The Buddha on Fake Buddha Quotes (10)

Lot of people have written to tell me that the Buddha wouldn’t be at all concerned about being misquoted or having words put in his mouth. Because he was, like, this chill dude who’d say, “Whatever, homie,” or something like that. Apparently the more spiritually advanced you are, the less you’re concerned about things like truth and accuracy.

Anyway, that’s nonsense, which is why I have this series called “The Buddha on Fake Buddha Quotes” where the Buddha makes it clear that him being misquoted is a big deal.

So here’s another one of those.

There’s a sutta in the Numbered Discourses (5.156) called “The Decline of the True Teaching” (Tatiya saddhammasammosa sutta) in which the Buddha says that there are  five things that “lead to the decline and disappearance of the true teaching.”

The very first of those five factors that lead to the disappearance of the Dharma is when his teachings are misquoted.

It’s when the mendicants memorize discourses that they learned incorrectly, with misplaced words and phrases. When the words and phrases are misplaced, the meaning is misinterpreted. This is the first thing that leads to the decline and disappearance of the true teaching.

So, once again, yes, the Buddha cared about being misquoted. Is this still a problem today, when the Buddhist scriptures are literally at our fingertips, as long as we have a device that can connect to the world wide web? Apparently yes.

For example, search on Google for “Buddha quotes on anger” and the search engine places these three quotes above the general search results:

  • “You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.”
  • “To be angry is to let others’ mistakes punish yourself.”
  • “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.”

Not one of these is from the Buddha.

Search for “Buddha quotes on love” and Google doesn’t pull any quotes out, but the very first site, which should be the most authoritative, has this as the first quote: “In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.” No, that’s not the Buddha either.

In fact the vast majority of “Buddha quotes” you’ll find on the internet are not from the Buddha.

6 thoughts on “The Buddha on Fake Buddha Quotes (10)”

  1. Really enlightening piece on the importance of accuracy in quoting the Buddha. It’s a refreshing reminder that even in spirituality, truth and precision matter. The example of the sutta emphasizing the consequences of misquoting teachings is a powerful argument against the casual spread of misattributed quotes. It’s fascinating to see how something seemingly small can have a significant impact on the preservation of teachings. Great read for anyone interested in maintaining the integrity of spiritual wisdom!

    1. You realize that things are getting interesting when someone backs up one Fake Buddha Quote by citing another Fake Buddha Quote. You realize a parallel, self-sustaining “Dharma” is appearing that barely intersects with the actual teachings of the early tradition.

      1. Bodhipkasa.

        Specifically on the 3rd example – “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.”

        I read a summarized version of the commentary (Attakhata) of the Satipatthana sutta – Six things are helpful in conquering ill-will, the following:

        Thus one should consider: “Being angry with another person, what can you do to him? Can you destroy his virtue and his other good qualities? Have you not come to your present state by your own actions, and will also go hence according to your own actions? Anger towards another is just as if someone wishing to hit another person takes hold of glowing coals, or a heated iron-rod, or of excrement. And, in the same way, if the other person is angry with you, what can he do to you? Can he destroy your virtue and your other good qualities? He too has come to his present state by his own actions and will go hence according to his own actions. Like an unaccepted gift or like a handful of dirt thrown against the wind, his anger will fall back on his own head.”

        1. Thanks for this, Adi. I believe the commentary was written by Buddhaghosa, so the similarity to the Visuddhimagga isn’t coincidental.

  2. I’ve been reading your site and a lot of Buddhist scripture. I laughed so hard when I read “Apparently the more spiritually advanced you are, the less you’re concerned about things like truth and accuracy.” I had to laugh or I would cry given that one of the Buddhist precepts is “to abstain from false speech.” Thank you for your diligence in keeping us true to Buddha’s words.

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