This quote was passed on to me by a couple of different people. It’s found in several books, including Meditations for Pain Recovery, Meditation and Qigong Mastery, and The Law of Attraction (insert your own joke here about fake spirituality attracting fake quotes).
Have compassion for all beings, rich and poor alike; each has their sufferings. Some suffer too much, others too little.
It’s also on many websites. It’s not surprising it’s on quotes sites like ThinkExist, since they seem to do no fact-checking at all. But with sites like Buddhist Belief Blog you’d hope for better.
It is of course patently fake. There’s nothing at all unusual about the Buddha encouraging us to have compassion for all beings. But I don’t think he would ever have suggested that some people need to experience more suffering.
The earliest of the books mentioned above is from 2009, so this is almost certainly a new Fake Buddha Quote. It’s hard to search the web by date, but Leo Babauta on Zen Habits uses the quote on a post dated August 14, 2008. Someone called Arvind used the quote a little earlier, on January 5th of 2008. Those are among the earliest blog posts I’ve found using the quote.
A forum post dated April 8, 2006 takes us back a little further, but contains no source. That’s the earliest reference to the quote that I’ve found on the web, apart from a deleted post from March 19, 2006, on a now-defunct site at bighappybuddha.blogspot.com.
A forum post dated August 23, 2007 mentions having lifted the quote from a site called BrainyQuote (one of those quotes sites littered with misattributed quotations). Alas, where BrainyQuote got the saying from, or whether it predates the 2006 examples, I just don’t know.
So the origins of this quote are a mystery, although its fakeness is clear.
There is a sutta where the Buddha is asked why some are rich, healthy, long-lived, good-looking, etc., and some are poor, unhealthy, short-lived, ugly, etc. Here’s a passage from that sutta:
But here some woman or man is not obdurate or haughty; he pays homage to whom he should pay homage, rises up for whom he should rise up, gives a seat to whom he should give a seat, makes way for whom he should make way, worships him who should be worshipped, respects him who should be respected, reveres him who should be revered, honors him who should be honored. Due to having performed and completed such kammas, on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in a happy destination… If instead he comes to the human state, he is high-born wherever he is reborn. This is the way that leads to high birth, that is to say, not to be obdurate or haughty, to pay homage to whom he should pay homage, to rise up for…, to give a seat to…, to make way for…, to worship… respect… revere… honor him who should be honored.
Here, student, some woman or man when visiting a monk or brahman, does not ask: ‘What is wholesome, venerable sir? What is unwholesome? What is blamable? What is blameless? What should be cultivated? What should not be cultivated? What, by my doing it, will be long for my harm and suffering? Or what, by my doing it, will be long for my welfare and happiness?’ Due to having performed and completed such kammas, on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in a state of deprivation… If instead he comes to the human state, he will be stupid wherever he is reborn. This is the way that leads to stupidity, that is to say, when visiting a monk or brahman, not to ask: ‘What is wholesome?… Or what, by my doing it, will be long for my welfare and happiness?’
This is often taken as the Buddha saying that people who are rich in this life must have acted well in a past life and that people who are poor in this life must have acted unskillfully in a past life. But it seems to me that all the Buddha is saying is that acting badly leads to poverty, ugliness, illness, etc., but not that all poverty, ugliness, illness, etc. are inevitably the result of previous karma. This is a very important distinction to observe, otherwise we’ll tend to blame the poor and the sick for misfortunes that may be nothing at all to do with their own actions.