The following quotation proved very reluctant to divulge its source:
“Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant with the weak and wrong. Sometime in your life, you will have been all of these.”
I made efforts to track this down, but didn’t get any further than it being “attributed to” a journalist who worked for a now-defunct newspaper. Fortunately the redoubtable Garson O’Toole of the website, Quote Investigator, researched it early last year. The original source seems to have been a piece in “Parade Magazine,” which is a glossy supplement included with many American Sunday newspapers. Quote Investigator says that on December 30, 1973 the front page of Parade included the following:
Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the wrong. Sometime in life you will have been all of these.
The only difference between this and our Fake Buddha Quote is that the original has “tolerant of the weak and the wrong” rather than “tolerant with the weak and the wrong.”
The copyright indicated that “Walter Scott” was the author. This was the pen name of a celebrity gossip columnist called Lloyd Shearer, who wrote “Walter Scott’s Personality Parade” for Parade from 1958 to 1991.
Although fragments of the quotation had already been used by other writers, O’Toole “believes Shearer assembled the resolutions and should be credited with crafting the full expression.”
Although this is widely cited as being a Buddha quote, and is included as such in at least two books (“101 Selected Sayings of Buddha” and “A la Carte Buddhism: A Path to Lasting Happiness”), you’ll have gathered that this is obviously not from the Buddhist scriptures. The Buddha did indeed encourage compassion and empathy, but there’s nothing in the scriptures that’s remotely like this saying. The closest I can think of is this:
“There are these five facts that one should reflect on often, whether one is a woman or a man, lay or ordained. Which five?
“‘I am subject to aging, have not gone beyond aging.’ This is the first fact that one should reflect on often, whether one is a woman or a man, lay or ordained.
“‘I am subject to illness, have not gone beyond illness.’ …
“‘I am subject to death, have not gone beyond death.’ …
“‘I will grow different, separate from all that is dear and appealing to me.’ …
“‘I am the owner of my actions, heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my arbitrator. Whatever I do, for good or for evil, to that will I fall heir.’ …
“These are the five facts that one should reflect on often, whether one is a woman or a man, lay or ordained.”
The purpose here is less to do with compassion than it is to do with recalling the precariousness of life in an attempt to remind us to take responsibility for what we do in the brief time we have here. This passage in effect is saying, “Your time here is short: what are you going to do with it?”
The passage I’ve just quoted goes on to say that we should then reflect that we are not alone in being in this existential situation. Contemplating other beings in this way, especially after I’ve connected with the fragility of my own life does, I’ve found, lead to a sense of tenderness and compassion for others.
Another faint resonance is with the Buddha’s teaching of the brahmaviharas, or divine abidings. These four qualities embrace: kindness (metta), compassion (karuna), joyful appreciation of the skillful (mudita), and equanimity (upekkha). Lloyd Shearer’s words include tenderness for the young (which could be a way of talking about metta), compassion for the aged (which is karuna), sympathy for the striving (mudita is often talked of as “sympathetic joy,” and tolerance of the weak and wrong (tolerance being a component of upekkha). Perhaps this resemblance is coincidental, or even just in my head, but I can’t help wondering if Shearer had had some exposure to Buddhist teachings.