“Love the whole world as a mother loves her only child.”

This one was brought to my attention recently as a quote I haven’t written up. My correspondent was very suspicious of it, and in a way he was right: it’s not at all typical of how the early scriptures quote the Buddha.

It was however from a sutta (Buddhist scriptural discourse) that I know very well, although I’d characterize it as a good paraphrase rather than an actual quote.

It’s from the Karaniya Metta Sutta:

Just as with her own life
A mother shields from hurt
Her own son, her only child,
Let all-embracing thoughts
For all beings be yours.

You can find the entire sutta (which isn’t very long) on Access to Insight.

Lawrence Khantipalo Mills’ translation on Sutta Central is as follows:

Just as a mother at the risk of life
loves and protects her child, her only child,
so one should cultivate this boundless love
to all that live in the whole universe.

The original stresses the mother protecting rather than loving her child, so a better paraphrase would be “Love the whole world as a mother protects her only child.” Still, it’s not too far off as it stands. I can’t bring myself to call this “fake” but it’s also not an actual quote, so I’ve put it in my “fakeish” category. No disrespect is intended by this categorization.

“What’s done to the children is done to society”

On the grounds of style and content this is certainly not by the Buddha.

I don’t know the actual origins at the moment, but it looks like a variant on “What’s done to children, they will do to society,” which is usually attributed to Karl Menninger, an American psychiatrist who founded the Menninger Foundation and the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas.

Menninger is often cited as having said this, but so far I haven’t been able to confirm that he actually did. The earliest reference I’ve found is in a 1979 book by Barbara Rowe, called “The Book of Quotes.”

I can’t offhand think of anything the Buddha said that relates to the idea that the way we treat our children becomes the way they treat others. But so that you can get a sense of how the scriptures are phrased, here’s part of the Sigalovada Sutta, where the Buddha gives a series of teachings to a householder, Sigalaka, whose spiritual practice involved paying reverence to the six directions (the four cardinal points, plus above and below):

In five ways should a mother and father as the eastern direction be respected by a child: ‘I will support them who supported me; I will do my duty to them; I will maintain the family lineage and tradition; I will be worthy of my inheritance; and I will make donations on behalf of dead ancestors.’

And, the mother and father so respected reciprocate with compassion in five ways: by restraining you from wrongdoing, guiding you towards good actions, training you in a profession, supporting the choice of a suitable spouse, and in due time, handing over the inheritance.

In this way, the eastern direction is protected and made peaceful and secure.

Spotted in the wild!

Someone wrote to me today to let me know that they’d received a copy of the book from Parallax. I was surprised, since the release date is Nov 6. Hopefully this means I’ll have a copy in my hands soon.

If you don’t have yours, you can order it from:

The excitement is building!

I just received this email from Amazon…

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“The only way to bring peace to the earth is to learn to make our own life peaceful.”

This one is also found as “The only way to bring peace to the earth is to learn to make your own life peaceful.”

This is one I hadn’t ever come across until it was sent to me, but it seems it’s fairly comment and is even found in a few books.

I’m not disputing the meaning of this quote at all, and neither would the Buddha. But it’s not the kind of thing that the Buddha said.

It’s yet another quote from Jack Kornfield’s “Buddha’s Little Instruction Book” (page 87).

Although many people have assumed from the title that the quotes in Jack’s books are from the Buddha, they are actually adaptations and distillations of wisdom from many sources.

I don’t know where Jack adapted this one from. Perhaps one of you guys knows?

In case you’re curious about why I say this isn’t the kind of thing that the Buddha said, it’s partly because of the language being too contemporary. The language of “the Earth” isn’t typical of language from that era, although it’s not unthinkable, since the word for the substance earth, which comes from a root meaning spreading out, also refers to the earth in the sense of the world. The Buddha would more commonly have talked of “the world,” although he tended to use that term in a fairly negative sense — as the experiential realm of pain and delusion

Also, “world peace” wasn’t one of the Buddha’s explicit aims, as far as I can see. His focus was mainly on encouraging individuals to escape suffering and find peace. He aimed to create a community that lived in peace:

Among hostile people,
free from hostility we dwell. (Dhammapada 197)

There is one long passage where the Buddha envisages a world that is peaceful and harmonious, and that is governed by a righteous monarch, so the Buddha talking in terms of world peace isn’t unthinkable — it’s just not likely and so acts as a bit of a red flag.

Fan mail

If you’re still on the fence about buying my book on Fake Buddha Quotes, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Buddha, which you can preorder now, check out the following comments from fans of this blog!

“If you are a Buddhist and believe in the law of kamma you should be more careful by making statements about the Buddha that are factually not true. You harm yourself and those who believe you.” Sebastian

“Fuck you.” Anshul

“You seem like a stuck in the mind, egotistical, scholarly charlatan.” Warren

“Why do you feel the need to be judgemental, especially with things that are positive change and help people?” Apollo

“What makes a person who is interested in Sanskrit and the Buddha also possess a feeling of anger and superiority at others who have given a loving attempt at interpreting the Buddha’s work?” Crescent Rose

“Oh please go sit in silence, then go out and do something real to relieve as much suffering as you can.” Liz

“You seem willing to pull Buddha down, but not look at what was really said. To me this betrays an agenda – although I suppose that’s obvious seeing as you bothered to set up a website about it.” Tiny

“Clearly, you have no mindfulness or personal affinity for and understanding of Buddhism.” Amy

“You are so wrong on so many levels it’s not even worth proving it to you.” Teeto

“I think your ignorance has become fairly prominent.” Brandon

“Ignorant idiot.” Shankaran

“This is a club for like-minded sanctimonious pseudo-intellectuals who are here to argue ad infinitum … I’m not in the contest that you want me to be in. My ego is not involved.” Greg

“Pointless junk.” Jesse

“Your article delivers your ignorance on the subject.” Benjamin

“I will try to force you to leave this road to hell.” Johann

“Some things you will never understand my friend. You are just a little kid who try to find write and wrong in the world.” Tharindu

“U are presenting hateful writings.” Samar

“All your Prejudices and stereotypes show how ‘poor’ you still are.” Dave

“Could have gotten it all out in a sentence or two.” Jayla

“Everything you’re saying on here is outright false.” Sara

“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”

I found this one on the Facebook page of a South Jersey Buddhist group. Most of the Buddha quotes they have shared are fake. It seems that some people are preferentially drawn to the fake stuff, probably because it’s more literary and pithy than the actual Buddhist scriptures tend to be.

So this one’s not really the style the Buddha (or at least the early scriptures) used. And I can’t think of anything closely resembling this message, although I’ll continue thinking about that.

The earliest I’ve found this quote so far is from 1982, although there it’s “If you do not change direction, you are most likely to end up where you are going.” There (in “Science & Public Policy,” by the Science Policy Foundation) it’s said to be a Chinese proverb.

Later it was said to be by Lao Tsu. The writer Alan Cohen used that attribution in a number of his books and he may have invented it. Only later did it become ascribed to the Buddha.

The scriptures do have things like this:

It’s as if there were two men, one not skilled in the path, the other skilled in the path. In that case the man not skilled in the path would ask the man skilled in the path about the path. The second man would say, ‘Come, my good man, this is the path. Go along it a little further and you will see a fork in the road. Avoiding the left fork, take the right. Go along a little further and you will see an intense forest grove. Go along a little further and you will see a large marshy swamp. Go along a little further and you will see a deep drop-off. Go along a little further and you will see a delightful stretch of level ground.

As you can see, this is clunky and repetitive, which is what a lot of the scriptures are like. It’s not neat, polished, and ironic like our suspect quote. Having seen the contrast, you might have a better appreciation of why some people are drawn more to fake quotes than to real ones.

If I find anything similar to our suspect quote I’ll let you know, but I think we can safely assume that it’s fake.

“It is better to do nothing, than to do what is wrong. For whatever you do, you do to yourself.”

I just came across this one on Facebook, on the page of a Buddhist community in New Jersey.

Most of the quotes I saw on their page were fake. Unfortunately this is rather common. It seems that many contemporary Buddhists aren’t very familiar with their own scriptures and don’t recognize when quotes are strikingly different in style and content from canonical teachings.

Most Buddhists seem content to rely on books by modern Buddhist authors. These often provide excellent guidance in life, but really we should be going back to the earliest sources so that we can develop a feel for how those modern teachings are related (or if they’re related!) to what the Buddha (probably) taught.

This particular quote — “It is better to do nothing, than to do what is wrong. For whatever you do, you do to yourself” struck me as being a little off. The first sentence seemed fine, but the second one sounded suspicious.

It turns out that this is from Thomas Byrom’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad translation of the Dhammapada, which also happens to be one of the most popular versions of this text.

It’s from the chapter on “Hell” (niraya) which Byrom renders as “The Dark.” Niraya is from nis+aya, meaning “to go asunder, to go to destruction, to die.” There doesn’t seem to be any etymological connection to darkness. But that’s Byrom for you.

These particular words are from Dhammapada verse 314. In Buddharakkhita’s translation this is:

An evil deed is better left undone, for such a deed torments one afterwards. But a good deed is better done, doing which one repents not later.

Byrom simply omits the second sentence of the original from his translation altogether. Again, that’s Byrom for you.

The part he does include isn’t as bad as many of his efforts. The original (of the whole verse) is, with my own translation, which makes no effort to be elegant:

Akataṃ dukkataṃ seyyo (A bad deed [is] better not-done)
pacchā tapati dukkataṃ (One is tormented by a bad deed afterwards)
Kataṃ ca sukataṃ seyyo (And a good deed [is] better done)
yaṃ katvā nānutappati. (Which, having done, one does not regret)

Compare those first two lines with Byrom’s “It is better to do nothing, than to do what is wrong. For whatever you do, you do to yourself.”

The first part is not entirely awful, although the original just says that it’s best not to do a bad deed, which Byrom’s statement, while true, loses this simplicity.

The second part is bad, though. The original is suggesting that you’ll be tormented by regret after doing a bad deed. It’s not saying that you’re doing the bad deed to yourself. Of course we could interpret the Dhammapada’s statement in terms of the consequences of your actions being something that choose for yourself when you choose the bad action. But that’s not what the verse actually says.

Thanissaro’s version of the whole of verse 314 is:

It’s better to leave a misdeed undone.
A misdeed burns you afterward.
Better that a good deed be done
that, after you’ve done it,
won’t make you burn.

You’ll notice that Thanissaro goes for “burns” rather than “torments,” which is fair enough. The verb tappati means to burn, to be tormented, to be consumed. Although on the whole I prefer Buddharakkhita’s translation, Thanissaro’s connects more strongly with the theme of hell. Although at the same time we shouldn’t make too much of the chapter titles of the Dhammapada, since its verses were originally independent sayings and were only later arranged thematically, and this “reframing” can change the way we interpret the word. It’s possible that in talking about remorse the Buddha wasn’t thinking about hell at all.

Anyway, to repeat myself, this is not Byrom’s most egregious mistranslation, although it’s very far from adequate. And if you’re a Buddhist, read the scriptures and buy good translations. Gil Fronsdal’s Dhammapada seems excellent.

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“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.