For a long time this one was a mystery. I was quite sure it was not by the Buddha, but it took me a long time to find a definitive original source. A day in bed sick with a nasty cough finally gave me the time to track this quote’s origins.
Like many Fake Buddha Quotes, it’s of fairly recent origin and spread rapidly after the start of the 21st century. It’s the internet that’s responsible for this rapid proliferation, of course; a Fake Buddha Quote spreads across the web by the time a genuine quote has checked that its diacritic marks are in place.
Here’s a blow-by-blow account of my detective work.
1996: In Andy Zubko’s “Treasury Of Spiritual Wisdom” it’s attributed to the Buddha, but the quote appears in this form:
“You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger….Let a man overcome anger by love.”
Now the extra line is from Max Mueller’s ancient translation of the Dhammapada, where it’s part of this translation of verse 223:
Let a man overcome anger by love,
let him overcome evil by good;
let him overcome the greedy by liberality,
the liar by truth!
Zubko’s quote makes it look as if the “punished by your anger” quote comes from the same source, but it’s not found in Mueller’s translation. The line immediately preceding this is:
If a man by causing pain to others, wishes to obtain pleasure for himself, he, entangled in the bonds of selfishness, will never be free from hatred.
And that’s not obviously related to our “punished by anger” quote. So it looks like Zubko was messing with the quote. My hopes are dashed.
But what’s this? In the same year (1996) the quote (sans Zubko’s addition) appears in a novel, Love Me, Love My Bed, by Rita Clay Estrada. Given that both books were published around the same time, it seems unlikely that she’d have got it from Zubra, so presumably they both got it from the same source.
In fact a third book appears in 1996 that contains this quote: Rising Above: A Guide to Overcoming Obstacles and Finding Happiness, by Jerry Wilde. Wilde attributes it to Confucius, which seems as dubious as the attribution to the Buddha.
And a fourth 1996 title contains the quote, again attributed to the Buddha: The Heart of the Matter: Thoughts to Live By, by Bill O’Hearn.
Obviously there was some pre-1996 source that these authors were all drawing upon.
Now in 1995, we find the quote in a book called Raising Children in a Socially Toxic Environment, by James Garbarino. And it’s attributed to the Buddha. But still we don’t have an original source.
In the year before, 1994, we find the following intriguing line in a book called Excess Baggage: Getting Out of Your Own Way, by Judith Sills:
“You are the one most punished by your anger, because you are the one who experiences it most intensely.”
There is, however, nothing in that book that corresponds to the “You will not be punished for your anger” part of the quote.
I’m starting to think that this quote’s origins are lost in the mists of time, perhaps originating on some long-lost web page, when I start making real progress.
Going back to 1993, we hit pay dirt! In To Love Is to Know Me: The Bhagavad Gita for Daily Living (Volume 3), author Eknath Easwaran says the following:
Even more intriguing to me is the karma of our health. Again, let me illustrate one or two kinds of connection. For one, the Buddha says that we are not punished for our anger, we are punished by our anger. In other words, anger is its own karma.
Note the absence of quotation marks. Eknath is not quoting the Buddha, but paraphrasing his teachings on anger and karma. What seems to have happened is that Judith Sills has lifted the paraphrase and converted it into a genuine Fake Buddha Quote, has plonked it into her book Excess Baggage, changing “our” into “your” as she did so, giving us the form that now graces a thousand blogs and Facebook pages. And then in the following few years her counterfeit Buddha quote begins its unstoppable march across western culture.
Interestingly, here’s a prototype for the concept that Eknath encapsulated in his paraphrase. It’s from the December 1905 edition of Health (A Monthly Devoted to the Cause and Cure of Disease), by Dr. W. P. Burke:
They teach that he who hates shall be hated, and that the one who gets angry shall be punished by anger, and that all sin is punished by it and not for it. This is correct.
The “they” in the quotation are “The New Thoughter, the preacher, the reformer, and others.”
I presume that this is not directly connected with Eknath’s writing, but it’s interesting to see how these concepts can rattle around in a culture and pop up in various forms. It may also help explain why this particular Fake Buddha Quote is so popular.
The bridge between “They teach that he who hates shall be hated, and that the one who gets angry shall be punished by anger, and that all sin is punished by it and not for it” and “You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger” may well have been a quote by the anAmerican writer, publisher, artist, and philosopher, Elbert Hubbard. (Amongst other things, Hubbard left us a famous thought about life, lemons, and lemonade.) The saying “We are punished by our sins, not for them” is found on page 12 of “The Note Book of Elbert Hubbard,” published in 1927. It’s possible that Hubbard picked up Burke’s thought and polished it, or perhaps both Burke and Hubbard were stating an existing thought in their own individual ways. (Thanks to reader Alex for spotting the Hubbard quote.)