I came across this ripe Fake Buddha Quote today:
The foot feels the foot when it feels the ground. ~Buddha
You’ll see this on Twitter, Facebook, and many web sites, as well as on incestuous and careless quotations sites like these:
I call quotes sites “incestuous” because they appear to copy one another’s quotes quite relentlessly. Think about it: what’s the easiest way to build up your quotes site? Easy. Copy the quotes from another site. It’s easier than doing actual research involving primary text, or even reputable sources.
Anyone half-way familiar with the Pali canon will know that the Buddha isn’t recorded as having said things like that. The idiom is completely foreign.
So where’s it from?
A bit of searching revealed that it comes from Ernest Wood’s 1971 “Zen Dictionary” (page 91-92) where it’s part of the essay explaining the term “Naturalness.” The words are Mr. Wood’s, and not the Buddha’s.
Then the sloppy attributions start.
We have 1978’s “Vicious Circles and Infinity: An Anthology of Paradoxes,” by Patrick Hughes and George Brecht, which attributes the quote to “The Buddha.”
And then of course other authors start repeating the misattributed quote. “Slowmotional Meditation” by Colin F. Howard (1987) is at least careful to say that the quote is “attributed to the Buddha” but most others simply claim that “The foot feels the foot when it feels the ground” is the word of the Buddha.
The Fake Buddha Quote is taken up by a sloppy quotations book (Sunbeams: A Book of Quotations, Issue 42) in 1990, hastening its dissemination and lending it an air of legitimacy.
Google lists over a dozen books that use the quote. When people see something in a book they may assume that there’s been some kind of fact-checking, but sadly it often seems that authors can attribute quotes without providing any source (except, perhaps, some other inadequately fact-checked book or a website).
Then Hollywood steps in, and the quote is attributed to the Buddha in A Wrinkle In Time, which I understand is an excellent movie. It’s a shame about the fact-checking, though.
And so a quote makes its way from books to websites, and to Twitter and Facebook, and into movies. Rinse and repeat. And thus another Fake Buddha Quote circulates endlessly.