Recommended site: Antiviral

There’s an amazing amount of, ahem, bull excrement on the internet, and especially on social media, where many people seem to function with their critical faculties permanently disabled.

It doesn’t help that there are entire websites devoted to producing fake news, and by that I don’t mean obviously satirical sites like The Onion, which I love, but sites peddling articles like this one, claiming that Charles Manson is about to be released from prison. Articles like this are designed to enrage people and have them forward the story to their friends, the benefit for the publisher being that they get more traffic, and therefore more revenue. It’s also possible that they wish to keep a political base in a state of ignorance and outrage. I’ve been fooled by a couple of stories like that myself.

Anyway, it’s good to see that Gawker Media has a blog devoted to exposing fake stories and images that are circulating on the web. The blog is called “antiviral,” and it’s worth a visit.

“Change is never painful, only the resistance to change is painful”


Two people emailed me within an hour or so of each other this morning with queries about this quote : “Change is never painful, only the resistance to change is painful.”

It’s a wonderful quote. It’s true, and it’s neatly packaged in a way that makes it resonate strongly. It just happens not to be something that the Buddha said.

It’s all Demi Lovato’s fault! The American actress, singer, and songwriter included the quotation, attributed to the Buddha, as the epigraph to one of the reflections in her book, Staying Strong: 365 Days a Year, published by Macmillan in 2013.

“Change is a part of life and there’s no way of getting around it. So accept that your life will be filled with all kinds of change, and even though it can sometimes feel uncomfortable, it’s what builds our character and keeps us moving forward,” Ms. Lovato goes on to tell us. It’s wise advice, even if it was, in all likelihood, ghost-written.

This isn’t the first time that Lovato and the Blessed One have crossed paths. In 2012 the songstress announced that she’d taken up meditation in order to help her with an eating disorder, self-harming, and bipolar disorder. I wish her well.

But I also wish she hadn’t attributed this quotation to the Buddha, since her popularity means that it’s now found all over Twitter, Facebook, etc.

What are the quote’s origins? I confess that I don’t know. Perhaps we’ll never know.

In Michael Erickson’s Recovery Cells: Small Groups for People in Recovery (2007) we find a similar quote: “Change is not painful—resistance to change is painful” (page 291). The saying was recorded many years before the book’s publication by a “Patty W.” (now of San Antonio, Texas) who had recorded it in an AA meeting. AA has been the source of other Fake Buddha Quotes. As an essentially oral tradition, these sayings get passed on, refined, and polished, until they become pithy zingers. But we’re often left with no neat citation that we can append to the finished product.

We don’t know the date that Patty W. recorded the quote, but it was almost certainly current by November 28, 1995, when it was recorded in the Los Angeles Times:

“I don’t think change is painful, I think resisting change is painful,” said Kerry Harr, a fourth-grade teacher from Pomelo Drive Elementary School in Canoga Park.

I suspect that Harr had picked up the quotation somewhere, and doubt that she was the originator.

What about the Buddha? He certainly talked a lot about change. Sabbe saṅkhārā aniccā [All fabrications are impermanent] is one of the key teachings of Buddhism. (I don’t actually think that the Buddha was fundamentally saying that all things are impermanent — I think he was talking about fabricated mental states — but I won’t go into that here.)

Recognizing change is important in bringing about insight:

For one who remains focused on the inconstancy of all fabrications, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing [vijja: wisdom] arises.

The Buddha also talked a lot about pain (dukkha), and sabbe saṅkhārā dukkhā (all fabrications — or fabricated mental states — are painful/unsatisfactory) is another key teaching.

One of the ways that we suffer is when we experience resistance to change.

“Resistance” isn’t a terribly common term in the Buddhist scriptures. Bhikkhu Thanissaro often uses that translation for dosa, although a more common translation of dosa is “ill will” or “hatred.” The Buddha seemed to have something a bit stronger in mind than “resistance” when he talked about dosa.

But Thanisaro also translates paṭigha as resistance, which is much better. Paṭigha is the tendency to push against some painful perception, and it’s paṭigha that leads to ill will (dosa):

And what is the food for the arising of unarisen ill will, or for the growth & increase of ill will once it has arisen? There is the theme of resistance [paṭigha]. To foster inappropriate attention to it: This is the food for the arising of unarisen ill will, or for the growth and increase of ill will once it has arisen.

So, certainly when we perceive change, or the possibility of change, and experience resistance to that change, we end up creating suffering for ourselves.

Once again, there’s nothing un-Buddhist about this quote. It’s just not something the Buddha said. And for those who say “Who cares who said the quote as long as it’s true?” I counter with this: “Whoever is careless with truth in small matters cannot be trusted in important affairs.” It’s by Albert Einstein

Fake Buddha Quotes in the Buddhist Scriptures

I’ve made the point repeatedly that we can never know for sure what the Buddha actually said. All we have to go on are scriptures that were at first passed on orally for two centuries or more, and then were committed to writing. If a quote attributed to the Buddha isn’t in the scriptures, or can be reliably attributed to someone else, then we can be fairly confident in saying that it’s fake. But we can never say with 100% certainly that any given quote from the scriptures is genuine.

It’s a convention that what’s in the scriptures is Buddha-vacana — the word of the Buddha — unless there’s very good reason to believe otherwise. And there is sometimes clear evidence that the scriptures have been tampered with. has an interesting example of this, in what happens to be one of my favorite suttas, The Great Forty, or Mahācattārīsaka Sutta. If you’re into studying the suttas, then this apparently anonymous article is a must-read. Here’s the conclusion:

It has been demonstrated in this analysis that in this sutta:

1) there are some teachings that we find in other suttas as well.

2) there are peculiar teachings not found anywhere else that look quite authentic, which tends to prove that there would be an authentic version of this sutta.

3) there are distinctions made in the teachings of the Buddha, which are apparently based on an opinion expressed in the Khuddaka Nikāya and according to which there is an ‘inferior’ portion of the teaching siding with merit etc. and a superior ‘noble’ one connected with insight etc.

4) the word ‘sāsava’ is used here in a sense which is consistent with late literature, but that is in direct contradiction with otherwise well-known teachings of the four Nikāyas, which proves that the falsification of this sutta has taken place late enough for this semantic drift to have happened.

5) we find very rare words and expressions found only in the Khuddaka Nikāya or the Abhidhamma, and not anywhere else in the four Nikāyas.

6) alternate definitions of the factor of the path are given, which are doubtlessly taken from the Abhidhamma, since outside this sutta they do not appear anywhere else than there.

7) there is an underlying contempt of the ancient teachings and the author seeks to promote teachings found in the Khuddaka Nikāya and Abhidhamma.

This is more than enough to prove that this sutta, though it seems to contain original and authentic material, has been largely falsified.

This study has also shown that even in what is to be considered as the most ancient strata of buddhist scriptures, there are counterfeit teachings aiming at belittling the original message of the Buddha in order to promote newer terminologies and theories, that are presented as being of higher value, but that actually contradict the ancient teachings.

The analysis shows quite convincingly that later teachings, the Abhidhamma, have been incorporated into this sutta and in effect put into the mouth of the Buddha. As well as the fake parts, the sutta actually contains some apparently genuine and very interesting teachings on the eightfold path. Fortunately it was largely those parts of the sutta that I had been most drawn to and that had led to it being one of my favorites.

I did recently see someone claiming, in all seriousness, that the Abhidhamma was taught by the Buddha, but that’s a completely untenable position, held only by those of “great faith” and little inclination to accept evidence.

I do suggest taking a look at the article.

The Buddha on Fake Buddha Quotes (3)

There’s a nice little Sutta called the Ani Sutta, which I stumbled upon today. It includes the following:

In future time, there will be bhikkhus [monks] who will not listen to the utterance of such discourses which are words of the Tathāgata [i.e. the Buddha], profound, profound in meaning, leading beyond the world, (consistently) connected with emptiness, they will not lend ear, they will not apply their mind on knowledge, they will not consider those teachings as to be taken up and mastered.

On the contrary, they will listen to the utterance of such discourses which are literary compositions made by poets, witty words, witty letters, by people from outside, or the words of disciples, they will lend ear, they will apply their mind on knowledge, they will consider those teachings as to be taken up and mastered.

Therefore, bhikkhus, you should train thus: ‘We will listen to the utterance of such discourses which are words of the Tathāgata, profound, profound in meaning, leading beyond the world, (consistently) connected with emptiness, we will lend ear, we will apply our mind on knowledge, we will consider those teachings as to be taken up and mastered.’ This is how, bhikkhus, you should train yourselves.

I thought that “literary compositions made by poets, witty words, witty letters, by people from outside, or the words of disciples” was a good description of many of the Fake Buddha Quotes you’ll find on this site, some of which are by disciples (such as Jack Kornfield, whose “Buddha’s Little Instruction Book” has inadvertently given rise to many a FBQ), or “people from outside,” such as Marie Curie and G.K. Chesterton.

I’ve noted that some people are consistently drawn to Fake Buddha Quotes as opposed to quotes from the scriptures, and I presume this is because the fake quotes are often more poetic and polished than the genuine article. In non-Buddhists this is perhaps less of a surprise, but in those who profess to be Buddhists it’s rather puzzling, since one would expect them to have some familiarity with the teachings, and to recognize the cadence and language of the scriptures.

“To those in whom love dwells, the whole world is but one family.”

one family

Robert Persson wrote to me about a quote that aroused his suspicions: “To those in whom love dwells, the whole world is but one family.”

This sounded odd to him because he thought Shakyamuni didn’t talk a lot about love in this way. I thought he was right to be suspicious, although to me the thing that stood out was the reference to the whole world being one family. The Buddha of the Pali canon would never had said anything like that.

There’s a fuller version of this quote from 1890, in J. H. West’s Character and Love: Responsive Readings for Sunday Schools and the Home, where it’s not attributed to the Buddha. In fact it’s not attributed to anyone, although West’s book is intended as a compilation of prayers and sayings from various religious traditions, intended for liberal Christians. There, the saying in full is:

The narrow-minded ask, “Is this man a stranger, or is he of our tribe?” but to those in whom love dwells the whole world is but one family.”

A decade or so later it was cited as a “Hindu” saying. Early in the 20th century it had become a saying of “the Buddha.”

A few years before West’s book, in 1885, the quotation is slightly different, and attributed to a specific Hindu scripture, the “Hitopadessa” (sic):

The narrow-minded ask, is this man a stranger, or is he of our tribe? but to those who are of a noble disposition the whole world is but one family.”

The Hitopadesha is a compilation of fables involving birds and animals, that was translated into English as early as 1787. A later translation by Edwin Arnold, who is well known to Buddhists as the author of “The Light of Asia” (a biography of the Buddha in poetic form), was published in London in 1861 under the title The Book of Good Counsels.

And in fact in an 1830 translation of the Hitopadesha, edited by Lakshami Nārāyan Nyālankār, we find the following:

To say, This is one of us, or this is a stranger, is the mode of estimating practised by trifling minds. To those of more generous principles, the whole world is but as one family.

I haven’t been able to track down the equivalent passage in Arnold’s translation. Perhaps there are variants of the original Sanskrit text…

The punchline of the quote — “The whole world is but one family” predates Nyālankār’s translation of the Hitopadesha. In fact it seems to be quite a common saying. In an 1825 copy of the Methodist Review, for example, we read a quotation from a Rev. Dr. Morrison: “The Chinese, among whom I spent so large a portion of my life, affirm that ‘the whole world is but one family.'”

The Buddha sometimes regarded the family, at least when he was talking to his monks, as an encumbrance, rather than as an ideal to be strived for. He said things like “The household life is confined and dusty, going forth is in the open…” We should remember that he abandoned his own family and named his son “Fetter” (Rahula).

On the other hand he also said “The Tathagata in many ways praises kindness, protection, and sympathy for families,” so he certainly wasn’t entirely anti-family. In fact he praised families in which skillful qualities flourished: “Living with Brahma are those families where, in the home, mother & father are revered by the children.”

When he described families in negative terms, this seemed to be when they acted as an obstruction to those who yearned to become monks or nuns.

I don’t think he ever talked in terms of the whole world being “one family.” The closest I can think of to this metaphor is a sutta of which I was reminded by Bhikkhu Yuttadhammo (see the comments, below) in which the Buddha says:

From an inconstruable beginning comes samsara. A beginning point is not evident, though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating and wandering on. A being who has not been your mother at one time in the past is not easy to find… A being who has not been your father… your brother… your sister… your son… your daughter at one time in the past is not easy to find.

The Buddha is certainly making the point here that we are all one family, although his point is mainly to emphasize the immenseness of time over which humans have been reborn and to encourage dispassion. He doesn’t explicitly make the point that we should treat others as if they were family members, but it’s possible that he had that in mind when he picked that image. However, given that the passage ends with a reminder of how painful samsara is and how the immensity of time we’ve been suffering here should lead us to dispassion, it’s more likely that he had in mind the many times we’ve experienced the loss of family members. He’s more likely encouraging his followers to disengage from their affection towards their families. He’s in effect saying something to the effect of, “Look, your current family is just one amongst an infinite number you’ve had over the eons, and you’re going to lose them like you’ve lost the rest, so don’t be too emotionally entangled with them and get on with your practice!” This sutta is in fact one of many detailing the many pleasurable and painful things that have happened to us in samsara; each one ends with encouraging dispassion.

Nevertheless, Buddhism does encourage us to be kind to everyone, not just those we’re biologically related to. And so as with many Fake Buddha Quotes, “To those in whom love dwells, the whole world is but one family” is very much in line with Buddhist principles. It’s just not, as far as we know, something the Buddha happens to have said.

Hate mail, part two

Let me put this in a way you will understand!

“‘Worthless man, it is unseemly, out of line, unsuitable, and unworthy of a contemplative; improper and not to be done… Haven’t I taught the Dhamma in many ways for the sake of dispassion and not for passion; for unfettering and not for fettering; for freedom from clinging and not for clinging? Yet here, while I have taught the Dhamma for dispassion, you set your heart on passion; while I have taught the Dhamma for unfettering, you set your heart on being fettered; while I have taught the Dhamma for freedom from clinging, you set your heart on clinging.”

Instead of just worrying about fake quotes and ranting about translations, how about you actually take what you claim to have studied and put it into practice! You see, like all religious and scriptural teachings, a passage, or a quote, can be overlooked, used liberally or conservatively, but they are Buddhist Teachings nonetheless! it would be much more compassionate and Buddha like, to critique and differentiate quotes as Buddhist and Quotes By Buddha!

Not calling out translational errors, or spiritual preferential choice, as incorrect teachings! I have read a lifetime worth of Buddhist Scripture and have yet to finish with my studies, for it would take many lifetimes to read the whole canon of Buddhist scripture, it is a growing and living Dharma, not some dead bible, closed and set in stone! Maybe you should take that into consideration, instead of your need to be some kind of Buddhist Canon Nazi!

Be Well, Be Happy,
Ananda Bodhi

Hate mail, part one

I would suggest you stop inferring that your views and your views alone are correct! Buddha teaches and taught, that everyone can become enlightened and awakened, therefore a Buddha! As one who has studied Buddhist scripture, from all branches of Buddhism, and has practiced Buddhism for 40 years of his life, I would not have the audacity nor arrogance to believe that Canonical text alone, as you call it, can be the only quotes attributed to Buddha! You have three a branches of Buddhism, all inspired by the desire for the attainment of enlightenment, all reflective of Buddhist teachings! I truly find your site offensive and distasteful, and not in the spirit of the Buddha’s teachings… you remind me of the monks, who created the schism within the sangha, in Buddha’s day, debating his teaching, and what he taught! It is divisive and ill advised! Buddha wouldn’t have it in his day, and you shouldn’t be promoting such discord, by judging translations and people’s preferences, of using one word over another… It all comes off very arrogant, divisive, and very self aggrandizing!

Unless you can tell me you have studied all the Pali Suttas, all the Sutras and teachings of Mahayana… You should not be promoting this kind of scriptural divisiveness! It is one thing to point of fake scripture, another thing to be so anally retentive to nit pick translations and people’s preference of a translation!

I hope in the near future you will reconsider your approach, because it comes off as arrogant and self aggrandizing, to say the least!

Be Well, Be Happy,
Ananda Bodhi

“The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play…”

Someone picked this one up on Facebook today and passed it on to me.

“The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, education and his religion. He hardly knows which is which; he simply pursues his vision of excellence in whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he is always doing both.”

It had been attributed to the Buddha.

Several books, starting from 1992, claim that the quote is from a “Zen Buddhist text.” This attribution starts with Lester C. Thurow, in a book called Head to Head.

Later, it’s attributed to the novelist, James Michener.

The quote is from a 1932 book, “Education through Recreation” by Lawrence Pearsall Jacks. It’s a bit different in the original form:

A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.”

I’ve highlighted the changes in italic text.

The language of either version of the quote is entirely wrong for any class of Buddhist scripture. Things like “his vision of excellence” in particular stick out like the proverbial sore thumb.

The general idea of the loss of distinction between work and play is, however, found in Mahayana teachings, where the Bodhisattva’s “work” in liberating beings from suffering is described as his “lila” or play. The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism says, “In Sanskrit both the words līlā and lalita denote joyful abandonment in a state of spontaneous play.” Zimmer’s Philosophies of India says, “Mingled with the compassion of the Bodhisattva is a quality, therefore, or “great delight” (māhā-sukha) … These three worlds have been created, as it were, for—by—and of—the enjoyment of this immortal: they are his līlā, his “play.”

This “līlā” is what we would now call a “flow” state of joyful, selfless absorption in a task.

Having found the original source in L.P. Jacks’ book, I discovered that The Quote Investigator had already tracked it down to the same place. The Quote Investigator’s article is well-worth reading.