“Love is beauty and beauty is truth, and that is why in the beauty of a flower we can see the truth of the universe.”

Little known fact: the words “A Fake Buddha Quote all ’bout truth” were originally in Alanis Morissette’s song “Ironic,” but she took them out when she realized that this actually was an example of irony, unlike most of the other images in the song.

No, that’s not true.

But isn’t it ironic?

This one has its origins in the first translated Buddhist text I ever read: Juan Mascaró’s translation of the Dhammapada for Penguin Classics. I was deeply impressed by this at the time, although now I realize that Mascaró, like other Hindu translators of the Dhammapada, seriously misrepresented what some key passages say.

But that’s a story for another day. Here we’re not talking about the translation, since these words are from Mascaró’s introduction. On page 21 of my edition we find:

“Love is beauty and beauty is truth, and this is why in the beauty of a flower we can see the truth of the universe.” (Note that we have here “this is why” and not the “that is why” of the quote in the image above.)

My copy of Mascaró’s Dhammapada is ancient and yellowed.

The fact that Mascaró makes an abrupt transition from these words to “This is how the Buddha speaks of love in the Majjhima Nikaya” (a Buddhist text) and has “From the Samyutta and Digha Nikaya” (two more Buddhist texts) immediately before them may have mislead some people into thinking that those references pertained to the quote in question. Which of course they don’t.

These are Mascaró’s own words, and they are a mashup of Keats’ “Beauty is truth, truth beauty” from his “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” and the general idea of Tennyson’s poem, “Flower in the Crannied Wall.”

Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower—but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.

Although I believe that Tennyson borrowed this from Blake’s Auguries of Innocence, written much earlier than “Flower in the Crannied Wall” but published in the same year:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand.
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower.
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand.
And Eternity in an hour.

There’s a similar Fake Buddha Quote, “If we could understand a single flower we could understand the whole universe” which comes to us from Borges, and which I discuss here.

The language of “Love is beauty and beauty is truth, and that [or this] is why in the beauty of a flower we can see the truth of the universe” is completely different from anything found in the Buddhist texts. But those who are unacquainted with the scriptures couldn’t be expected to know that.

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