“Life is so hard, how can we be anything but kind?”

This one was just passed on to me, and is also found as:

  • “Life is so very difficult. How can we be anything but kind?”
  • “Life is so very difficult, how can we be anything other than kind?”

The version that I’ve used as the heading for this article is perhaps the definitive version of this quote, while the rest are later variants. The original is from Jack Kornfield’s “Buddha’s Little Instruction Book,” which is, as I’ve explained here many times, not a book of quotes from the Buddha but of adaptations and distillations of teachings, some canonical and some not.

The message of “Life is so hard, how can we be anything but kind?” is in fact very Buddhist, although I’m not aware of any scriptural quotes that come anything close to saying this.

There is the following, which is from the Pali Dhammapada (verse 129): “All tremble at violence; all fear death. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.”

There’s also “‘As I am, so are these. As are these, so am I.’ Drawing the parallel to yourself, neither kill nor get others to kill,” which is from the Sutta Nipata.

Those both convey the sense that others suffer just as we do, and so we should therefore not cause suffering.

These aren’t very close parallels, and I suspect that Kornfield wasn’t paraphrasing any specific text but creating a statement that be understood to reflect the gist of the Buddhist teachings.

Incidentally, one of my own sayings is, “Life is short; be kind,” which isn’t that different from Kornfield’s saying.

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