“The past is already gone, the future is not yet here. There’s only one moment for you to live.”

I’m quite sure this quote, which was sent to me the other day, is fake: “The past is already gone, the future is not yet here. There’s only one moment for you to live.”

The Buddha talked a little about the past, present, and future, although not as much as you might assume, based on contemporary teachers’ emphasis on that theme. However he didn’t talk in this way: “There’s only one moment for you to live.” That’s far too metaphorical and poetic for the language of the Pali canon.

The scriptural model for the quote is likely the Bhaddekaratta Sutta, where the Buddha, in Thanissaro’s translation, says,

What is past is left behind.
The future is as yet unreached.
Whatever quality is present
you clearly see right there,
right there.

As you can see, the first two stanzas are in essence identical to our suspect quote, but while the last sentence emphasizes seeing what is arising in the present, it’s not saying that there’s only one moment for us to live. Yes, one could draw that conclusion from what is said, but that’s an interpretation, not a quotation.

I think the fake quote arises from a paraphrase by Thich Nhat Hanh. In talks he’s said things like “The Buddha said that the past is already gone, the future is not yet here; there is only one moment for you to live: that is the present moment” (1998).

This is clearly not a quote. Yet in later books, like 2008’s “Breathe, You Are Alive,” the quote starts “The Buddha said…” and is put in quotation marks.

The fault here may well be with Thich Nhat Hanh’s editors. When assistants take his talks, transcribe them, and edit them into books published under his own name, the difference between “the Buddha said that…” and “the Buddha said…” can get lost. This turns a paraphrase into a quote, or at least a “quote.” It’s an easy error to make.

10 thoughts on ““The past is already gone, the future is not yet here. There’s only one moment for you to live.””

  1. Easy errors are so common, I wonder why more difficulties aren’t placed in their way. I’m sure Buddha (the real one) genuinely expressed something on *that* subject.

    I think ‘tracing back the errors’ is a most worthy pursuit, and therefore respect and value your blog very much.

    Bows and wows!

  2. “Where you come from is gone. Where you thought you were going to weren’t never there. And where you are ain’t no good unless you can get away from it.”

    Hazel Motes in Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood

  3. Munindra’s meant to preach something similar to this quote when teaching and practicing mindfulness. I think your analysis is sound.

    Anagarika Munindra
    “The past is not real; it has gone. The future is not real; it has yet to come. Real reality is the present state. We are living in the present moment only. The present life is true. So we have to live the life fully, being alive, seeing things as they are in the moment.” [sic?]

  4. I think what Buddha meant is The past is the past
    The future we cannot predicted
    But importantly focus on the present and what is count is make it the best you can while you breath.

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