“If you do not find the solution where you stand where else shall you find it?”

The Twitter user, @AnAmericanMonk, is rather prone to posting Fake Buddha Quotes, incidentally, and most of the quotes he publishes are misattributed. Which leads me to wonder whether some people have an affinity for Fake Buddha Quotes. I’ve noticed that many people who post Buddha quotes are like @AnAmericanMonk, with the majority of their quotes turning out to be fake. This could be partly because much of what the Buddha says isn’t in sound-bites, and it often isn’t in a literary style that we find polished. This may be due to the oral tradition rather than the Buddha’s own choice of words… Couple that with a lack of familiarity with the Buddhist scriptures, and I can see how when these polished nuggets come along with a #Buddha hashtag attached, they catch the eye.

The quote with “truth” in it now sounds much more genuine, although the “where you stand” didn’t ring true.

Google Books brought up a book containing a variant of that variant: “If you can’t find the truth right where you are, where else do you think you will find it?” This time it was attributed to Eihei Dogen, which sounded more plausible. The book in which this quote was offered was Wisdom for the Soul: Five Millennia of Prescriptions for Spiritual Healing, edited by Larry Chang, and Chang kindly provided a citation: “The Practice of Meditation” in The Enlightened Mind: An Anthology of Sacred Prose, Stephen Mitchell, ed., 1991.

From here is was just another quick search on Google Books, and I had a source. The quote is right there on page 101.

I’m now confident that @AnAmericanMonk quote, “If you do not find the solution where you stand where else shall you find it?” is a mangling of Dogen (“truth” having been turned into “the solution”), misattributed to the Buddha. And so I’m therefore equally confident in saying that this is a Fake Buddha Quote.

“One of his students asked Buddha, ‘Are you the messiah?’”

This one seems to be doing the rounds at the moment.

One of his students asked Buddha, “Are you the messiah?”

“No”, answered Buddha.

“Then are you a healer?”

“No”, Buddha replied.

“Then are you a teacher?” the student persisted.

“No, I am not a teacher.”

“Then what are you?” asked the student, exasperated.

“I am awake”, Buddha replied

This is an awkward one, because nothing the Buddha says is actually inaccurate. After all, he says “no” a lot and then says he’s awake. None of those things is a misquote. And the dialogue kinda sorta happened, but not in the terms used in the quote — but that’s what makes it suspect, because the Buddha’s words have been put in a new, and inconguous, context.

Here’s a translation of portions of the original sutta:

On seeing him, [Dona] went to him and said, “Master, are you a deva [a god]?”

“No, brahman, I am not a deva.”

“Are you a gandhabba [a kind of low-grade god; a celestial musician]?”

“No…”

“… a yakkha [a kind of protector god, or sometimes a trickster spirit]?”

“No…”

“… a human being?”

“No, brahman, I am not a human being.”

“Then what sort of being are you?”

“Remember me, brahman, as ‘awakened.’”

I’ve done a lot of truncating here, so that the relevant portions of the sutta and the Fake Buddha Quote can be contrasted more easily.

First, who is this “Dona” who is talking to the Buddha? It’s not a “student” of the Buddha, as is stated in the Fake Buddha Quote. It’s a brahmin priest who has seen the miraculous footprints of the Buddha, complete with wheels of 1000 spokes, and who follows the Buddha to question him.

And then there are the categories used in both the fake quote and the sutta. In the fake quote the first category into which Dona tries to pigeonhole the Buddha is “Messiah.” This is very inappropriate language, and in fact it’s straight from the New Testament, Matthew 11:3.

Dona of course doesn’t ask whether the Buddha is the long-awaited savior of the Jews, or if we are to take the term Messiah in its more popular sense, does he ask if the Buddha is a savior of any sort at all. He merely asks if the Buddha is a divine being.

Dona, of course, is not a Buddhist, so he wouldn’t have had a Buddhist understanding of the term “deva.” Devas (gods) in Buddhism are not immortal or spiritually awakened beings. They live mortal lives, although on a vastly longer timescale than our own. And although they may have greater powers than us, those powers are not in a Buddhist sense spiritual. They have no insight. They are not awakened, as the Buddha is. Dona would not have seen the gods this way. Presumably he would have seen them as immortal and spiritually magnificent beings. So the Buddha rules this out. No, he is not a god. I think we can safely assume that in Dona’s mind the terms deva, gandabbha, yakkha, and human being represent progressively less exalted kinds of beings.

Nor does Dona ask the Buddha if he is a healer or a teacher. He’s simply concerned with whether the Buddha is a divine being or a human being. He doesn’t ask about the Buddha in terms of being a teacher or healer.

Dona finally tries asking the Buddha if he could be described using a non-divine category — a human being. The Buddha denies that he is this.

So while something like this dialogue is recorded in the Buddhist scriptures, the terms have been changed a lot, and so I’m going to regard this as a Fake Buddha Quote.

But let’s take a moment to go back to the sutta. The Buddha not only denies that he is a devine being, but he says in effect that he is indefinable. He’s not even definable as a human being.

Brahman, the āsavas [negative mental states] by which — if they were not abandoned — I would be a deva: Those are abandoned by me, their root destroyed, made like a palmyra stump, deprived of the conditions of development, not destined for future arising. The āsavas by which — if they were not abandoned — I would be a gandhabba… a yakkha… a human being: Those are abandoned by me, their root destroyed, made like a palmyra stump, deprived of the conditions of development, not destined for future arising.

There are various ways to interpret this. Here’s how I see it. The āsavas are the basis of our clinging and of, therefore, our self-view, which is just one particular form of clinging. The Buddha has no clinging, because the āsavas have been destroyed. Therefore the Buddha does not identify anything (body, mind, etc.) as being “his self.” The Buddha lacks any theory of or idea about his own self, and lives without reference to a self. He doesn’t define himself. In fact it’s because he’s a Buddha that he doesn’t define himself. And so, the Buddha is essentially undefinable. Those of us who are not Buddhas can certainly try to pigeonhole him into one of the categories we use, but these categories don’t match up with how the Buddha sees himself, which is certainly not in terms of any of those categories, or indeed in terms of any category we could imagine.

The Buddha’s view of himself is — and I step out of traditional language here — a direct perception of an indefinable “flow” or “process.” This process is not perceived as being separate from the world, or as being part of a “oneness” with the world.

And so, in the words of another sutta, “you can’t pin down the Tathagata as a truth or reality even in the present life.” In fact this sutta, the Anuradha Sutta, leads us through a socratic dialog in which it’s made clear that the Buddha has no view of a self. In fact this sutta ends with one of the most misinterpreted lines from the whole Buddhist canon:

“Both formerly and now, it is only suffering that I describe, and the cessation of suffering.”

This is often taken to mean that the Buddha only has one purpose, which is to teach suffering and how to end it, but it’s clear from other suttas that what the Buddha is saying is that suffering and the end of suffering can exist, without there being a “self” to experience either suffering or its end.

This is a difficult thing for us to get our heads around, and the Buddha admitted when talking about the same topic to a wantered called Vacchagotta:

“Of course you’re befuddled, Vaccha. Of course you’re confused. Deep, Vaccha, is this phenomenon, hard to see, hard to realize, tranquil, refined, beyond the scope of conjecture, subtle, to-be-experienced by the wise. For those with other views, other practices, other satisfactions, other aims, other teachers, it is difficult to know.”

Postscript

Those footprints with thousand-spoked wheels! They surely didn’t exist. I suppose some might say that Dona saw these by means of psychic powers, but that’s not a world view that I buy into. I’d suggest that the Buddha’s “footprints” here refer to his impact on those around him. Perhaps Dona had met people who had been affected by the newly awakened Buddha’s personality as he passed by on his wandering, and saw in the reactions of those around him signs of something special. This presentation in terms of the Buddha’s divine footprints is a reminder that the Buddhist scriptures were edited for effect, and that reminds us that there is no such thing as a definitive “Genuine Buddha Quote.”

“Because truth is better than bullshit”

Writer and humorist John Shanahan is, like me, bothered by the mis-information that circulates on the internet. He debunks a couple of internet memes, one of which I’d seen and one I hadn’t, and he talks about why he’s bothered:

There are people in my own circle of friends who do this kind of thing all the time, this spreading of disinformation via their own lack of information. What makes me nuts is that several of these people have jobs that are fact-dependent, that require critical thinking or enhanced deductive capabilities. In some cases, lives are in the balance and only a well-considered action is acceptable. Intelligent, detailed, capable people who toss all that shit right out the window when they see a photo with words pasted onto it. Then it’s game on, facts be damned. Some have been guilty of this since the Fwd:Fwd:Fwd: days, and they have gotten downright pissy with me for calling them out on this willful spread of low-grade ca-ca.

Why do I care, you ask? Because it’s a waste of time. Because I want to believe that the people around me aren’t knee-jerk emotional reactionists willing to dispense with logic because the internet is such a shining bastion of quality information. Because it takes no time at all to stop, consider, and question. Because truth is better than bullshit. Because right is better than wrong…

It’s worth reading the whole article, Dissing the Disinformation. (The article is now only available on archive.org, the original site having been deleted.)

“The only real failure in life is not to be true to the best one knows.”

I recently came across this one in Twitter. It’s not always attributed to the Buddha there, but it often is.

I also encountered it through following a link to an article by Deb and Ed Shapiro, entitled “What the Buddha Might Say to President Obama.”

Deb and Ed write articles on meditation for the Huffington Post. Deb, coincidentally, is the daughter of Anne Bancroft, who is not the actress, but who was a British Buddhist responsible for a translation of the Dhammapada that is, well, rather “creative” in its renderings. Bancroft is found elsewhere in this blog.

Anyway, on to the quote.

It doesn’t sound anything like the Buddha. It’s not the Buddha.

It seems to be by Frederic William Farrar, an Indian-born Dean of Canterbury who lived from 1831 to 1903, and who wrote several books. I think I’d have liked Frederic. He was a believer that everyone was headed to heaven eventually, and also argued against the notion that one of the great things about being in heaven is getting to watch the eternal torment of souls in hell.

Farrar’s quote was often used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with slight variations. I haven’t found an original, so I don’t know what the exact wording is.

In a 1909 book, “Character Lessons in American Biography for Public Schools and Home Instruction,” by James Terry White, it appears as “There is only one real failure possible; and that is, not to be true to the best one knows.”

This isn’t the only Fake Buddha Quote in Deb and Ed’s article. They also include that old chestnut, “Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.”

“The whole secret of existence is to have no fear.”

You know, in all the years I’ve been reading the Buddha’s teachings, I’ve never once heard him talk in terms of the “secret of life” or the “secret of existence.”

This quote is actually from a talk given by Swami Vivekananda in the US in 1895, in which he is recorded as having said:

The whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Never fear what will become of you. Depend on no one. Only the moment you reject all help are you free.

The fact that the talk was delivered over a century ago made me wonder when people started talking about a “secret of existence.” It struck me as being rather a 19th century expression.

Google Books only gives one result from the 18th century for that phrase, one more (excluding duplicate results) from 1800 to 1820, and then dozens from 1820 to 1830. Even allowing for sample bias in Google’s database, it seems that the phrase only came into vogue in the early 1800s — earlier than I’d thought.

The phrase “the secret of life” seems to have become common much earlier, and is found in books throughout the 1700s.

Even earlier was the phrase “secret of Nature,” which I’ve seen in many books as far back as the 1500s.

When the Buddha talked about “secrets” or things being “secret” he seems to have done so in quite a literal way. He’d talk about people doing evil deeds in secret, and about friends keeping your secrets and sharing their own. But he doesn’t seem to have talked about a “secret of life” or a “secret of existence.”

Nowadays “secrets of life” abound. It seems that many people have discovered this secret and will sell you it in paperback, hardcover, or in ebook format.

Thanks for Bhikkhu Pandit for sending me this quote, which he found on Facebook.

This Fake Buddha Quote also crops up from time to time on Twitter:

“The heart is like a garden: it can grow compassion or fear, resentment or love. What seeds will you plant there?”

A friend drew my attention to this on Facebook, and then two people emailed it to me on the same day. Ever had the feeling that life is telling you to write up a Fake Buddha Quote?

This of course is nothing like the language or imagery that the Buddha is recorded as having used in his teaching.

In fact it’s from Jack Kornfield’s Buddha’s Little Instruction Book, page 11. BLIB is not a book of quotations from the Buddha, as the title seems to suggest to many. Instead, it’s Jack’s rather lovely renderings of the spirit of the Buddha’s teaching into a contemporary style.

The Buddha did use the imagery of seeds, at times. He said things like this:

Just as when seeds are not broken, not rotten, not damaged by wind & heat, capable of sprouting, well-buried, planted in well-prepared soil, and the rain-god would offer good streams of rain. Those seeds would thus come to growth, increase, & abundance. In the same way, any action performed with greed… performed with aversion… performed with delusion — born of delusion, caused by delusion, originating from delusion: wherever one’s selfhood turns up, there that action will ripen. Where that action ripens, there one will experience its fruit, either in this very life that has arisen or further along in the sequence.

As you’ll see, this is a similar message, but expressed very differently.

“To live a pure unselfish life, one must count nothing as one’s own in the midst of abundance.”

I’d seen this one a lot on Twitter, recently. It’s fake.

To live a pure unselfish life, one must count nothing as one’s own in the midst of abundance.

It’s not from the Buddha, but from a Japanese book called The Teaching of Buddha. Titles such as this do tend to lead to confusion.

The Teaching of Buddha is the Japanese Buddhist equivalent of the Gideon Bible, except that the Gideon Bible can be taken as, you know, Gospel, while the Japanese book, as far as I’m aware doesn’t contain any Buddhist scriptures. I’m just about to order a copy, so I’ll soon find out. Several other Fake Buddha Quotes come from this book, and I’m curious to take a look at it. So far all I’ve seen is snippets on Google Books.

Here’s an example from Twitter.

The Buddha on Fake Buddha Quotes (1)

“Whatever is well said is a saying of the Blessed One.” Well, maybe not.

From time to time I receive critical messages from people, claiming that the Buddha was too spiritual to bother about things like being misquoted, or having words put in his mouth. How they know this, I don’t know. Perhaps they have some kind of mystical communion with deceased enlightened beings.

Not having such powers, I have to read the Buddhist scriptures for clues to his attitude. There I find the Buddha, at times, facing people who say “I heard you said such-and-such,” and when their information is incorrect I see him putting them straight, in no uncertain terms. But there’s also a passage in the Digha Nikaya where the Buddha explicitly talks about being misquoted. (Thanks to Arjuna Ranatunga for reminding me of this sutta).

There the Buddha runs through various scenarios where one might hear that the Buddha is reported to have said something or other. What’s our response meant to be?

Without approval and without scorn, but carefully studying the sentences word by word, one should trace them in the Discourses and verify them by the Discipline. If they are neither traceable in the Discourses nor verifiable by the Discipline, one must conclude thus: ‘Certainly, this is not the Blessed One’s utterance; this has been misunderstood by that bhikkhu — or by that community, or by those elders, or by that elder.’ In that way, bhikkhus, you should reject it.

That’s what this blog is about, although generally I try to find where non-Buddhist quotes have originated and, being human, I sometimes fall into scorn. I’m working on it, though.

There’s another sutta that Arjuna reminded me of, which comes not from the Buddha but from his disciple, Uttara. That sutta contains this oft-quoted saying:

“…whatever is well said is all a saying of the Blessed One, the Worthy One, the Rightly Self-awakened One.”

This would seem to suggest that if the Buddha’s quoted as having said something, then as long as the quote is “well-said” we should accept it as his word. This is a rather odd idea, on the face of it. It’s hard to imagine someone as ethical as the Buddha being prepared to take the credit for others’ bons mots.

Take a look at the context of the sutta, though. Uttara is in a conversation with Sakka, the king of the devas (or gods). As an aside, what does this mean? I tend to assume that such conversations are the recordings of inner dialog. In this case Uttara would have been musing on the nature of authenticity. He’s just given a teaching, and a note (perhaps of doubt) creeps into his mind: “Whose teaching is this, mine or the Buddha’s?” And an answer comes to him: It’s basically the Buddha’s teaching; I just go to the grain pile and carry away basketfuls of Dhamma as I need them. I’d suggest reading the following passage in that light.

“But is this Ven. Uttara’s own extemporaneous invention, or is it the saying of the Blessed One, the Worthy One, the Rightly Self-awakened One?”

“Very well, then, deva-king, I will give you an analogy, for there are cases where it’s through an analogy that observant people can understand the meaning of what is being said. Suppose that not far from a village or town there was a great pile of grain, from which a great crowd of people were carrying away grain on their bodies, on their heads, in their laps, or in their cupped hands. If someone were to approach that great crowd of people and ask them, ‘From where are you carrying away grain?’ answering in what way would that great crowd of people answer so as to be answering rightly?”

“Venerable sir, they would answer, ‘We are carrying it from that great pile of grain,’ so as to be answering rightly.”

“In the same way, deva-king, whatever is well said is all a saying of the Blessed One, the Worthy One, the Rightly Self-awakened One. Adopting it again & again from there do we & others speak.”

Or maybe you believe in gods.

But it’s obvious from the context that what is “well said” refers to that which is taken from the grain pile of the Buddha’s teaching. It seems likely that Uttara was actually saying “whatever I have said that is well said is the word of the Buddha.” This is not unlike a common line that is found in book acknowledgements, along the lines, “Whatever is of value here comes from my teachers; the errors are all my own.” Uttara was not saying that if Voltaire or Douglas Adams or Virginia Woolf happens to say something neat it can be co-opted as Buddha-vacana — the utterance of the Buddha. So ultimately Uttara’s utterance doesn’t contradict the Buddha’s teaching that we should scrutinize supposed Buddha quotes and reject those that aren’t genuine.

“If anything is worth doing, do it with all your heart.”

When I first saw this quote on Twitter, my suspicious were aroused. It just seemed too neat and “literary” to be a genuine Buddha quote. But having researched it I’ve concluded that it’s a translation that’s just close enough to the original to be considered genuine.

“If anything is worth doing, do it with all your heart.”

It’s from Eknath Easwaran’s translation of the Dhammapada, which is generally held in high regard, although I confess I haven’t read it. This particular quote is part of verse 313, from the chapter on “Hell.”

Here are some variant translations:

  • If anything is to be done, let one do it with sustained vigor. (Buddharakkhita)
  • If something’s to be done, then work at it firmly. (Thanissaro)
  • If aught should be done, let one do it. Let one promote it steadily.(Narada Thera)
  • If you have something to do, attack it vigorously. (Sangharakshita)

The Pāli is Kayirā ce kayirāthenaṃ daḷhamenaṃ parakkame, which is very literally “If something is to be done, one should do it; one should undertake it firmly.”

Eknath’s “with all your heart” is to my mind a bit of a stretch, but it does idiomatically cover the same territory as “do it firmly.” So this is one of these times when my instincts were slightly off.

“To force oneself to believe and to accept a thing without understanding is political, and not spiritual or intellectual.”

“To force oneself to believe and to accept a thing without understanding is political, and not spiritual or intellectual.”

Sometimes it truly baffles me that some people think a particular quote comes from the Buddha. This is a case in point, because it’s so unlike the tone and language of any Buddhist scripture.

But this particular one is found on Goodreads, in the books Which God Should I Choose? (page 62), by Ben Kniskern, and The Little Red Book of Yoga Wisdom (unnumbered page), edited by Kelsie Besaw, and on numerous quotations sites and blogs.

The quote is actually from Walpola Rahula’s well-known book, What the Buddha Taught (page 3).

Granted, if you’ve never actually read any Buddhist scriptures then you’d have no understanding of the kind of vocabulary and idiom that the Buddha used (or is recorded as having used) and so you perhaps wouldn’t know that the Buddha didn’t talk like a 20th century intellectual — but yet I’m still surprised that the modernity of the phrasing and vocabulary didn’t trigger some kind of alert in the minds of the many people who have passed this on.

The word “political” stands out for me. I don’t recall the Buddha using any language similar to that. My Pali-English dictionary tells me there is a term, khattadhamma, which means “the law of ruling, political science,” although it’s not clear that the Buddha used this term in any of his discourses. Rather than using concise terms like “politics” or “political” the Buddha’s suttas are far more expansive, and so when “unedifying talk” about politics is condemned it’s talk “about kings, robbers, ministers, armies, dangers, wars” etc. that is mentioned.

I wholeheartedly agree with what Rahula has to say, incidentally. Buddhism is not principally a belief system, but a system of practice. Belief is not absent in Buddhism, and faith is reckoned as an important spiritual faculty. But faith in Buddhism is more like trust or confidence. That trust or confidence is based on experience, and is in turn the basis for practice and exploration. It’s not unlike taking on a hypothesis in a scientific sense and checking it out. The hypothesis is not believed blindly, either in Buddhism or in science, but is the starting point in a search for the truth.

Rahula points out that the Buddha encouraged his disciples to voice their doubts or uncertainties about the teaching, and said that if it was out of respect for him, the teacher, that they didn’t ask questions, they should get a friend to ask for them. It’s this kind of spirit of openness and inquiry that attracted me to Buddhist practice in the first place.