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


I’d seen this quote around, but someone asked me about it on Twitter yesterday, which prompted me to write it up. Although it’s quoted all over the internet, and in at least one book, as being the words of the Buddha, it’s not a scriptural quotation, and is intead from Jack Kornfield’s lovely book from 1994, Buddha’s Little Instruction Book (page 85). It’s a great book, and I’d highly recommend it. Some of the quotes are based on material from the suttas, but usually re-written, and most of the material seems to be Jack’s own thoughts.

As the blurb to the book explains,

For this small handbook, a well-known American Buddhist and psychologist has distilled and adapted an ancient teaching for the needs of contemporary life. (Emphasis added.)

Jack may have modelled this saying on a passage in Danielle Marie’s 1992 Straight From the Heart: Authors, Celebrities & Others Share Their Philosophies on Making a Difference in the World.

I don’t have the book, and Google gives only limited access, so I can’t see which particular author or celebrity wrote these words, but he or she speculated that, rather than what car we bought or whether we got rid of our cellulite,

I imagine that God would ask, “How well did you love? How much joy did you create in the people around you? How much did you love and appreciate yourself, your body, and your own special gift? How many hearts did you touch? (page 95)

The similarity may be a coincidence, however.

Giveways that this is not a genuine quote from the scriptures? The whole thing is too neat compared to the rather repetitive language used in most of the Pali canon, the Buddha isn’t recorded talked in terms of how fully people lived their lives, or how well they loved — these are rather contemporary idioms — and although the language of “letting go” is used in the canon, it’s rather rare. When added to the two other, more modern expressions of “loving well” and “living fully,” the whole suggests a contemporary and western rather than an ancient and Indian source.

8 thoughts on ““In the end these things matter most: How well did you love? How fully did you live? How deeply did you let go?””

  1. I just stumbled on a quote very much like this is Ezra Bayda’s _Aging for Beginners_. Bayda, a well-known Zen teacher, does not exactly give this quotation as the words of the Buddha. Here is what he says: “There is another useful teaching, oten attrtibuted to the Buddha, that we can use as a guiding principle: ‘In the end this is what matters most: How well did you love?’” (Kindle edition, loc 266. It’s in chapter two.)

    1. I just used the “often attributed to” rick in a piece of writing, although I did mention that the quote in question certainly wasn’t by the author it was attributed to. I’d have hoped that Wisdom would have pushed for a better citation in this case.

  2. While it may not be an actual buddaha quote, i say still a good quote of insperation, who care’s who or where or how it came to be it is if nothing else a strongly positive quote if one chooses to view it as such. Just my thoughts

    1. Hi, David.

      Whether a quote is inspiring or not is one thing. Whether it’s properly attributed is another. In the case of a false attribution to the Buddha, the true author is deprived of credit for his or her words, the message of the Buddha may be distorted (sometimes seriously), confusion about what the Buddha taught spreads, and inaccurate information proliferates.

      Is there a problem with correctly attributing quotes? Are you actively against correct attributions? Do you prefer that people have access to accurate information, or do you think people being misled is just fine?

      For myself, I go along with Einstein when he said, “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted in important affairs.” I also adhere to the principle that “truth is better than bullshit.” And so I try to separate one of those from the other.

      All the best,

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