“You cannot travel the path until you have become the path itself.”

Just spotted in the wild:

“You cannot travel the path until you have become the path itself”
–Buddha

This seems to be from Helena Petrovna Blavatsky’s “Voice of the Silence,” which has,

Thou canst not travel on the Path before thou hast become that Path itself.

Blavatsky was a founder of Theosophy and in 1880 became one of the first westerners to convert to Buddhism. She was strongly interested in spiritualism, and accusations of fraud followed her her entire life. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that she was a talented charlatan, although she may have been a well-meaning one in that she hoped to turn people’s attention toward spirituality.

One of the means for achieving this was to write books that purported to be translations from mystical Eastern works. The Voice of the Silence, And Other Chosen Fragments from the “Book of the Golden Precepts”, published in 1889, was one such work.

Blavatsky wrote in a faux-antique style, full of “thees” and “thous,” and her writings bear very little resemblance to Buddhist teachings. For example, the lines immediately preceding our Fake Buddha Quote are:

Ere thy Soul’s mind can understand, the bud of personality must be crushed out; the worm of sense destroyed past resurrection.

And there are things like this:

Saith the Great Law: “In order to become the KNOWER of ALL SELF, thou has first of SELF to be the knower.” To reach the knowledge of that SELF, thou hast to give up Self to Non-Self, Being to Non-Being.

(Hystrionic ALL CAPS in original.)

Despite Blavatsky having used a smattering of Buddhist termininology, her model for spirituality seems to have been primarily Hindu, given her belief in a universal self (sorry, that should be “SELF”) to which we must surrender our “selves.”

There’s also some straightforward teaching, such as “Shun praise, O Devotee. Praise leads to self-delusion.” I suspect most of this practical advice was made up rather than copied from any actual spiritual text.

This quote is rather similar to “There is no path to happiness. Happiness is the path.

8 thoughts on ““You cannot travel the path until you have become the path itself.””

    1. I have read alot of her books as well this one being a favorite, if it has helped your spirit grow then it was good reading and it was brought to your attention by something or someone.

  1. Of course, it is profoundly difficult for anyone to know what 2500 years the Buddha said. Thus it is essentially a choice to call something true or fake. But regardless of the whether things have truly been spoken or not by someone we highly regard (or despise). the question is as to the usefulness of the words. And that question is only answered through practice and demonstration. theoretical battles make of the earth a blood bath, which is precisely what the teachings try to avoid.
    I for one find very valuable the quote. As far as I’m concerned the quote is relevant, useful, and whom spoke it is for the keeper of the archives.
    I don’t read much of Blavatsky. But I read Alice Bailey books, works of Theosophy, Buddhism and co..

    1. Hi, Florian.

      Of course, it is profoundly difficult for anyone to know what 2500 years the Buddha said.

      It’s not difficult to know exactly what the Buddha said. It’s impossible. The only records we have are the scriptures that were originally passed on orally and then were written down. Those scriptures may or may not reflect what the Buddha actually said, but they are the only basis for making claims about what he said. If something isn’t found in those scriptures, there’s no basis for claiming they’re the Buddha’s words.

      Thus it is essentially a choice to call something true or fake.

      It’s always a choice to say whether something’s fake or not, but it’s not merely a choice. If something is in the scriptures, we can claim that the Buddha (might have) said it. If it isn’t in the scriptures, we can’t.

      But regardless of the whether things have truly been spoken or not by someone we highly regard (or despise). the question is as to the usefulness of the words.

      That’s not the question. It’s a question. And the question of usefulness is entirely separate from the question of authenticity. The two aren’t related at all. A genuine quote from the scriptures may or may not be helpful. A fake quote (not from the scriptures but purporting to be by the Buddha) may or may not be helpful.

      What is definitely not helpful is making false claims about authorship.

  2. In the course of reading a review of an exhibit on early Buddhist art in the New York Review of Books (https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2023/09/21/vibrant-cacophonous-buddhism-tree-and-serpent/) I came across this quote and, as I am currently in the middle of a project walking the Boston Post Road (https://www.bostonrambles.net/), this quote obviously appealed to me. So I jotted it down last night and this morning decided to find the exact source so that I might at some point incorporate it into a future entry, likely as an epigraph.
    Thanks for this site! I will now have to decide whether or not to use the quote at all (I am not sure a 19thc. theosophist making up pseudo-Buddhist sayings is the right look for what I am trying to do) and, if so (maybe I can use it to discuss New Age blather about walking and consciousness, for example), to find the reference in Madame Blavatsky’s work. Sadly, I quite like the quote which, if taken a certain way, works well with what I have been trying to do in my project. Oh well, I am sure the scriptures or some fake scriptures have something to say about the truth being disappointing but using it to grow.
    I am, however, deeply disappointed that Dalrymple did not do a quick Google search to check his source. It seems that, given the spirit of the review, it would have been the appropriate thing to do. What I am really hoping for is that, now that I have alerted you to this, you might want to set the record straight (as your word on the subject might have more gravitas than a lowly reader like myself with no background in the subject) and that this might turn into one of those fun and (occasionally) erudite back and forth discussions in the letters section of the NYRB, much like your elegant dissection of Florian’s comments above. Regardless, thanks again for putting together this site and thanks for “enlightening” me as I walk the treacherous path slippery with potential fake Buddha quotes.

    1. Thanks for bringing the article to my attention. I wasn’t able to find contact information for Dalrymple (a fellow Scot!) but I sent a message to the NYR — not for publication: just a gentle heads-up — and hopefully they’ll pass it on to him.

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