I also encountered it through following a link to an article by Deb and Ed Shapiro, entitled “What the Buddha Might Say to President Obama.”
Deb and Ed write articles on meditation for the Huffington Post. Deb, coincidentally, is the daughter of Anne Bancroft, who is not the actress, but who was a British Buddhist responsible for a translation of the Dhammapada that is, well, rather “creative” in its renderings. Bancroft is found elsewhere in this blog.
Anyway, on to the quote.
The only real failure in life is not to be true to the best one knows.
— Steven L Hairfield (@AnAmericanMonk) June 17, 2012
It doesn’t sound anything like the Buddha. It’s not the Buddha.
It seems to be by Frederic William Farrar, an Indian-born Dean of Canterbury who lived from 1831 to 1903, and who wrote several books. I think I’d have liked Frederic. He was a believer that everyone was headed to heaven eventually, and also argued against the notion that one of the great things about being in heaven is getting to watch the eternal torment of souls in hell.
Farrar’s quote was often used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with slight variations. I haven’t found an original, so I don’t know what the exact wording is.
In a 1909 book, “Character Lessons in American Biography for Public Schools and Home Instruction,” by James Terry White, it appears as “There is only one real failure possible; and that is, not to be true to the best one knows.”
This isn’t the only Fake Buddha Quote in Deb and Ed’s article. They also include that old chestnut, “Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.”