The hate mail is getting more polite

Well, perhaps this is better termed “passive-aggressive mail,” rather than “hate mail,” but in a comment, Tharindu wrote:

Buddha was the most greatest person in the world. what he was say is so true..! some things you will never understand my friend. you are just a little kid who try to find write and wrong in the world dear Bodhipaksa. so please don’t put this kind of post unless you don’t know what your are talking. just observe the Buddhist and then say some thing. this is the most friendly advice i can give to you.

See? “Dear Bodhipaksa” and “my friend.” That’s polite

He also wrote:

yes. there are lot of books about history things that said by the Buddha. try to read the old books and learn some thing my friend. you have lot of things to learn before you die.

Not only is that polite, but it’s excellent advice, since I do like to read old books and to learn things.

Fake Buddha Quotes in the Buddhist Scriptures

I’ve made the point repeatedly that we can never know for sure what the Buddha actually said. All we have to go on are scriptures that were at first passed on orally for two centuries or more, and then were committed to writing. If a quote attributed to the Buddha isn’t in the scriptures, or can be reliably attributed to someone else, then we can be fairly confident in saying that it’s fake. But we can never say with 100% certainly that any given quote from the scriptures is genuine.

It’s a convention that what’s in the scriptures is Buddha-vacana — the word of the Buddha — unless there’s very good reason to believe otherwise. And there is sometimes clear evidence that the scriptures have been tampered with.

Buddha-vacana.org has an interesting example of this, in what happens to be one of my favorite suttas, The Great Forty, or Mahācattārīsaka Sutta. If you’re into studying the suttas, then this apparently anonymous article is a must-read. Here’s the conclusion:

It has been demonstrated in this analysis that in this sutta:

1) there are some teachings that we find in other suttas as well.

2) there are peculiar teachings not found anywhere else that look quite authentic, which tends to prove that there would be an authentic version of this sutta.

3) there are distinctions made in the teachings of the Buddha, which are apparently based on an opinion expressed in the Khuddaka Nikāya and according to which there is an ‘inferior’ portion of the teaching siding with merit etc. and a superior ‘noble’ one connected with insight etc.

4) the word ‘sāsava’ is used here in a sense which is consistent with late literature, but that is in direct contradiction with otherwise well-known teachings of the four Nikāyas, which proves that the falsification of this sutta has taken place late enough for this semantic drift to have happened.

5) we find very rare words and expressions found only in the Khuddaka Nikāya or the Abhidhamma, and not anywhere else in the four Nikāyas.

6) alternate definitions of the factor of the path are given, which are doubtlessly taken from the Abhidhamma, since outside this sutta they do not appear anywhere else than there.

7) there is an underlying contempt of the ancient teachings and the author seeks to promote teachings found in the Khuddaka Nikāya and Abhidhamma.

This is more than enough to prove that this sutta, though it seems to contain original and authentic material, has been largely falsified.

This study has also shown that even in what is to be considered as the most ancient strata of buddhist scriptures, there are counterfeit teachings aiming at belittling the original message of the Buddha in order to promote newer terminologies and theories, that are presented as being of higher value, but that actually contradict the ancient teachings.

The analysis shows quite convincingly that later teachings, the Abhidhamma, have been incorporated into this sutta and in effect put into the mouth of the Buddha. As well as the fake parts, the sutta actually contains some apparently genuine and very interesting teachings on the eightfold path. Fortunately it was largely those parts of the sutta that I had been most drawn to and that had led to it being one of my favorites.

I did recently see someone claiming, in all seriousness, that the Abhidhamma was taught by the Buddha, but that’s a completely untenable position, held only by those of “great faith” and little inclination to accept evidence.

I do suggest taking a look at the article.

Hate mail, part one

I would suggest you stop inferring that your views and your views alone are correct! Buddha teaches and taught, that everyone can become enlightened and awakened, therefore a Buddha! As one who has studied Buddhist scripture, from all branches of Buddhism, and has practiced Buddhism for 40 years of his life, I would not have the audacity nor arrogance to believe that Canonical text alone, as you call it, can be the only quotes attributed to Buddha! You have three a branches of Buddhism, all inspired by the desire for the attainment of enlightenment, all reflective of Buddhist teachings! I truly find your site offensive and distasteful, and not in the spirit of the Buddha’s teachings… you remind me of the monks, who created the schism within the sangha, in Buddha’s day, debating his teaching, and what he taught! It is divisive and ill advised! Buddha wouldn’t have it in his day, and you shouldn’t be promoting such discord, by judging translations and people’s preferences, of using one word over another… It all comes off very arrogant, divisive, and very self aggrandizing!

Unless you can tell me you have studied all the Pali Suttas, all the Sutras and teachings of Mahayana… You should not be promoting this kind of scriptural divisiveness! It is one thing to point of fake scripture, another thing to be so anally retentive to nit pick translations and people’s preference of a translation!

I hope in the near future you will reconsider your approach, because it comes off as arrogant and self aggrandizing, to say the least!

Be Well, Be Happy,
Ananda Bodhi

Hate mail, part two

Let me put this in a way you will understand!

“‘Worthless man, it is unseemly, out of line, unsuitable, and unworthy of a contemplative; improper and not to be done… Haven’t I taught the Dhamma in many ways for the sake of dispassion and not for passion; for unfettering and not for fettering; for freedom from clinging and not for clinging? Yet here, while I have taught the Dhamma for dispassion, you set your heart on passion; while I have taught the Dhamma for unfettering, you set your heart on being fettered; while I have taught the Dhamma for freedom from clinging, you set your heart on clinging.”

Instead of just worrying about fake quotes and ranting about translations, how about you actually take what you claim to have studied and put it into practice! You see, like all religious and scriptural teachings, a passage, or a quote, can be overlooked, used liberally or conservatively, but they are Buddhist Teachings nonetheless! it would be much more compassionate and Buddha like, to critique and differentiate quotes as Buddhist and Quotes By Buddha!

Not calling out translational errors, or spiritual preferential choice, as incorrect teachings! I have read a lifetime worth of Buddhist Scripture and have yet to finish with my studies, for it would take many lifetimes to read the whole canon of Buddhist scripture, it is a growing and living Dharma, not some dead bible, closed and set in stone! Maybe you should take that into consideration, instead of your need to be some kind of Buddhist Canon Nazi!

Be Well, Be Happy,
Ananda Bodhi

Debunking Fake Albert Einstein Quotes

There’s a pressing need for a “Fake Dalai Lama Quote” website and perhaps even more of a need for fakeeinsteinquotes.com. In the meantime, we have this post by someone calling themselves “Borna” on the site, Skeptica Esoterica.

Presumably Fake Einstein Quotes appear for the same kinds of reasons that Fake Buddha quotes appear: things like people wanting a quote to seem more substantial by attaching the name of a great man, simple errors, wishful thinking, etc.

One of the quotes I saw most recently attributed to Einstein was this one:

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is.”

This was oohed and aahed over as if it was the most profound thought imaginable. But give it a moment’s thought and inquire whether these two positions do in fact constitute the “only two ways” to live life. Is there really no middle ground, where you could regard some things as being miracles and others as not being miracles? (I’m not arguing for the correctness of one view or another, but for the existence of this third view.) In fact I’d argue that many people fall into the third category — the one that’s dismissed as impossible in the quotation. A great many people believe in the existence of miracles as actually taking place, but only rarely.

So having established that the quotation presents a false dichotomy, and is an example of black-and-white thinking, ask yourself whether the Einstein you know was a black-and-white thinker. Of course it could be that he had off days, but the crudity of thought expressed in the quotation should make us pause before automatically assuming that this is a quotation from Einstein.

And investigating the quote online suggests that it only became attributed to Einstein around 1993, which casts further doubt on it being Einstein’s.

The article I’ve linked to debunks several Fake Einstein Quotes, but there’s still plenty of work to be done. Have at it!

Radical honesty in Buddhism

The Rev. Genryu posted a comment today that I think deserves to be amplified:

For those who keep raising the point that a quote that is misattributed to the Buddha is somehow fine because it’s nice or noble or whatever, that is entirely irrelevant. Honesty is a radical practice in Buddhism. Not just honesty when it suits us but being honest when things are misrepresented (even in a seemingly well intentioned manner).

One thing that the Buddha is recorded as saying is that when teachings or sayings are ascribed to him which he did not say, it is the duty of those who practice the Dharma to correct such misattributions. By asking Buddhists to allow misattribution and misrepresentation, once a quote is known not to be from the Buddha, you are asking them to be deliberately dishonest and to misrepresent the Buddha and the Dharma. That is not acceptable. Hold yourself to a higher standard – one of being as accurate and honest as you can be – and you will find it a far more transformative practice than making excuses for misattributed platitudes.

I’m deeply grateful for this clear expression of Dharma.

“The Bare Bones Dhammapada”

The Dhammapada seems to be regarded as fair game. Not only have rather inaccurate “translations” been done by people who don’t know the Pali language (Anne Bancroft and Thomas Byrom are prominent examples), but now we have someone who wants to liberate the Dhammapada from the Buddha’s meaning and intent altogether.

Fortunately, Shravasti Dhammika, a Buddhist monk for 32 years and the spiritual advisor to the Buddha Dhamma Mandala Society in Singapore,is on the case:

According to the blurb on Tai Sheridan’s The Bare Bones Dhammapada, the original text is “burdened by the stylistic and conceptual dust of the early and middle ages” and this new version “strips the Dhammapada of monasticism, literalness, chauvinism, anachronisms, and concepts of evil, shame, and sensual denial. It presents the path of wisdom as universal truths for a contemporary audience of any gender, lifestyle, or spiritual inclination”. No it doesn’t! All it does is offer cryptic verses, some of which are actually quite poetic, but that in no way reflect either the Buddha’s words or intent.

For example the Buddha of both the Pali Theravada and the Sanskrit Mahayana sutras was disparaging of dancing while Tai Sheridan apparently enjoys it and therefore Dhammapada verse 16 can be rendered as “do good dance joyfully”. Tai loves partying and is convinced the Buddha did too, hence verse 18 can be rendered as “do good throw a party on the path sing and dance.”

Fake but not fake: the art of storytelling

There’s a story on Wake Up Sydney’s Facebook page. It like this:

It is said that one day the Buddha was walking through a village. A very angry and rude young man came up and began insulting him. “You have no right teaching others,” he shouted. “You are as stupid as everyone else. You are nothing but a fake!”

The Buddha was not upset by these insults. Instead he asked the young man, “Tell me, if you buy a gift for someone, and that person does not take it, to whom does the gift belong?”

The young man was surprised to be asked such a strange question and answered, “It would belong to me, because I bought the gift.”

The Buddha smiled and said, “That is correct. And it is exactly the same with your anger. If you become angry with me and I do not get insulted, then the anger falls back on you. You are then the only one who becomes unhappy, not me. All you have done is hurt yourself.”

I realized that this brings up a scenario that I haven’t addressed, because I haven’t really given it much thought. What you’ve just read is a retelling of a story from the Buddhist scriptures. Here’s the original:

I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying near Rajagaha in the Bamboo Grove, the Squirrels’ Sanctuary. Then the brahman Akkosaka Bharadvaja heard that a brahman of the Bharadvaja clan had gone forth from the home life into homelessness in the presence of the Blessed One. Angered & displeased, he went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, insulted & cursed him with rude, harsh words.

When this was said, the Blessed One said to him: “What do you think, brahman: Do friends & colleagues, relatives & kinsmen come to you as guests?”

“Yes, Master Gotama, sometimes friends & colleagues, relatives & kinsmen come to me as guests.”

“And what do you think: Do you serve them with staple & non-staple foods & delicacies?”

“Yes, sometimes I serve them with staple & non-staple foods & delicacies.”

“And if they don’t accept them, to whom do those foods belong?”

“If they don’t accept them, Master Gotama, those foods are all mine.”

“In the same way, brahman, that with which you have insulted me, who is not insulting; that with which you have taunted me, who is not taunting; that with which you have berated me, who is not berating: that I don’t accept from you. It’s all yours, brahman. It’s all yours.

“Whoever returns insult to one who is insulting, returns taunts to one who is taunting, returns a berating to one who is berating, is said to be eating together, sharing company, with that person. But I am neither eating together nor sharing your company, brahman. It’s all yours. It’s all yours.”

You can see that although the words differ, it’s basically the same story. There’s a bit of elaboration — for example in the original we’re not exactly told what Akkosaka Bharadvaja said to the Buddha, just that it’s insulting, while in the retelling we’re given details, such as the Buddha’s “a fake” — but essentially there’s no difference in the message being conveyed.

Now words are being put in the Buddha’s mouth. Would I consider the Facebook parable to be unacceptable? Actually, I wouldn’t. When you’re teaching, or just talking to someone, and you want to use an illustration from the Buddhist scriptures, you can’t be expected to have memorized the stories word for word, or to say “Wait till I run home and grab my copy of the Majjhima Nikaya!” You just tell the story, in your own words. Sometimes you’ll do it well, sometimes you’ll make a mess of it. But at least it’s an honest attempt at conveying a story.

You’re putting words into the mouth of the Buddha, but as a dramatic technique, and it’s generally obvious you’re not making claim that the Buddha said the exact words you’ve ascribed to him. There’s the Buddha of the Pali canon, and there’s the Buddha of your imagination. It seems to me that both are valid, and that you simply have to be careful not to mix them up.

Mixing up these two Buddhas often happens when these dramatizations of the suttas are put into writing, though. Those who aren’t familiar with the Buddhist scriptures may take something like the Facebook parable above to be canonical, and then extract the Buddha’s words as a standalone quote. Now, attributed to “The Buddha” the quote will be taken by others to be canonical, and so a Fake Buddha Quote is born.

Part of the problem is that often the Buddha of the imagination is more interesting than the Buddha of the canon! His language is generally more contemporary and pithy — just compare the length of the two versions above, and also see which one feels better to read.

Now I’m not saying it’s bad to paraphrase the suttas because the paraphrase might be taken out of context and presented as canonical. That would be absurdly cautious. In fact I think it’s good, in the contexts of talks, and even in books, to bring the suttas to life by dramatizing them. When Jonathan Landaw wrote “The Story of Buddha,” from where the Facebook parable comes, I’m sure he had no notion of “faking” anything or of trying to pass off his own words as the Buddha’s.

Why am I writing all this? I’m really just clarifying in my own mind the limits of what I consider to be acceptable. On the one hand we might have the example someone finding an anonymous quote lying around and deciding to attribute it to be Buddha for whatever reason. This seems to happen a lot, and is something that I don’t find at all acceptable. Even more extreme, I suspect some people just make up some spiritual-sounding saying and try to pass it off as the Buddha’s words. Also unacceptable. On the other hand we have this more innocent sort of “retelling” of a story from the canon, and I think it’s fine. No misrepresentation is being intended, and if sometimes others might turn these stories into Fake Buddha Quotes it’s they who are at fault, not the original author.

PS. I’ve done this myself, and I’ll write up a full confession at some point.