“In every trial let understanding fight for you.”

Another Fake Buddha Quote has surfaced. It’s funny, but I don’t see as many of these as I used to. It may be that I’ve pounced on transgressors so often that people are now scared to post anything attributed to the Buddha until they’ve held the palm-leaf manuscripts in their own hands, and painstakingly translated every word themselves.

Anyway, this one’s all over the net:

“In every trial let understanding fight for you: Buddha.”

Jnanagarbha brought it to my attention.

Sometimes I don’t know how I know a particular saying is a Fake Buddha Quote. You just feel it in your bones.

This one wasn’t hard to track down. First I found it attributed not just to “The Buddha” but to a specific text that I know well: the Dhammapada. And it was in the context of a verse I know well, from chapter three, “The Mind.”

But where the verse will normally say something like:

Perceiving the body to be (fragile) like a clay pot,
(and) fortifying the mind as though it were a city,
with the sword of wisdom make war on Mara.
Free from attachment, keep watch over what has been won.

(that’s from Sangharakshita’s translation), here we have:

Know that the body is a fragile jar,
And make a castle of your mind.
In every trial, let understanding fight for you
To defend what you have won.

So it’s that third line that’s been mangled. In the original Pali it’s “yodhetha māraṃ paññāyudhena” which translates literally as “fight against (yodhetha) Mara (māraṃ) with the weapon of wisdom (paññāyudhena).”

Sangharakshita is being a little poetic in using “sword” for “āyudha” (weapon), presumably for the sake of alliteration (wisdom/war) and to evoke the image of Mañjushri, the bodhisattva of Wisdom who holds a flaming sword above his head, ready to destroy delusion. That seems well within the bounds of reasonable translation.

Our fake quote entirely omits Māra, which is unfortunate. The original quote is not about using wisdom “in every trial” but about confronting delusion, as personified by the demon Māra.

So, were some translator’s words mangled on the internet? No, this is a straight quote from Thomas Byrom’s “translation” of the Dhammapada, published by Shambhala.

This is a neat example of Fake Buddha Quote by Mistranslation. I’m guessing that Byrom thought that mention of Mara (the Buddhist personification of wily ignorance) would be offputting, and that “wisdom” was too high-fallutin, and decided to dumb the text down a bit.

PS. Star Wars fans may be interesting to know that the name “Yoda” is apparently a reference to the Pāli/Sanskrit word “yodha,” which means “warrior.” You’ll find the same root in the verb “yodhetha” (from “yodheti,” to fight) in the Pāli verse above.

11 thoughts on ““In every trial let understanding fight for you.””

    1. If your question is in response to the opening paragraph of this post, you might want to unplug your sarcasm detector, wait for 30 seconds, and then plug it back in again 🙂

  1. Just after I posted my question something came to mind. I have only read the Dhammapada a few times and know almost nothing about Buddhism. But this quote came to mind and I found it easily, because it is in the first chapter “Choices”:

    “However many holy words you read
    However many you speak
    What good will they do you
    If you do not act upon them?”

    To me, also implied in this verse is also “know” and “translate”.

    This is why I find your blog both useful for the information but also interesting because of the tone and implied superiority.

    What makes a person who is interested in Sanskrit and the Buddha also possess a feeling of anger and superiority at others who have given a loving attempt at interpreting the Buddha’s work?

    I find this contradiction interesting and wonder how it came about.

    1. “What makes a person who is interested in Sanskrit and the Buddha also possess a feeling of anger and superiority at others who have given a loving attempt at interpreting the Buddha’s work?”

      If when you talk about others making a loving attempt at (translating?) the Buddha’s teachings you mean Byrom, I think his translation is extremely inaccurate. It’s certainly irritating to me that a publisher would choose to promote someone who was probably not only incompetent, but who willfully misrepresented the text he was working with. I don’t think that amounts to anger, however. The Buddha would have used much stronger words: “worthless man” were the words he commonly used for people who misrepresented his teachings.

      As for superiority, I’m not sure what you mean. Do you take my critiquing someone’s translation to be a declaration of superiority? That would strike me as an odd stance.

  2. You like words: I just looked up sarcasm to check my own understanding of the word:

    “The use of irony to mock or convey contempt.”

    So I have a follow up question for you: what does the Buddha say about contempt or derision? If anything?

    I am not only referring to your first paragraph of this blog post, but even the name of your blog “fake”.

    I also looked up fake:

    Counterfeit; a forgery; a sham.

    Is this what you think Byrom intended when translating the Dhammapada?

    I can see how “trial” comes out of the word battle. It is broader and includes inner battles. I like it.

    I can also see fighting against the “evil of ignorance” Māra, which Byrom omits in his translation, might have been clearer and useful to include.

    I can also see that wisdom is more accurate than understanding.

    What might have been useful were some footnotes in his translation.

    I like his translation because I think it may be resonate with more people, and it is poetic.

    However I can see how you would be irritated that he took it upon himself to change and omit some concepts.

    1. “The use of irony to mock or convey contempt.”

      Yes, I was (gently, I hope) mocking my attempts to stem the phenomenon of Fake Buddha Quotes.

      “Counterfeit; a forgery; a sham. Is this what you think Byrom intended when translating the Dhammapada?”

      I’m not a mind-reader so I can’t tell what his true intentions were, but I know he did an awful job of translating what the Dhammapada actually says. Both in tone and content it often bears little resemblance to the original. In some cases he distorted what he was translating in order to make it seem more like Hinduism, which was the religious tradition he’d adopted. I think that’s a pretty crappy thing to do. I don’t think the words counterfeit or sham are at all inaccurate.

  3. Last comment — my thoughts are coming in waves this morning:

    The quote

    In every trial
    Let understanding fight for you
    To defend what you have won

    Was deeply meaningful to me. The idea of not only understanding TRUTH but also OTHERS.

    In this sense I think that Byrom May have actually improved on the original, because the Buddha also speaks to compassion and understanding of others.

    When we try to understand others, we also defeat Māra (because there is no separation between us and others):

    “Understand that the body
    Is merely the foam of a wave,
    The shadow of a shadow”

    i.e., there is no “you” and no “me”.

    “Your too shall pass away
    Knowing this, how can you quarrel?”

    (I’m still working on that)

    Had I read instead:
    “With the sword of wisdom make war on Māra,
    Free from attachment”

    I would have never landed here (maybe to your delight 🙂

    And I would not have understood as well that making war in Māra May have as much to do with understanding others as myself.

    Thanks for the opportunity to discuss these things!

    1. Byrom’s writings are certainly very poetic, but his Dhammapada is not what the Buddha taught. To the best of my knowledge he didn’t understand Pali, and even his publisher calls it a “rendering” rather than a translation. I’d recommend Gil Fronsdal’s version instead, which manages to be poetic while also being faithful to the original text.

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