I’ve obviously become the “go to guy” for Fake Buddha Quotes. Jake Moskowitz just wrote asking about this one, which he thought was “strange.”
“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.”
Jake was right to sense that something was “off” about this. In the Buddha’s teachings, that one has lovingkindness for oneself is taken as read , and the emphasis is on extending our concern to others.
The first signs of this quote that I found in print are in two books that were published at about the same in early 2001: John Amodeo’s The Authentic Heart, which is “An Eightfold Path to Midlife Love,” and Laura Doyle’s The Surrendered Wife: A Practical Guide for Finding Intimacy, Passion, and Peace with a Man.
I’m getting a little off-topic here, but I learned that The Surrendered Wife “is a step-by-step guide that teaches women how to give up unnecessary control and responsibility, resist the temptation to criticize, belittle, or dismiss their husbands, and to trust their husbands in every aspect of marriage — from sexual to financial.”
I’d buy my wife a copy, but she’d probably hit me with it.
Anyway, given that these books were published more or less simultaneously, it seemed reasonable to assume that there was an original precursor. With a little digging around I found that Sharon Salzberg included essentially the same quote on page 31 of her 1995 book, “Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness,” and even earlier in a magazine called Woman of Power (no “surrendered wives” here), published in 1989. In her book she presents these words as if they were a quote from the Buddha. They’re really not.
The archetype would seem to be in the Udana of the Pali canon, where we read, in Bhikkhu Thanissaro’s translation,
Searching all directions
with one’s awareness,
one finds no one dearer
In the same way, others
are dear to themselves.
So one should not hurt others
if one loves oneself.
Salzberg may have gotten her translation of the quote from one of her teachers, Burmese monk Mahasi Sayadaw, whose 1983 booklet Brahmavihara Dhamma translates the beginning of the Udana quote with the verb “deserves”: “A person who deserves more love and affection than one’s own self, in any place or anywhere, cannot be found. Similarly, other people also, with reference to their own respective Self, love (himself) the most. Inasmuch as every being loves his own Self the most, one who loves his own Self, nay, who cares most of his own welfare or for his own good, will not cause another person to suffer…”
In the original Udana quote, as well as in Mahasi Sayadaw’s translation and exegesis of it, the purpose is to emphasize that we should extend the lovingkindness we have for ourselves toward others, recognizing that they too hold themselves dear. The import of the version Salzberg used has been reversed, to suggest that you should love yourself just as you love others. We of course should have lovingkindness toward ourselves, so there’s no argument with the message—it just so happens that it doesn’t include the entirety of what the Buddha actually said.
A reader brought to my attention an expanded version of this quote:
You must love yourself before you love another. By accepting yourself and fully being what you are, your simple presence can make others happy. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love & affection.
He also did the great service of tracking down how it became elaborated. Essentially, this is two quotes cobbled together. What happened was that in 2012 Melanie Greenberg published a Psychology Today blog post with the title, “The 50 Best Quotes on Self-Love.” Two adjacent quotes were:
- You must love yourself before you love another. By accepting yourself and fully being what you are, your simple presence can make others happy.” —Anonymous
- “You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” —Buddha
Apparently someone ran the two quotes together, keeping the “Buddha” attribution of the second one. I’ve done a separate write-up of the first part of the quote. The origins of it are rather wild and wacky. I’d recommend taking a look.
But does this all matter? Isn’t a quote valid no matter who the author was? If the spirit of a saying is Buddhist, does the attribution matter? And wasn’t the Buddha himself so spiritually advanced that he wouldn’t have been upset about having words put in his mouth?
In some ways it doesn’t matter. The spiritual usefulness of a quotation indeed is not affected by its origins, although the weight people give the words being quoted does vary depending on whom it’s attributed to. We’re less inclined to pass on a quote if it’s anonymous or attributed to someone we’ve never heard of. And perhaps we like the cachet that comes from passing on quotes attributed to the Buddha, or Plato, or Nelson Mandela. (Is that a form of attachment? I think it is.) But the foundation of right speech in Buddhism is speaking truthfully—and it’s not truthful to say that a quote, however valid, is from the Buddha when there’s no evidence that it is.
There weren’t many things that seemed to rile the Buddha, but being misquoted was one of them (noisy monks being another). According to the Pali canon, the Buddha described one who “explains what was not said or spoken by the Tathagata as said or spoken by the Tathagata” as a “slanderer.” Strong words. And in the Maha-parinibbana Sutta the Buddha encouraged his disciples to compare Buddha quotes with the scriptures and reject them if they were “neither traceable in the Discourses nor verifiable by the Discipline” (Digha Nikaya 16.4.8).
You can quote him on that.