“In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.”

In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.

I’ve been asked about this one several times, but have never written it up. There’s not much to say, really. It seems to be a variant on another Fake Buddha Quote that was lifted from Jack Kornfield’s “Buddha’s Little Instruction Book,” a lovely little book of sayings, few of which, if any at all, go back directly to the Buddha:

In the end these things matter most: How well did you love? How fully did you live? How deeply did you let go?

I can understand someone getting confused and thinking that a quote from Buddha’s Little Instruction Book was a quote from the Buddha. Presumably, though, at some point someone decided to “improve the quotation” and keep the attribution to the Buddha, which puzzles me a bit…

I can’t think of anyplace in the Pali canon where the Buddha sums up “life” in this kind of a way. If you see a purported Buddha quote that talks about “the secret of life…” or “only three things matter…” then be very suspicious.

But there are statements where the Buddha singles out certain qualities as important:

Control of the senses, contentment, restraint according to the code of monastic discipline — these form the basis of holy life here for the wise monk. (Dhammapada 375)

Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life. (SN 45.2)

In giving some advice to two elderly men who had done little good in their lives, the Buddha said the following:

When a house is on fire,
the vessel salvaged
is the one that will be of use,
not the one left there to burn.
So when the world is on fire
with aging and death,
one should salvage [one’s wealth] by giving:
what’s given is well salvaged.

Whoever here is restrained
in body, speech, and awareness;
who makes merit while he’s alive:
that will be for his bliss after death.

So while restraint of body, speech, and mind are generally praised, giving as a basic practice is being highly recommended. It’s not being said that giving is the only thing that matters, incidentally. The Buddha is giving a specific teaching to two specific individuals, addressing their specific spiritual needs.

Certainly all three things praised in our fake quote — loving, living gently, letting go — are things praised by the Buddha, but I’ve never seen a passage where these are praised together, or as the only things that matter. If you know of one, please do pass it along.

11 thoughts on ““In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.””

  1. I came across a quote attributed to the Buddha that goes:

    “You stand at the crossroads of the path of love and the path of fear. Which do you choose to follow?”

    It was in a little booklet I picked up in a charity shop: “Relaxation – Exercises and Inspirations for Well-being” by Dr Sarah Brewer.

    Surely not from Buddhist texts? Searching on Wikipedia I cannot even find any reference to a quote using these words. Can you throw any light on this?

    Thank you and best wishes

    1. Thanks for passing that one on. No, it’s definitely not from the Buddha. Brewer’s book is the only publication I’ve been able to find that quote it. So far I haven’t even found any similar quotes in books, although I’ll keep looking. Unusually, this one isn’t on the web, either. I wonder if Brewer just made it up?

    1. Hi, Jill. As the article says, it’s based on a quote from Jack Kornfield. This was then slightly changed by some unknown person.

    1. The Buddha did praise love, Jannike, although he distinguished between what we could call conditional love (pema) where I love you because you’re my partner, friend, child, etc., and because I like you, and unconditional love (metta) where I treat you with kindness simply because you are a being who, like me, wants happiness and doesn’t want to suffer. We can have metta for people even when we don’t like them and when we have no family connection etc. with them.

      He often criticized pema as being inextricably bound up with suffering, but always praised metta.

  2. It’s a badass quote that I love so thank you for sparing me the embarrassment of pretentiously attributing it to buddha, like I possibly have ever bothered to read anything he said.

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