“There is no path to happiness. Happiness is the path.”

There-is-no-path-to-happiness

A Buddhist friend in Mexico, Rafael, passed this one on to me. It certainly rang false.

This precise formulation seems to be from a 1992 book by Paul Ferrini called “The Wisdom of the Self,” where he attributes the following to his friend, Robert Ferre: “There is no path to happiness. Happiness itself is the path.” I haven’t yet found anywhere that Ferre wrote this. It’s been in many books since then, often without attribution or attributed to the Buddha, although this one is certainly a genuine Fake Buddha Quote.

As Guido points out in the comments, below, however, another version of this saying — “There is no way to happiness; Happiness is the way” is found in the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh.

Is Thich Nhat Hanh, then, the author of this phrase? No. As he says on page 42 of “Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life,” he’s quoting A. J. Muste.

The same saying is found in Wayne Dyer’s 1978 book, Pulling Your Own Strings (pages 207 and 212). The American Dictionary of Quotations ascribes “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way” to a piece by Muste in the New York Times dated 16 November, 1967, although he definitely used the phrase well before that time.

Clearly it’s an old saying. It’s found in a 1948 volume of the hearings of the US Senate, (Hearings, Volume 2). It’s found there as the title of a Holy Week message from the executive committee of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Unfortunately this particular book is only available in “snippet view” on Google books (why!) and I can’t see much of the context. But the Friends’ intelligencer: Volume 107, from 1950, is helpful here. The “peace” quote is found there on page 328, and although this book too is in snippet view, what’s visible connects

I think it’s safe to assume that the phrase belongs to A. J. Muste, (the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations describes it as his “credo”).

Thich Nhat Hanh has taken Muste’s words and riffed on them. He ends a talk in The Art of Mindful Living (Sounds True, 1992) with:

There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way. There is no way to peace, peace is the way. There is no way to enlightenment, enlightenment is the way.

The self-help guru Wayne Dyer also uses “There is no way to happiness; happiness is the way.” It’s found, for example, in his 1978 book, “Pulling Your Own Strings,” although he doesn’t credit Muste or anyone else with the quote — self-help meets helping yourself?


And by special request (from David St Michael), here’s a brief perspective on the Buddhist path and happiness.

Most people know that the Buddha’s teaching addresses the problem of dukkha, or suffering. Actually dukkha’s a broad term, and covers a wide range of unpleasant experiences from outright pain to mild dissatisfaction. So dukkha crops up in, for example, the four noble truths which state that:

  1. There is suffering, which is to be comprehended
  2. There is a cause of suffering, craving, which is to be abandoned
  3. There is an end to suffering, Nirvana, which is to be directly experienced
  4. There is a way leading to the end of suffering, the eight-fold path, which is to be practiced.

Now you might think that since suffering is what we’re trying to get away from, the goal we’re heading toward must be happiness. But in Buddhism that’s not the case. Happiness (sukha) is not the goal. The goal of Buddhism is something more like “peace” (santi), which is something more profound and worthy than happiness. The Buddha recognized that a certain kind of suffering (dukkha-dukkhata) is unavoidable, and that what we really need is to develop the quality of equanimity, which allows us to experience suffering and happiness without lamentation or elation.

Happiness is important on the path, though. Many formulations of the path include sukha (happiness, or bliss). For example in the 12-fold series of transcendental dependent origination, we move through the following experiences:

Suffering (dukkha)
Faith (saddha)
Gladness (pāmojja)
Rapture (pīti)
Tranquillity (passaddhi)
Happiness (sukha)
Concentration (samadhi)
Knowledge and vision (yathābhūta-nāṇadassānaṃ)
Revulsion (nibbidā)
Dispassion (virāgo)
Liberation (vimutti)
Knowledge of destruction [of the asavas] (khaye-nāṇaṃ)

I won’t go through all of these, but you can see that happiness, sukha, sits right at the middle of this list. It’s clearly not the goal, although it is vitally important that we learn how to be happy.

In other formulations, such as the bojjhangas (awakening factors), sukha is not mentioned explicitly, but it’s implied because pīti, one of the jhāna (meditative) factors is listed. Again, these kinds of experiences, positive as they are, aren’t the goal. In the bojjhanga series we have (sequentially) Mindfulness, Investigation, Energy, Joy or rapture (pīti), Tranquility (passaddhi), Concentration (samādhi), and Equanimity. Equanimity can be taken here as the peace of deep insight, where we no longer become elated by happiness nor despondent about pain, but simply recognize both of these experiences as being impermanent phenomena that come and go.

12 thoughts on ““There is no path to happiness. Happiness is the path.””

  1. Anyone can be a/the buddha. Just because the words weren’t spoken by sidartha doesn’t mean it’s not a buddha qoute, buddha is not a person after all- it’s a title.

    An ordinary man who find wisdom is a sage. A sage who finds understanding is an ordinary man. A buddha is not a buddha.

    1. Your comment makes as much sense as saying that anybody born in the US can become president, so anything anyone in the US says can be ascribed to the president.

      “Buddha” is indeed a title. The only historical individual given that title is Gautama, and if a quote is attributed to “the Buddha” it means it’s being claimed that it’s something that particular historical individual said.

      You chose the name “Buddha” as your username. I changed it on the grounds that it is considered highly disrespectful in Buddhism to make false spiritual claims, which claiming the title “Buddha” arguably does.

  2. If it makes you think, if it touches your soul, and if it allows you to grow, does who said something really matter? Does Buddha care about attribution? I think not.

    1. To rephrase your question, “Does passing on inaccurate information matter? Does misrepresenting what someone said matter? Does not crediting an author with their creation and attributing it to somebody else matter?”

      Did the Buddha care about attribution? It seems so, as evidenced by this, this, this, this, this, and this.

  3. We played the telephone game when I was attending some Christian fellowship and they wanted to show that with the game, by the end of it that is, the message gets distorted. They claim that it’s not the same with the bible, that it is the most accurate text alive. I don’t believe so.

    Could a similar situation happen to Buddhist scripture too? That even what you believe to be “real Buddha quotes” be just as distorted (or “fake”) as the ones you’re quoting to be fake? Haha. Just food for thought 😉

    1. We absolutely cannot be certain that any given words in the Buddhist scriptures are exactly as the Buddha spoke them. And the very repetitive and stilted nature of the early scriptures arose from the tradition of oral transmission, and presumably doesn’t reflect the way the Buddha spoke. But we know that the oral tradition was very accurate at passing on information, because when the scriptures began to be written down (several hundred years after the Buddha) they were written down in many different places in a variety of languages. When we compare those different versions we find they’re very similar. The different groups of discourses were organized very differently in the various recensions of the scriptures, but any differences in the content tend to be very minor.

    1. Thanks for responding.

      I’ve only read part of your blog post, because I’m in the middle of moving my office and dealing with some other stuff at work, but I’m afraid that what I read seemed to miss the point. For example, your commentary on “Does passing on inaccurate information matter?” was entirely about the fact that the earliest Buddhist scriptures were written down centuries after the Buddha’s death. That’s entirely accurate. And the (correct) implication of this is that we can’t be entirely sure of what the Buddha said. That isn’t in question — but it isn’t the point either. The scriptures are the only record we have of what the Buddha might have said. If we come across some statement ascribed to the Buddha, such as “there is no path of happiness, happiness is the path,” that only appeared in the 20th century and that isn’t to be found in any Buddhist scripture, then the inaccurate information is the claim that the Buddha said those words, because there is no basis for making such a claim.

      You also wrote: “As you mention people who think that Buddha wouldn’t care about being misquoted. You ask ‘How they know this, of course, is a mystery. Perhaps they have psychic powers that allow them to communicate with the dead. They certainly don’t seem to get their knowledge from the Buddhist scriptures.’ Is this not exactly what you are doing by using scriptures to prove your own point? Are you not communing with the dead through simple pieces of birch-bark manuscripts?”

      Yes, every time we read the words of a dead author we are communing with the dead, but I suspect you know very well that I’m aware of that and that’s not what I was talking about in my rather sarcastic quip. When we read the Buddhist scriptures we are, in a sense, communicating with the dead (certainly the dead monks who passed on those scriptures. But when we put our own opinions in the mouth of the Buddha, without knowing what opinions the Buddha is likely to have held, we are not communing with anything but ourselves, which is why the opinions being foisted upon the Buddha are diametrically opposed to those he (in all likelihood) actually held.

      Anyway I wish I had time to write more fully, but as I explained I have a lot on right now.

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