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.