I was asked about this on Facebook today:
“It is not what others do and do not do that is my concern. It is what I do and do not do — that is my concern.”
But before I could reply, Jeff Stefani stepped in with a suggestion that it resembled Dhammapada verse 50:
“Let none find fault with others; let none see the omissions and commissions of others.
But let one see one’s own acts, done and undone..”
This of course isn’t a first person statement, like our fake quote. But the first person version does purport to be a translation of Dhammapada verse 50. It’s from The Dhammapada (page 54), in the translation by the Indian poet, publisher, and professor, Purushottama Lal, where it’s presented as:
It is not what others do,
or do not do, that is my concern:
It is what I do,
and what I do not do, that is my concern.
This translation is very inaccurate, rendering the verses as a first person statement. This steps well beyond the bounds of accurate translation, in my eyes.
And of course paying no attention to the faults of others and paying attention to your own faults has a very different meaning than not being concerned by what others do. The intent of the original verse is that we don’t obsess about others’ unethical actions but concentrate on scrutinizing our own ethics. This is to avoid us getting involved in unskillful activities such as blaming, ill will, and conceit. The first person version on the other hand could easily suggest that the Buddha himself was not interested in others’ actions. We know, however, that the Buddha was in fact very concerned about the actions of others! He was even very concerned about their faults and their actions done or not done, but out of compassion rather than a desire to blame, or out of ill will, or out of conceit.
This already inaccurate translation by Lal has then been slightly misquoted as:
It is not what others do
and do not do that is my concern.
It is what I do and do not do
— that is my concern.
And this is the form, with its illogical em-dash, that now circulates. We’re in the rare position of knowing how this particular Fake Buddha Quote came into circulation. The quotation (that is, the misquotation of the mistranslation) seems to have been popularized almost entirely by one person, whose Dharma name is Genkaku (aka Adam Fisher). For several years Genkaku has been posting his misquotation of the Lal version of the quote in blog posts and discussion forums. Back in 2010 he was challenged for his use of this misquotation, but defended his use of it on the grounds that discussing it’s authenticity was “dabbling.” Since then he’s posted the same version again, although he now often says they are “attributed” to the Buddha or that the Buddha is “alleged” to have said them. That strikes me as an improvement.