Here’s an interesting statement from the Buddha about how fake Dharma endangers the real thing:
Kassapa, the true Dhamma does not disappear so long as a counterfeit of the true Dhamma has not arisen in the world. But when a counterfeit of the true Dhamma arises in the world, then the true Dhamma disappears.
Just as, Kassapa, gold does not disappear so long as counterfeit gold has not arisen in the world, but when counterfeit gold arises then true gold disappears, so the true Dhamma does not disappear so long as a counterfeit of the true Dhamma has not arisen in the world, but when a counterfeit of the true Dhamma arises in the world, then the true Dhamma disappears.
It is not the earth element, Kassapa, that causes the true Dhamma to disappear, nor the water element, nor the heat element, nor the air element. It is the senseless people who arise right here who cause the true Dhamma to disappear.
[From “The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A New Translation of the Samyutta Nikaya,” page 681.]
One of the things that interests me is that some Buddhist are preferentially drawn to Fake Buddha Quotes. When they do blog posts based on the Buddha’s sayings, or when they quote the Buddha in an article, they’re far more likely to post fake quotes than those found in the scriptures. Perhaps this is because the scriptures tend not to be pithy or elegant, and so in many cases aren’t particularly quotable. Try finding a Tweetable — i.e. 140 character or less — quote in the example above! But perhaps it’s also because they find the teachings of the Buddha too austere, technical, and demanding. There’s not a lot of “warm and fuzzy” in Dhammapada verses such as this: “Fools of little wit are enemies unto themselves as they move about doing evil deeds, the fruits of which are bitter.”
Non-Buddhists who circulate fake quotes are giving a misleading impression of what Buddhism is, but this mostly affects other non-Buddhists, and is of little consequence. The Buddha’s “senseless people” (yeah, Buddhism is really non-judgmental!) would be be people who claim to follow his teachings but don’t really know what those teachings are, and often don’t bother to find out.
Sometimes this is harmless, as when fake quotes emphasize the need to love ourselves (not something the Buddha stressed, but a necessary practice), but other times these quotes directly contradict important teachings of the Buddha, such as anatta, or not-self. An example of this would be where we’re told to identify with “the observer” of our experience. Such a practice may be useful as part of the path of letting go of identifying with our experience, but the Buddha would have seen this as a serious obstacle to spiritual progress if it’s taken as the goal of spiritual practice. His path of practice included letting go of all identifications whatsoever. To say that we should identify with “the observer” is good Hinduism, but dreadful Buddhism.
I’m not arguing, by the way, that there’s some “pure Dharma” found in the scriptures. I’m not a fundamentalist. The scriptures themselves are the end result of a process of analysis and systematization that arose at a time when the guardians of the tradition had competing views of what the Dharma was. Those who were passing on the teachings may not have fully understood what they were transmitting, or may have only had a theoretical understanding of it. The scriptures contain distortions, and even propaganda. They have to be read critically, and in the light of actual Dharma practice, since some of them can only be understood experientially.
However, the scriptures are the closest we’re going to get (textually) to what the Buddha taught, and to how he experienced the world. If we ignore them, and instead build an understanding of the Dharma that’s based on “fools gold” — mistranslations, Hinduizations, and misattributed citations — we’ll make it immeasurably harder, if not impossible, to move closer to awakening and to know the mind of the Buddha.