“The foot feels the foot when it feels the ground.”

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.

19 thoughts on ““The foot feels the foot when it feels the ground.””

  1. Hate to tell you this but the quote makes an appearance in the new movie A Wrinkle in Time, attributed to Buddha.

          1. Leaving the theatre, I told my daughter “there’s no way the Buddha said that.” I think I’ve become the Neil de Grasse Tyson of Indology.
            She didn’t care, and gives the movie four stars!

          2. I’ll have to do a special post sometime on Fake Buddha Quotes at the movies. I see that IMDB has three movies or TV shows tagged with Buddha Quotation and two with Budha Quotation. I’d imagine at least some of those are going to be fake.

  2. Today’s contemplation…does Buddha care if we gain our enlightenment from a misquote? 😉 Should we care?

    1. I doubt if he’d be concerned if we got enlightened because of a misquotation, but I’m sure he’d care about the even greater likelihood of people not getting enlightened because of misquotations. In fact quite a number of suttas hinge on him correcting people’s misapprehensions about what he taught, and his harshest language (things like “worthless man”) were reserved for people who misrepresented what he had said. He definitely cared about being misquoted.

  3. from Zen Master Seung Sahn, “The Compass of Zen,” page 342, the chapter titled, Just-Like-This Is Buddha. A very famous poem from China a long time ago, “Zen Master Pai Chang always instructed us with these words:

    The spirit remains clear and bright.
    The six roots and six dusts fall away.

    The original body remains clear constantly.
    Speech and words cannot hinder it.

    True nature has no taint and is already a perfect sphere.
    Not attached to any thinking, just-like-this is Buddha.

    The four elements disperse as in a dream.
    The six dusts, roots, and consciousnesses are originally empty.

    If you want to understand the Buddha and the eminent teachers,
    return to your original light:
    The sun sets over the western mountains. The moon rises in the

    Note: the dusts = one’s six senses; roots = one’s perceptions: seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, tactile sensating, thoughts perceiving.

    Seung Sahn is 78th in direct lineage from The Buddha.

    “Don’t know – straight line – clear mind,” Seung Sahn’s primary teaching.

  4. How can you seriously spend so much time on this? WHO CARES? The advice is wonderful and could enlighten so many but what you ONLY focus on is what did or did not happen, who did or did not say something in the past. Which no longer exists AND memory is a construct of personal imagination. Not reality. Clearly, you have no mindfulness or personal affinity for and understanding of Buddhism.

    1. Apparently you care, or you wouldn’t have written 🙂

      I don’t know what you do with your time, and to be honest I don’t really care since it’s your time and you’re free to do with it what you want. I only hope you don’t waste too much time complaining about things you “don’t care” about. Because that would be sad.

      I offer information about the origins of quotes attributed (or misattributed) to the Buddha because I think truth is better than bullshit, that accurate citations are better than inaccurate ones, and that there’s a value in clarifying what the Buddha didn’t say because some of the words people put in his mouth contradict what he did, to the best of our knowledge, actually teach.

      “Clearly, you have no mindfulness or personal affinity for and understanding of Buddhism.”

      Ah, you’ve discovered my secret!

  5. Not JUst Buddha But the Wrinkle in Time says “Buddha – Nepali” – Where on earth did that come from
    Two misquotes in a Single Dialogue

  6. Copied directly from the text of the Zen Dictionary: Wood attributes this concept (not a quote) to Buddha:

    “Only the self can tell you what the self is. So, look at the self. “But how can I look at the self, since it is not an object of sense?” The answer to that was given by Buddha. When you touch the ground with your foot you feel, or should feel, two things—the ground and the foot.”

    1. Thanks for that. Woods comment suggests a profound misunderstanding of the Buddha’s teaching. There is no self, and therefore there is no self to look at and no self to do any looking. I imagine Wood had the idea that the purpose of Buddhist practice was to lose the self, rather than to recognize that the self is merely a mistaken idea. His quote about the ground and the foot is also puzzling. I wonder what teaching of the Buddha’s he thought he was referring to?

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