“The mind that perceives the limitation is the limitation”

“The mind that perceives the limitation is the limitation” is not a quote from the Buddha. It’s neither in the style of the early Nikāya scriptures (of which the Pali Tipitika/Canon is the best-known example) nor in the style of the later and more literary Mahayana Sutras.

The language and phrasing are far too contemporary for this to be from the Buddha.

Unfortunately I don’t know the ultimate origin of this quote. So far I haven’t found any instances of it occurring before 2012, which suggests that it is in fact of modern origins.

“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.”

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.

“Remembering a wrong is like carrying a burden on the mind.”

Edwin Ashurst sent this one along today:

Remembering a wrong is like carrying a burden on the mind

I don’t have much to say about it, unfortunately, because I haven’t yet been able to track its origins. The earliest reference I’ve found on the web dates from November 23, 2006. It’s in several books, but none I’ve found was published prior to 2010, and the words “Buddha is quoted as saying…” are used.

I’m fairly sure it’s not canonical (i.e. that it’s not from the Buddhist scriptures) just on the basis of the language.

There’s nothing wrong with the message, however. The Buddha is recorded as having said:

“He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me.” Those who harbor such thoughts do not still their hatred. (Dhammapada, verse 4)

Clearly, harboring resentments is seen here as a kind of mental burden, but the suspect quote isn’t close enough to be even a bad paraphrase.

Hopefully more information about this quote will come to light in due course.

“When you move your focus from competition to contribution life becomes a celebration. Never try to defeat people, just win their hearts.”

I was just sent this one by email. I’ve no idea where it originated. It’s on many websites, and is currently in one book that I know of.

Everything about it is wrong, from the style to the vocabulary, including terms like “move your focus,” the very modern-sounding “competition to contribution,” and the completely un-Buddha-like “life becomes a celebration.” The Buddha, at peace, serene, and composed, is not noted for having promoted life as a “celebration.”

In a book called “How the Special Needs Brain Learns,” edited by David A. Sousa, there’s a recommendation for working with ADHD children:

“Shift the focus away from competition to contribution, enjoyment, and satisfaction.” But the rest of the quote isn’t in that book, or in any other book currently indexed by Google.

There’s not much else I can say about this quote. I simply wanted to note this one because of its fakeness, in the hopes that I may marginally slow its spread in the blogosphere and prevent it from making its way into any books.

“The forest is a peculiar organism of unlimited kindness and benevolence…”

The forest is a peculiar organism of unlimited kindness and benevolence that makes no demands for its sustenance and extends generously the products of its life activity; it provides protection to all beings, offering shade even to the axeman who destroys it.
— Gautama Buddha

I’d never come across this one until someone called Upul, from Australia, asked me about it. It certainly strikes me as being fake, on the grounds that the language of “a peculiar organism” isn’t something he would have said. But it may be based on something canonical, or be an amalgamation of commentary and a genuine quotation.

It’s all over the place, once you look for it.

The earliest reference I’ve found to this in print is from 1941, in “Forest soils: origin, properties, relation to vegetation, and silvicultural management” (page 195) by Sergius Alexander Wilde, and published by the Soils Dept., College of Agriculture, University of Wisconsin. Unfortunately no source is given.

There is an odd little teaching about the “unlimited kindness and benevolence” of trees, found in the Dhammika Sutta of the Anguttara Nikaya. This tells the rather long story of a monk called Dhammika who is asked to leave all seven of the monasteries in his native land, on the grounds that he keeps abusing his fellow monks to the extent that he drives them away. Not knowing where to go next, he seeks out the Buddha.

The Buddha tells him a fable about a massive fruit tree with five trunks, called “Well Planted” (suppatiṭṭho). Its canopy spread over twelve leagues, Suppatittho supplies delicious fruit to the king, his armies, to the people of the towns and the countryside, and to wild animals.

There’s a spirit (deva) living inside the tree, and one day the tree-spirit gets angry when a man selfishly takes all the fruit he wants and then breaks of the branch that has fed him. The tree-spirit, in a huff, stops producing fruit. And then the king of the gods, Sakka, sent a storm to uproot Suppatittho.

Naturally the tree-spirit is distraught. Sakka asks him, “Did you stand by your tree’s duty [dhamma/dharma] when the storm came.”

The spirit doesn’t know what this is, so Sakka tells him: “When those who need the tree’s roots, bark, leaves, flowers, or fruit take what they need, yet the deity is not displeased or upset because of this. This is how a tree stands by its duty.”

So the tree-spirit is being taught by Sakka that its duty is to give and to practice forbearance in the face of assaults, without showing anger to its tormentors.

There’s then a similar teaching to Dhammika, who is told that he needs to stand by his duty as an ascetic, which is, “When someone abuses, annoys, or argues with an ascetic, the ascetic doesn’t abuse, annoy, or argue back at them.”

This story could well be paraphrased as “The forest is a peculiar organism of unlimited kindness and benevolence that makes no demands for its sustenance and extends generously the products of its life activity; it provides protection to all beings, offering shade even to the axeman who destroys it.”

But whether there’s a connection, I just don’t know.

There is another lovely image that the Buddha uses in a verse concluding one of his discourses. (The Buddha often taught by means of poetry.)

With its branches, leaves, and fruit,
a great tree with its strong trunk,
firmly-rooted and fruit-bearing,
supports many birds.

It’s a lovely place,
frequented by the sky-soarers.
Those that need shade go in the shade,
those that need fruit enjoy the fruit.

So too, a faithful individual
is perfect in ethics,
humble and kind,
sweet, friendly, and tender.

Those free of greed, freed of hate,
free of delusion, undefiled,
fields of merit for the world,
associate with such a person.

They teach them the Dhamma,
that dispels all suffering.
Understanding this teaching,
they’re extinguished without defilements.

You can find this verse in the Numbered Discourses. Again it’s not a match for the “peculiar organism” quote in question, but it is a nice example of the Buddha using nature imagery.

By way of a post-script, there’s a rather witty quote by the Buddha where he says, “If these great sal trees could understand what was well said and poorly said, I’d declare them to be stream-enterers.” Out of context, this quote might not seem at all like a joke. In fact you’d be excused for thinking that this was the Buddha talking about the spiritual aptitude of trees.

The context is that Sarakāni, one of the Buddha’s clansmen, had passed away, and the Buddha declared that he was a stream-enterer—meaning that he’d attained a level of spiritual insight that would inevitably lead to full awakening in future lives.

Now the problem was that Sarakāni seemed to have been fond of a tipple, which was very much frowned upon. And so people complained about the Buddha having made this declaration, saying, “It’s incredible, it’s amazing! Who can’t become a stream-enterer these days?”

So the Buddha points out that, despite his flaws, Sarakāni had strongly developed spiritual qualities. And it’s on the basis of those qualities that he’d become a stream-entrant. And so he nods to some nearby trees and says that if they had a deep enough understanding of his teaching then he’d say that even they were stream-entrants. Of course they don’t and can’t have any understanding of the Buddha’s teaching, so he’s not making any claims about the spiritual potential of trees. In fact the joke hinges upon them not having any.

“The kingdom of heaven is closer than the brow above the eye but mankind does not see it.”

Another ripe, juicy Fake Buddha Quote spotted on Twitter:

The language is purely Christian, and “Kingdom of heaven” is in no way a Buddhist concept. Fortunately this particular quote seems very rare, and Google shows only a handful of results for it, some of which are variants (e.g. “above your eye”).

“When you realize how perfect everything is, you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky.”

I came across this one in the feed of someone who started following me on Twitter. Here’s a link to the original status update.

When you realize how perfect everything is, you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky. ~ Buddha

This of course bears no resemblance to anything the Buddha’s recorded as having said.

With some Fake Buddha Quotes it’s possible to trace the origins to a bad translation or some other obvious misattribution (for example a quote appears in a book called “The Teaching of the Buddha,” is subsequently quoted and attributed “The Teaching of the Buddha,” and is then requoted as attributed to “the Buddha”). But this one’s rather mysterious.

The origins of this quote are slowly being pushed earlier in time.

At first the earliest use of this quote I cold find was from a blog post from Nov 29, 2005.

I then found an earlier example on a forum post dated November 30, 2004, as a signature.

But then an astute commenter (see below) found an example from the Usenet group, alt.quotations, from Nov 27, 2001, where it had been posted by a Robert Muhich. Muhic didn’t attribute this to the Buddha, but simply described it as “Buddhist.”

In 2007 it appears in a book, “A Year of Questions,” by Fiona Robyn, and (in a slightly different form) in “Hell in the Hallway,” by Sandi Bachom. This of course lends the quote a false air of legitimacy, and it’s now found in most of the quite appalling quotes sites that litter the web.

If you come across any references to this quote earlier than November 2001, please let me know.

Thanks to George Draffan, we have a potential original from which this quote might be derived. George wrote, saying:

Sounds like a stanza from a Tibetan Dzoghcen text:

thams cad mnyam rdzogs sgyu ma’i rang bzhin la//
bzang ngan blang dor med pas dgod re bro//

Since everything is but an illusion,
Perfect in being what it is,
Having nothing to do with good or bad,
Acceptance or rejection,
One might as well burst out laughing!

This is from chapter 1 of “The Great Perfection’s Self-Liberation in the Nature of Mind,” by Longchenpa (1308-1364)

That sounds like a good candidate for the origins of this quote. It’s certainly possible that someone paraphrased Longchenpa’s saying, and that this was first described as a “Buddhist” quote, which was then taken to be a quote from the Buddha himself.

Some readers will recognize an added irony in the image above, which is not even of the Buddha. The graphic is akin to a quote being attributed to Jesus when it’s actually by Duns Scotus, and illustrated with a picture of Santa Claus. There’s more info on this happy chappie here.