“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of harming another; you end up getting burned.”

I’ve seen this one a lot, and here’s an example from Twitter.

As far as I’m aware, this isn’t an actual quote from the Buddha, but a paraphrase of something said by Buddhaghosa, the 5th century commentator, in his great work, the Visuddhimagga. It’s perfectly in keeping with Buddhist teachings, but not canonical (again, as far as I know), and if Buddhaghosa had been quoting the Pāli canon I think he would have given a scriptural reference.

Buddhaghosa, in discussing anger said,

“By doing this you are like a man who wants to hit another and picks up a burning ember or excrement in his hand and so first burns himself or makes himself stink.”
Visuddhimagga IX, 23.

As far as I can tell, the source of our FBQ was the 1987 book, “Minding the Body, Mending the Mind,” by Joan Borysenko. There the simile is put into the mouth of the Buddha, and the words become very close to our FBQ:

“The Buddha compared holding onto anger to grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else. You, of course, are the one who gets burned.”

It’s a short hop from that to:

“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else — you are the one who gets burned.”

which by 1995 is found in at least two books.


A friend on Google+ thought it was a shame that the poop part of Buddhaghosa’s analogy hadn’t caught on rather than the hot coal part. Part of me agrees.


There is a similar simile (I like saying “similar simile”) in the Pali canon (both in the Majjhima and Digha Nikayas), although the intent is rather different:

Householder, suppose a man took a blazing grass torch and went against the wind. What do you think, householder? If that man does not quickly let go of that blazing grass torch, wouldn’t that blazing grass torch burn his hand or his arm or some other part of his body, so that he might incur death or deadly suffering because of that?

You might think that that was talking about anger, but actually it’s an image meant to convey the dangers of sensuality.

“If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.”

Thanks to Viv for bringing this one to my attention in a comment on another Fake Buddha Quote.

If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.

It’s from page 112 of Jack Kornfield’s “Buddha’s Little Instruction Book,” in which Jack “distilled and adapted an ancient teaching for the needs of contemporary life.” This is a common pattern: if a book is called “The Teaching of Buddha” or “Buddha’s Little Instruction Book” then people jump to the conclusion that any quote from it is the teaching of the Buddha or one of the Buddha’s instructions. It’s not the fault of the author, of course…

As I said to Viv, how I can tell (usually) that a quote is a Fake Buddha Quote is that it may resonate with the teachings, but the language and idiom is all to heck.

The Buddha, to the best of my recollection, didn’t talk in terms of miracles in this metaphorical way (although he talked about literal miracles, such as psychic powers). And he was more inclined to talk about paying attention to the five clinging aggregates and recognizing that they were anatta — not your self — than paying attention to flowers.

He used flower metaphors, but I don’t think he ever suggested looking at flowers (or at least it’s not recorded that he did, which is all that’s important when you’re talking about quotes).

The language in this quote is more like something Thich Nhat Hanh would say. It’s nice, but it’s too sentimental for the Pali canon.

See also: “If we could understand a single flower we could understand the whole universe.”

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.”

This is one I came across on Google+ last night, and it immediately struck me as suspect:

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.”

You’ll find this on ThinkExist and a whole bunch of other quotes sites.

It’s another quote that’s been taken from a translation of a Japanese book called “The Teaching of Buddha,” by the Bukkyõ Dendõ Kyõkai organization. It’s a Buddhist version of the Gideon Bible, and is put in hotel rooms in order to spread the word. The quote is from a passage interpreting the Buddha’s teaching and not quoting him. What I’d imagine happens is that the quote gets posted with the attribution “The Teaching of Buddha” and then someone thinks the quote is, verbatim, the teaching of the Buddha. And then it’s attributed as being the word of the Buddha.

There are things that the Buddha said that are along these lines, about not clinging to the past, future, or present. And he did sometimes talk about health. But I’m pretty sure he never bundled all these elements together into one neat quote. The phrasing is just not right for this to be something from the Pali canon…

“Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little…”

On May 3, 2012, at 4:17 AM, Jundo Cohen wrote:

Name: Jundo Cohen
Email: Jundo … .com
Subject: Fake Buddha Quote

Message: Hello,
I have another quote floating around the internet that strikes me as something the Buddha wouldn’t be caught dead saying …

Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us be thankful.
-The Buddha


My reply:

You’re absolutely right, Jundo. This is not the kind of language or idiom that the Buddha used.

The original source is Leo Buscaglia’s 1992 book, “Born for Love: Reflections on Loving,” where he writes:

‘Years ago I had a Buddhist teacher in Thailand who would remind all his students that there was always something to be thankful for. He’d say, “Let’s rise and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we may have learned a little. And if we didn’t learn even a little, at least we didn’t get sick. And if we did get sick, at least we didn’t die. So let us all be thankful.’ (page 102)

All the best,
Bodhipaksa

“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.”

I’ve obviously become the “go to guy” for Fake Buddha Quotes. Jake Moskowitz just wrote asking about this one, which he thought was “strange.”

“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.”

I think Jake was right to sense that something was “off” about this. In the Buddha’s teachings, that one has lovingkindness for oneself is taken as read , and the emphasis is on extending our concern to others.

The first signs of this quote that I found in print are in two books that were published at about the same in early 2001: John Amodeo’s The Authentic Heart, which is “An Eightfold Path to Midlife Love,” and Laura Doyle’s The Surrendered Wife: A Practical Guide for Finding Intimacy, Passion, and Peace with a Man.

I’m getting a little off-topic here, but I learned that The Surrendered Wife “is a step-by-step guide that teaches women how to give up unnecessary control and responsibility, resist the temptation to criticize, belittle, or dismiss their husbands, and to trust their husbands in every aspect of marriage — from sexual to financial.”

I’d buy my wife a copy, but she’d probably hit me with it.

Anyway, given that these books were published more or less simultaneously, it seemed reasonable to assume that there was an original precursor. With a little digging around I found that Sharon Salzberg included essentially the same quote in an article in a magazine called “Woman of Power.” My only source for this is Google Books, which doesn’t show me the entire quote, or an exact date for the edition the article appeared in, but it was likely the early 1980′s.

The original would seem to be in the Udana of the Pali canon, where we read, in Bhikkhu Thanissaro’s translation,

Searching all directions
with one’s awareness,
one finds no one dearer
than oneself.
In the same way, others
are dear to themselves.
So one should not hurt others
if one loves oneself.

So the purpose of the original is to emphasize having lovingkindness towards others, not towards ourselves. The import of the Salzberg version has been reversed, to suggest that because others deserve love, so too do we. We of course should have lovingkindness towards ourselves, so there’s no argument with the message — it’s just that that’s not what the quotation says.

The altered quotation is interesting, though, because it points to a need for self-metta that seems to be predominantly or largely a western problem. When Sharon Salzberg asked the Dalai Lama a question about self-hatred he was totally baffled. It had never crossed his mind before that someone might hate themselves! So I can see the reason for why this quote has been altered.

“Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the single candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”

photo-570x924

Someone on Facebook asked me about this one today:

“Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the single candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”

At first I thought this was a spurious quote, but it does in fact have a canonical origin, although it’s heavily modified. In a Chinese text known as the Sutra of 42 Sections, there’s the following passage:

10. The Buddha said, “Those who rejoice in seeing others observe the Way will obtain great blessing.” A Sramana asked the Buddha, “Would this blessing be destroyed?” The Buddha replied, “It is like a lighted torch whose flame can be distributed to ever so many other torches which people may bring along; and therewith they will cook food and dispel darkness, while the original torch itself remains burning ever the same. It is even so with the bliss of the Way.”

The exact wording, “Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the single candle will not be shortened, comes from a Japanese book on Buddhism called “The Teaching of Buddha.” This book does contain translations of Buddhist sutras, but it also includes a lot of explanatory commentary, of which this is a part.

A fuller version reads:

“An act to make another happy, inspires the other to make still another happy, and so happiness is aroused and abounds. Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the single candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared. Those who seek Enlightenment must be careful of each of their steps. No matter how high one’s aspiration may be, it must be attained step by step. The steps of the path to Enlightenment must be taken in our everyday life.”

This seems to be, in part, a paraphrase of Section 10 of the Sutra. It’s not an exact translation, but it’s pretty close. It certainly seems to preserve the meaning and the image, even if the exact wording has been tweaked.

The quote “Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the single candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared,” isn’t, I believe, quite close enough to the Sutra of 42 Sections to be considered genuine, so I’ve classed it as “fakeish.”

Several well-known Fake Buddha Quotes originate in this book. The problem may be that quotes appear with the attribution “The Teaching of Buddha,” and people then misinterpret this to mean that they are the “word of the Buddha.”

The Sutra of 42 Sections is said to be a compilation from Indian sources. According to legend, the Emperor Ming sent a delegation west looking for the Buddha’s teachings. The delegation encountered Kasyapa-Matanga and Dharmaraksha in India, and they were brought back to China along with many sutras. The Sutra of 42 Sections was one of the works they translated.

I’m not aware of any text in Pali (or Sanskrit) that corresponds to Section 10. That doesn’t mean that an original doesn’t exist, of course, just that more research is needed.

The Buddha did talk about lamps (I don’t know about candles) and said things like:

“Just as an oil lamp burns in dependence on oil & wick; and from the termination of the oil & wick — and from not being provided any other sustenance — it goes out unnourished; in the same way, when sensing a feeling limited to the body, he discerns that ‘I am sensing a feeling limited to the body.’ When sensing a feeling limited to life, he discerns that ‘I am sensing a feeling limited to life.’ He discerns that ‘With the break-up of the body, after the termination of life, all that is sensed, not being relished, will grow cold right here.’”

As you can see, this isn’t very pithy or quotable!

A bit more quotable is:

As a flame overthrown by the force of the wind goes to an end that cannot be classified, so the sage free from naming activity goes to an end that cannot be classified.

But then this is rather hard to comprehend.

A later teaching — the Questions of King Milinda, has a similar analogy in reference not to happiness but to the teaching of rebirth:

The king asked: “Venerable Nagasena, is it so that one does not transmigrate and [yet] one is reborn?”

“Yes, your majesty, one does not transmigrate and one is reborn.”

“How, venerable Nagasena, is it that one does not transmigrate and one is reborn? Give me an analogy.”

“Just as, your majesty, if someone kindled one lamp from another, is it indeed so, your majesty, that the lamp would transmigrate from the other lamp?”

“Certainly not, venerable sir.”

“Indeed just so, your majesty, one does not transmigrate and one is reborn.”

This isn’t the Buddha speaking, but it’s the closest I’ve found to “Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the single candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”

“My doctrine is not a doctrine but just a vision. I have not given you any set rules, I have not given you a system.”

I came across this one on Google+, where I’ve now encountered a couple of Fake Buddha Quotes, both of which were posted by the same person, interestingly enough:

“My doctrine is not a doctrine but just a vision. I have not given you any set rules, I have not given you a system.”

This isn’t from the Buddha, of course. It’s actually from Osho (Bhagwan Shri Rajneesh). Bhagwan was an Indian teacher who had a huge following in the west. He started a massive commune in Oregon, which ran into planning troubles with the local authorities because the ranch they owned, if I remember correctly, wasn’t zoned for the high density population that was living there. Bizarrely, the community decided to launch a biological terror attack on the local town (the first in the modern history of the US) by sprinkling salmonella in cafeterias and restaurants.

Not surprisingly, Osho was deported from the United States, and the commune collapsed.

The quote is from Osho’s commentary on the Buddhist Diamond Sutra. This of course brings up its own questions of whether Mahayana sutras constitute Fake Buddha Quotes. While we’ve no way of knowing whether the Buddha actually uttered anything that’s recorded in the Pali canon, we can be almost absolutely sure that he didn’t compose the Mahayana Sutras, although they were in many cases elaborations of his original teachings in literary form.

Here’s the part of the Sutra Osho comments on:

Subhuti, in these bodhisattvas no perception of a self takes place, no perception of a being, no perception of a soul, no perception of a person. Nor do these bodhisattvas have a perception of a dharma, or a perception of a no-dharma. No perception or non-perception takes place in them.

And why? If, Subhuti, these bodhisattvas, should have a perception of either a dharma, or a no-dharma, they would thereby seize on a self, on a being, on a soul, on a person.

And why? Because a bodhisattva should not seize on either a dharma or a no-dharma. Therefore this saying has been taught by the Tathagata with a hidden meaning: “By those who know the discourse on dharma as like unto a raft, dharmas should be forsaken, still more so, no-dharmas.”

The Lord asked: What do you think, Subhuti, is there any dharma which the Tathagata has fully known as “the utmost, right and perfect enlightenment,” or is there any dharma which the Tathagata has demonstrated?

Subhuti replied: No, not as I understand what the Lord has said. And why? This dharma which the Tathagata has fully known or demonstrated – it cannot be grasped, it cannot be talked about, it is neither a dharma nor a no-dharma. And why? Because an absolute exalts the holy persons.

That’s rather lovely, and mysterious, as the Perfection of Wisdom texts (of which this is an example) tend to be.

Here’s Osho’s commentary:

A few things to be understood, then it will be easy to enter into today’s sutra. First, the good doctrine, the dharma. Buddha calls a doctrine good if it is not a doctrine. If it is a doctrine it is not a good doctrine. Buddha calls a philosophy good philosophy if it is not a philosophy. If it is a philosophy then it is not good philosophy.

A doctrine is a set, fixed phenomenon. The universe is in flux; no doctrine can contain it. No doctrine can be just to it, no doctrine can do justice to existence. All doctrines fall short.

So Buddha says: “My doctrine is not a doctrine but just a vision. I have not given you any set rules, I have not given you a system.” He says: “I have only given you an approach towards reality. I have only given you the keys to open the door. I have not said anything about what you will see when you open the door. Nothing can be said about it.”

Just think of a man who has lived always in a dark cave, who knows nothing of light, who knows nothing of color, who has never seen the sun or the moon. How can you tell him about the rainbows? How can you talk to him about stars? How can you describe roses to him? It is impossible. And whatsoever you say to him, if he understands it, it will be wrong. He will create a doctrine and that will be wrong.

It’s clear here that this is Osho’s paraphrase of what he believes the Buddha to have been saying, and not the actual words of the Buddha himself. It’s easy to see how someone glancing at the page might think that these words were being presented as a verbatim quote from the Buddha.

This one so far hasn’t made it into any books, as far as I can see, but it is in some of the more popular quotes sites, and I guess it’s only a matter of time.

“The wise ones fashioned speech with their thought, sifting it as grain is sifted through a sieve.”

This Fake Buddha Quote was forwarded to me today, and it’s one I’d never seen before:

“The wise ones fashioned speech with their thought, sifting it as grain is sifted through a sieve.”

This one’s quite straightforward: it’s from the Rg Veda (10:71) , which of course is a pre-Buddhist text that nowadays we’d say was Hindu, although the people of the Rg Veda would not have recognized that word.

This is, of course, found in many of the quotes sites that are found on the internet, and which as far as I can see take little if any care to attribute their quotations correctly. I’d imagine their primary motivation is to get traffic and earn money, and that fact-checking would no doubt inhibit those activities.

The earliest dated misattribution I’ve found on the web is dated Jan 30, 1992, where it’s in the company of many other Fake Buddha Quotes.

It’s also found in at least five books (in one it’s paired, rather ironically, with “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it”) although we can expect to see many more in the future, as the cycle of websites quoting books quoting websites kicks in. Ain’t the internet a wonderful thing — making it easier for misinformation to circulate.

“Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.”

Welcome to the first Fake Buddha Quote of 2011 (and on the occasion of my 50th birthday, no less).

A Twitter friend (someone I don’t know personally) tweeted the following the other day:

Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most. Buddha

As is usually the case, the language bears little or no resemblance to how the Buddha taught, which is not to say that the quote is false in its substance or lacking in poetry. It’s certainly a lovely metaphor, and in a sense true. It’s just very unlikely that these words are anywhere in the Buddhist canon.

Google Books brings up only a small selection (around eight) of books containing this exact quotation, and all but one attribute it to the Buddha. The one exception provides the correct source. These are not, in fact, the words of the Buddha, but are the words of the Insight Meditation teacher and psychotherapist, Jack Kornfield. They’re found in his delightful work, “The Buddha’s Little Instruction Book” (page 79). It seems likely that someone has taken the book to be a collection of scriptural verses rather than Mr. Kornfield’s contemporary and poetic presentation of Buddhism. The title of the book quite unintentionally lends itself to that misunderstanding (which I’ve also noted with regard to quotes from a book called “The Teaching of the Buddha”).

I wonder if Jack Kornfield is aware of his promotion to full Buddhahood?


Incidentally, the first part of the quote is very similar to the words of the 4th century Greek poet, Palladas, who wrote “Day by day we are born as night retires, no more possessing aught of our former life, estranged from our course of yesterday, and beginning today the life that remains.”

In fact, the Finnish poet Anselm Hollo used the exact same wording as Jack Kornfield in his translation of Palladas:

each morning we’re born again
of yesterday nothing remains
what’s left began today

(Corvus: Poems, page 32).

“It is better to travel well than to arrive.”

I found this one on “BrainyQuote“:

It is better to travel well than to arrive.
Buddha

This seems to be a variation on Robert Louis Stevenson’s “To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive,” which is from an 1878 essay entitled “El Dorado”).

“for to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour.”
From “The Complete Works of Robert Louis Stevenson.”

Arthur C. Custance made an obvious reference to this saying when he wrote, in his 1978 Science and Faith, “To distort a well-known adage, It is better to travel well than to arrive at the right destination.”

Quite how this came to be attributed to the Buddha, I don’t know. The earliest link I was able to find in print between the Buddha and the “travel well” variant of Stevenson’s quote is from The Panic-Free Pregnancy, by Michael S. Broder (p. 153), from 2004, where the author attributes the saying to “Buddha,” but I’d imagine that Broder got the quote from the internet. Unfortunately Google’s not very good at identifying dates of publication on the web, so I haven’t been able to ascertain when “It is better to travel well than to arrive” became a Buddha quote.

A year before Broder’s book, Applied Economic Analysis for Technologists, Engineers, and Managers has the quote as a “Tibetan saying,” but (Google’s imperfections in ascertaining timing aside) it seems probably that the “Buddha” attribution was already in existence.