“The way to happiness is: keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry. Live simply, give much. Fill your life with love. Do as you would be done by.”

Stephen Feldman, one of my connections on Google Plus (the world’s best social media site, which Google is unfortunately pulling the plug on) brought this one to my attention. It’s one I’d never seen before.

It often surprises me the things that people take to be quotes from the Buddha. Then I remember that if you’ve no experience of the Buddhist scriptures then you’ve no idea of the patterns and language that the Buddha’s recorded as having used. Of course those records may be wrong. They probably are. But they’re all we have to go on. And if you’ve never read them you’ve no way of telling whether something is likely to be fake or not.

Not all of “Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry. Live simply, give much. Fill your life with love. Do as you would be done by” is entirely different from the kind of thing you find in the early scriptures, but much of it is. I could imagine a short pithy statement like “Keep your heart free from hate” in a text like the Dhammapada. But “Fill your life with love” is far too contemporary and “Do as you would be done by” resembles the Christian scriptures much more than it does the Buddhist ones.

The internet (or Google’s search results) are pretty much agreed that this quote is by Norman Vincent Peale, the author of “The Power of Positive Thinking,” so of course the quote isn’t by Norman Vincent Peale, the author of “The Power of Positive Thinking.”

It’s instead from a 1904 book, “The Culture of Simplicity,” by Malcolm James McLeod, who was a Canadian presbyterian minister, educated at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia and Princeton University in New Jersey. He appears to have been a damned handsome fellow, no doubt a result of his Scottish ancestry.

Someone else has prefaced the words “The way to happiness is…”

McLeod was inspired to write his book as a result of reading “The Simple Life” by the Rev. Charles Wagner of Paris. “Simplicity is spirituality; simplicity is power,” he says in the introduction.

Here are some snippets from the Buddhist scriptures that cover some of the same territory as McLeod’s quote:

  • On keeping the heart free from hate: “He bears no ill will and is not corrupt in the resolves of his heart. [He thinks,] ‘May these beings be free from animosity, free from oppression, free from trouble, and may they look after themselves with ease!'” (AN 10.176)
  • On keeping the mind free from worry: “Not being full of desire and attachment, he is not worried.” (SN 22.7)
  • On living simple: “A monk, reflecting appropriately, uses the robe simply to counteract cold, to counteract heat, to counteract the touch of flies, mosquitoes, wind, sun, & reptiles; simply for the purpose of covering the parts of the body that cause shame.” (MN 2)
  • On giving: “If beings knew, as I know, the results of giving & sharing, they would not eat without having given, nor would the stain of selfishness overcome their minds.” (Iti. 1.26)
  • On filling your life with love: “Thus you should train yourselves: ‘Our awareness-release through good-will will be cultivated, developed, pursued, handed the reins and taken as a basis, given a grounding, steadied, consolidated, & well-undertaken. That’s how you should train yourselves.” (SN 20.5)
  • On doing as you would be done by: “All tremble at violence; life is dear to all. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.” (Dhp 130)

You’ll notice that the style of these quotes is much more verbose. Also there are very few imperative statements in the early scriptures (“Do this, do that, do the other”), a few subjunctive statements (“He would/should do this, do that, do the other”) and lots of indicative statements (“He does this, does that, does the other.”)

McLeod’s quote is full of imperatives, and that’s one reason it would stands out as probably not being from the Buddhist scriptures.

The closest I’ve seen to the McLeod original (plus its added prefix) is the following quote, which is from the Itivuttika. You’ll notice that it’s partly been translated into the imperative (“Train in…”) although in the original Pali it’s in the subjunctive (sikkheyya, “One should train…”) , is framed in terms of what brings happiness, and covers themes of giving and love:

Train in acts of merit that bring long-lasting bliss — develop giving, a life in tune, a mind of good-will. Developing these three things that bring about bliss, the wise reappear in a world of bliss unalloyed.

There’s an alternative translation here.

3 thoughts on ““The way to happiness is: keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry. Live simply, give much. Fill your life with love. Do as you would be done by.””

  1. >>He appears to have been a damned handsome fellow, no doubt a result of his Scottish ancestry.<<

    Haha l see where you're coming from! Literally 🙂

  2. Normally I wouldn’t point out a minor error but I love the work you do and I find it a great service so I value it’s accuracy.

    “How to win friends and influence people” was written by Dale Carnegie.

    “Power of positive thinking” was written by Norman Vincent Peale.

    Not sure which one you meant.

    Thanks for the blog, one of my favorites. Always look forward to a new post!

    1. Oh, Gosh. I appreciate you taking the time to point that out. The reference to Peale is correct, but the book reference came from (faulty) memory.

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