotes because Byrom’s rendering is less translation and more “look at the Pali original and make up something poetic vaguely based on what you see there,” as you’ll see below.

In this case the original Pali (Dhammapada verse 237) is:

Appamadarata hotha sacittam anurakkhatha.

A literal translation would be:

Be devoted to heedfulness. Guard your mind.

There’s no “awake.” There’s no “witness.” The root of the verb translated as “witness” is rakkh-, which means “to protect.”

The second part — “You are what observes, not what you observe” — seems to come from Robert Earl Burton’s Self-Remembering (1995), p. 23.

Byrom appears to have been a Hindu, and this may have affected his choice of words, which is rather non-Buddhist. In the Hindu tradition they talk about “witnessing consciousness.” You are not your thoughts, emotions, or other experiences. You are instead that which is aware of those experiences. That is your true Self, your atman. The Buddha’s approach was of course one of anatman, or not-self. One recognizes that neither our experiences nor what experiences (which is really just our experience of experiencing) is the self. Over and over in the Pali texts we’re told to note that “this is not me, this is not mine, this is not my self.” We are never told to identify anything as being the self. To the Buddha, any view of the self — even the view that there is no self — was a form of clinging that would lead to suffering. The ideal is to live free from any views on the self whatsoever.

Here’s a quote from the Sabbasava Sutta of the Middle Length Discourses. I’ve added emphases to highlight the important differences between our Fake Buddha Quote and the Buddha’s teaching:

In a person who thus considers improperly there arises one of the six [wrong] views. The view ‘I have self’ arises in him really and firmly. Or, the view ‘I have no self’ arises in him really and firmly. Or, the view ‘I perceive self through self’ arises in him really and firmly. Or, the view ‘I perceive non-self through self’ arises in him really and firmly. Or, the view ‘I perceive self through non-self’ arises in him really and firmly. Or, he has the view thus: ‘That self of mine speaks, knows and experiences the results of wholesome and unwholesome actions. That self of mine is permanent, stable, durable, incorruptible and will be eternal like all things permanent.’

Bhikkhus! This wrong view is called a false belief, a jungle of false beliefs, a desert of false beliefs, a thorny spike of false beliefs, an agitation of false beliefs and a fetter of false beliefs. Bhikkhus! The ignorant worldling who is bound up with the fetter of false beliefs cannot escape rebirth, ageing, death, grief, lamentation, pain, distress and despair. I declare that he cannot escape dukkha.

Burton, incidentally, was neither a Buddhist nor a Hindu but a teacher of the “Fourth Way” in the tradition of Gurjieff and Ouspensky.

I don’t know where, when, or how these two separate quotes became cobbled together, or how they became ascribed to the Buddha. But by 2008 the two are found combined in a book, Awake Joy: The Essence of Enlightenment, by Katie Davis, and presented as a Buddha quote. It’s likely that the amalgamation of the two quotes took place on the web, although we may never know.

This adoption of the “witness” as the self seems to be seen sometimes in certain Buddhist schools, such as the Tibetan Dzogchen and Mahamudra traditions, despite its being profoundly un-Buddhist. It’s also a feature of the teaching of the popular spiritual teacher Ekhart Tolle.

“A dog is not considered a good dog because he is a good barker. A man is not considered a good man because he is a good talker.”

I’ve come across this one on Twitter a few times. It’s very much in tune with the Buddha’s message as expressed in the Dhammapada:

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.

And it’s the kind of thing I could imagine the Buddha saying. But it didn’t quite ring true for me, and so I did a little investigation.

And it turns out that this is in fact a Daoist quote, from the sayings of Chuang Tzu. You’ll find it, for example, in the 1906 book Musings of a Chinese Mystic: Selections from the Philosophy of Chuang Tzŭ by Herbert Allen Giles.

The first book I’ve found this in that attributes the quote to the Buddha is 2006’s Undue Diligence (how ironic!) by Paul C. Haughey, making this one of our more recent Fake Buddha Quotes. A limited-date Google web search — although it has to be said that their dating is often off — suggests that this quote first became attributed to the Buddha just a few years before this — possibly in 2001 or 2002.

“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

There are many variants of this quote. Sometimes they’re attributed to the Buddha, and sometimes to the Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron, or to Nelson Mandela. I haven’t found anything resembling this quote in the Buddhist scriptures.

Until a friendly reader helped me out, I had found the quote in books by Anne Lamotte, Alice May, and Malachy McCourt, but I suspected they were all quoting someone else. The earliest references I’d found were from Alcoholics Anonymous, and that organization seemed like it might have been the original source, although I wondered if the saying may have existed in an orally transmitted form for some time before being committed to print.

Here are some of the examples I found, including two from the 12-Step tradition:

  • “In fact, not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.” Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith (1999)
  • Hanging on to a resentment, someone once said, is like drinking poison and hoping it will kill someone else. Alice May, Surviving Betrayal (1999)
  • Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. Malachy McCourt (1998)
  • “Charles had once remarked that holding onto a resentment was like eating rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.” Anne Lamotte, Crooked Little Heart (1997)
  • “I think resentment is when you take the poison and wait for the other person to die.” M.T. A Sponsorship Guide for 12-Step Programs (1995)
  • When we hang on to resentments, we poison ourselves. As compulsive overeaters, we cannot afford resentment, since it exacerbates our disease. Elizabeth L. Food for Thought: Daily Meditations for Overeaters (1992)

Given that two of our earliest sources by M.T. and “Elizabeth L.” are from the 12-step traditions, it seemed possible — likely even — that the quote had “Anonymous” origins.

And this vague suspicion of an AA origin for the quote remained with me for a long time until Joakim (see the comments below) helped me out with a reference, telling me that the quote was to be found in a 1930’s book called The Sermon on the Mount, by Emmet Fox. That didn’t seem to be quite the case. The exact quote isn’t there, but there is a passage that is an obvious prototype:

No Scientific Christian ever considers hatred or execration to be “justifiable” in any circumstances, but whatever your opinion about that might be, there is no question about its practical consequences to you. You might as well swallow a dose of Prussic acid in two gulps, and think to protect yourself by saying, “This one is for Robespierre; and this one for the Bristol murderer” [who had previously been cited as objects of hatred]. You will hardly have any doubt as to who will receive the benefit of the poison.”

It’s not exactly pithy, but it certainly looks like the prototype of our Fake Buddha Quote.

But where’s the AA connection?

Wikipedia says Fox’s secretary was the mother of one of the men who worked with Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder Bill W., and partly as a result of this connection early AA groups often went to hear Fox. Wikipedia says “His writing, especially The Sermon on the Mount, became popular in AA.”

This explains how the more polished version of the quote first emerged in AA. It’s easy to imagine how the same image, being used in speech over and over, would tend to be smoothed off, like a pebble rolling around in a river.

There’s an interesting Buddhist twist on all this. Gems of Buddhist Wisdom (1996) from the Buddhist Missionary Society, contains the following: “Hatred is like a poison which you inject into your veins, before injecting it into your enemy. It is throwing cow dung at another: you dirty your hands first, before you dirty others.”

The “dung” part of that quotation is from Buddhaghosa’s Visuddhimagga, but as far as I can see the first part is not, and it may well be borrowed from the AA tradition.

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”

Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.

This is a bad translation of the Kalama Sutta — so bad, in fact, that it contradicts the message of the sutta, which says that reason and common sense are not sufficient for ascertaining the truth.

And it’s very common as well.

Here’s the original version, from Access to Insight:

“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.

The Buddha is talking to some people who live near his home country. These people, the Kalamas, are confused by the multiplicity of teachings that they hear. Many teachers arrive, who extoll their own teachings and disparage the teachings of others. And the Kalamas want to know, “Which of these venerable brahmans and contemplatives are speaking the truth, and which ones are lying?”

The Buddha’s reply is very full, but it’s clear he says that “reason” (logical conjecture, inference, analogies, agreement through pondering views) and “common sense” (probability) are not sufficient bases for determining what the truth is. It’s not that these things should be discarded, but ultimately it’s experience and the opinion of the wise that is our guide.

So this brings up at least two questions:

1. If experience is to be our guide, does that mean we have to test out every theory and practice? No. If a teacher says something like “taking drugs is the path to happiness” you don’t have to try drugs. Your experience includes observation of other people’s experience, so that if you have seen others suffering through taking drugs you don’t have to repeat their mistakes.

2. Who is to say who the wise are? You are. Through your experience (see point 1, above), whom have you found to be reliable and insightful in the past? Those people are “the wise”. Now you don’t have to take everything they say as being the absolute truth. You can use your reason, your common sense, and your experience as a guide. Not all of “the wise” will agree, for example, so you’re still going to have to figure things out for yourself ultimately.

It’s this second criterion that is often overlooked.

The first instance of this version of the quote that I’ve found is in a libertarian book by the pseudonymous author, “John Galt” — Dreams Come Due. I strongly suspect that Galt’s libertarianism caused him to alter the quote in order to make it supportive of his position.

Incidentally, the “no matter where you read it” is an anachronism, since spiritual teachings were orally transmitted at the time of the Buddha.