“Your body is precious. It is your vehicle for awakening. Treat it with care.”

buddThis quote is found everywhere, which isn’t surprising, since it reminds us of the importance of keeping the body in good health—something many of us neglect to do.

It’s from Buddha’s Little Instruction Book, where it’s “Our body is precious. It is our vehicle for awakening. Treat it with care.” (Note the use of “our” rather than “your” in the original.)

“Precious” is not, to the best of my knowledge, a term the Buddha ever used to describe the body.

However, he did indeed stress the importance of keeping the body healthy:

Reflecting properly, he takes alms-food. He does so not for enjoyment, not for vanity, not for improvement of the body, not for a better complexion, but only to sustain the physical body, to have just enough nourishment for maintaining life, to appease hunger and to carry out the Noble Practice of Purity. [He reflects thus:] ‘By this alms-food, I shall remove the existing discomfort and shall prevent the arising of new discomfort. I shall have just enough nourishment to maintain life and to lead a blameless life with good health.’ (Sabbasava Sutta)

But as you can see, the attitude to the body here is rather neutral. It’s not regarded as “precious” but is simply to be sustained, without attachment.

Seeing the body as precious would, for the Buddha, be taking us too close to what he called “intoxication” with health:

There are beings who are intoxicated with a [typical] healthy person’s intoxication with health. Because of that intoxication with health, they conduct themselves in a bad way in body… in speech… and in mind. But when they often reflect on that fact, that healthy person’s intoxication with health will either be entirely abandoned or grow weaker… (Upajjhatthana Sutta)

To counter this intoxication, the Buddha offered perspectives on the body that are less than flattering:

Behold this body — a painted image, a mass of heaped up sores, infirm, full of hankering — of which nothing is lasting or stable!

Fully worn out is this body, a nest of disease, and fragile. This foul mass breaks up, for death is the end of life.
(Dhammapada 147-148)

As for the body being a vehicle for awakening, it could be argued that the Buddha came close to saying that in stressing the need for bodily mindfulness. For example in Dhammapada 293, he says:

But those who always practice well
bodily mindfulness,
do never what should not be done
and ever do what should be done;
mindful, clearly comprehending,
their pollutions out of existence go.

And even more clearly,

There is one thing that when cultivated and regularly practiced, leads to deep spiritual intention, to peace, to mindfulness and clear comprehension, to vision and knowledge, to a happy life here and now and to the culmination of wisdom and awakening. And what is that one thing? It is mindfulness centered on the body. (Anguttara Nikaya 1.43)

The quote in question should probably be attributed to Jack Kornfield (along with many others that have been taken from Buddha’s Little Instruction Book and mis-attributed to the Buddha), but it may in turn be an adaptation of a verse from Tsongkhapa:

“The human body, at peace with itself, is more precious than the rarest gem. Cherish your body, it is yours this one time only. The human form is won with difficulty, it is easy to lose.”

The Buddha would certainly have agreed with Tsongkhapa about the rarity of human existence, but I doubt he would have used the word “precious” to describe the body.

“If you want to fly, give up everything that weighs you down.”

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This one’s actually an adaptation of some dialogue from a Toni Morrison novel, “Song of Solomon,” (page 179).

“Can’t nobody fly with all that shit. Wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.”

Whoever first thought to pass this off as a quote from the Buddha made a wise choice in dropping the word “shit,” which is a dead giveaway.

“I wish people would stop using my face whenever they feel like they need a smart person to endorse their stupid ideas.” Albert Einstein (not!)

My attention was recently drawn to the following.

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I was reminded of it when I saw a debate on Google+ over the veracity of a supposed Einstein quote: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Einstein, they tell me, was a smart guy. I doubt very much he believed that fish suffer from low self-esteem if we judge them on the basis of their ability to thrive in an arboreal environment. And in fact, after much consideration, I’ve come to the conclusion that fish don’t actually care much what we think of them.

[More on the piscine low self-esteem quote here.]

“They are not following dharma who resort to violence to achieve their purpose.”

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This one was passed on to me today, with a query about whether it might have been misattributed:

“They are not following dharma who resort to violence to achieve their purpose. But those who lead others through nonviolent means, knowing right and wrong, may be called guardians of the dharma.”

This certainly sounds very modern. I can imagine a contemporary teacher using those words. But the problem here isn’t misattribution, but mistranslation, or at least very free translation. The quote is from Eknath Easwaran’s version of the Dhammapada, and it purports to be verses 256–257.

In Thanissaro’s translation these verses are:

To pass judgment hurriedly
doesn’t mean you’re a judge.
The wise one, weighing both
the right judgment & wrong,
judges others impartially —
unhurriedly, in line with the Dhamma,
guarding the Dhamma,
guarded by Dhamma,
intelligent:
he’s called a judge.

Buddharakkhita’s translation is similar:

256. Not by passing arbitrary judgments does a man become just; a wise man is he who investigates both right and wrong.

257. He who does not judge others arbitrarily, but passes judgment impartially according to the truth, that sagacious man is a guardian of law and is called just.

As is Gil Fronsdal’s:

One is not just
Who judges a case hastily.
A wise person considers
Both what is and isn’t right
Guiding others without force,
Impartially and in accord with the Dharma,
One is called a guardian of the Dharma,
Intelligent and just.

Of the three more literal translations, only Frondal’s comes close to mentioning non-violence, where it says “Guiding others without force.” But this is a rather minor part of the whole.

The word in question here is “sahasa,” which means “forcibly, hastily, suddenly.” What Fronsdal translates as “without force” is the negative of this word, asahasa, which could mean “not hastily” or “not forcibly.”

Eknath (I’m not being overly familiar here; that was his family name) also takes the verb naye to mean “lead” rather than “judge,” although the context seems to be about making assessments rather than about leading. (Fronsdal also makes this word choice, incidentally.)

While I admire the sentiment in Eknath’s version, and while it’s certainly in line with the Buddha’s teaching, his translation is very much an outlier, relying on secondary meanings to create a rather idiosyncratic version of these verses — a version that’s more an expression of what the translator wanted to read than of what the Buddha intended to communicate.

“Compassion is that which makes the heart of the good move at the pain of others.”

“Compassion is that which makes the heart of the good move at the pain of others. It crushes and destroys the pain of others; thus, it is called compassion. It is called compassion because it shelters and embraces the distressed.”

Drew passed this one on to me the other day, saying he’d seen it in many places and was suspicious of it. And he’s right on both counts. It’s in several books, one of which ascribes it to the Dhammapada, which is ridiculous, since the Dhammapada is a pithy text that doesn’t go i for elaborate definitions.

My first thought was that this wasn’t canonical at all, but commentarial. Canonical texts are those that are ascribed to the Buddha or his close disciples. (That’s often patently false, for example in the case of the Pali Abhidhamma texts, which are part of the canon but which post-date the Buddha, probably in some cases by a few centuries.) Commentarial texts are writings about Buddhism. The most famous commentary is Buddhaghosa’s Path or Purification, or Visuddhimagga, which dates from the 5th century, a millennium after the Buddha.

The Visuddhamagga does include the kind of detailed and etymologically fanciful definition we see in this quote. I say “etymologically fanciful” because what’s presented as etymology is more a kind of word-association that helps to illustrate some of the qualities of the term being discussed.

And in fact, when I searched my copy of the Visuddhimagga I found the following:

When there is suffering in others it causes (karoti) good people’s hearts to be moved (kampana), thus it is compassion (karunā). Or alternatively, it combats (kināti) others’ suffering, attacks and demolishes it, thus it is compassion. Or alternatively, it is scattered (kiriyati) upon those who suffer, it is extended to them by pervasion, thus it is compassion (karunā).

Our Fake Buddha Quote is clearly a different translation of the same passage. At the moment I don’t know which translation it’s from. But we can be sure that this is not canonical, and that it’s a Fake Buddha Quote.

“Life is a bridge. Don’t build a house on it.”

Someone called Nizar asked me about this quote today:

“Life is a bridge. Don’t build a house on it.”

This is often just called an “Indian proverb,” but several books, including “Human Life and the Teachings of Buddha” (1988), by Mandar Nath Pathak, attribute this to the Buddha. In “Buddha and the Rasava” (1958), Kumaraswamiji offers an extended version, which he also attributes to the Buddha:

Life is a bridge, build no house upon it; it is a river, cling not to its banks; it is a gymnasium, use it to develop the mind on the apparatus of circumstance; it is a journey, take it and walk on.

A version of this saying (“Life is a bridge. Cross over it, but don’t build a house on it.”) is attributed to the late Sri Sathya Sai Baba.

It should be pretty obvious to anyone familiar with the Buddhist scriptures that this is not a canonical quotation. The directness of the metaphor and the wording are completely off.

The earliest use of this maxim that I’ve found so far is in “The Bridge-Builders, and Other Poems” (1908), by H. Harrold Johnson:

“Life is a bridge: pass over it, but build not houses upon it.”—Old saying.

No further reference is given.

The English Buddhist writer Christmas Humphreys used essentially the same quote in several of his books. For example in “Studies in the Middle Way: Being Thoughts on Buddhism Applied” (1940), he has

“Life is a bridge: pass over it, but build no houses on it.”

This he attributes to Akbar — presumably Akbar the Great, or Akbar I, who was Mughal Emperor from 1556 until his death in 1605. But elsewhere Humphreys says this is an old Chinese proverb.

The attribution to Akbar is probably correct, however, since in the biographical work, “Clendon Daukes, Servant of Empire” (1951), written by Lady Dorothy Maynard Lavington Evans Daukes, we read:

We also visited Fatehpur Sikri, that deserted city of a byegone age, built of red sandstone by the Emperor Akbar. We mused over the Arabic inscription on the great gateway: “Life is a bridge, a bridge that you shall pass over. You shall not build your house upon it.”

According to the Wikipedia entry on Buland Darwaza, the Persian inscription says:

Isa (Jesus), son of Mary said: ‘The world is a bridge, pass over it, but build no houses upon it. He who hopes for a day, may hope for eternity; but the world endures but an hour. Spend it in prayer for the rest is unseen.’

So Akbar was not the author (although I doubt Jesus was either).

The Buddha did use metaphors regarding bridges: sometimes emphasizing their fragility, as in when he talked of blotting out the conceit “I am” as the wind demolishes a fragile bamboo bridge, and sometimes emphasizing their utility, as when he talked of crossing “the flood” by means of a bridge while others scrambled to get frail rafts together.

“Your days pass like rainbows, like a flash of lightning, like a star at dawn. Your life is short. How can you quarrel?”

Sanjiv Desai passed this one on to me today. I’d never seen it before, although it seems it’s everywhere…

“Your days pass like rainbows, like a flash of lightening, like a star at dawn. Your life is short. How can you quarrel?”

I thought that one might come from Thomas Byrom’s kinda-made-up “translation” of the Dhammapada, or from Jack Kornfield’s “Buddha’s Little Instruction Book.” It turns out it’s a bit of both.

Byrom has:

Hate never yet dispelled hate.
Only love dispels hate.
This is the law,
Ancient and inexhaustible.
You too shall pass away.
Knowing this, how can you quarrel?

This is meant to be a translation of verses 5 and 6 of the Dhammapada, which in Buddharakkhita’s quite literal translation is:

Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal.

There are those who do not realize that one day we all must die. But those who do realize this settle their quarrels.

Byrom’s version is actually pretty accurate by his standards. A lot of the time he just wrote his own poetry, more or less ignoring what the Pali text actually says.

Jack Kornfield, in his Buddha’s Little Instruction Book (page 19), turned Byrom’s loose translation into:

“Life is as fleeting as a rainbow, a flash of lightning, a star at dawn. Knowing this, how can you quarrel?”

Then in “A Lamp in the Darkness,” Jack altered this further to:

“Your days pass like rainbows, like a flash of lightening (sic), like a star at dawn. Your life is short. How can you quarrel?”

The imagery almost certainly comes from another text altogether: the Mahayana Diamond Sutra.

So you should view this fleeting world
As a star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.

So it’s an interesting conglomeration, this one! It embodies things the Buddha said (and even though the Diamond Sutra was composed long after the Buddha’s death, the concluding verse is similar to some things he’s recorded in the Pali scriptures as having taught).

For example this:

“Just as a dewdrop on the tip of a blade of grass quickly vanishes with the rising of the sun and does not stay long, in the same way, brahmans, the life of human beings is like a dewdrop.”

Or this:

Form is like a glob of foam;
feeling, a bubble;
perception, a mirage;
fabrications, a banana tree;
consciousness, a magic trick —
this has been taught
by the Kinsman of the Sun.
However you observe them,
appropriately examine them,
they’re empty, void
to whoever sees them
appropriately.

But despite these similarities, “Your days pass like rainbows, like a flash of lightening, like a star at dawn. Your life is short. How can you quarrel?” is definitely not a direct quotation.

The man who spit on Buddha’s face

Here’s a long story. Brace yourselves:

The Buddha was sitting under a tree talking to his disciples when a man came and spat in his face. He wiped it off, and he asked the man, “What next? What do you want to say next?” The man was a little puzzled because he himself never expected that when you spit on somebody’s face, he will ask, “What next?” He had no such experience in his past. He had insulted people and they had become angry and they had reacted. Or if they were cowards and weaklings, they had smiled, trying to bribe the man. But Buddha was like neither, he was not angry nor in any way offended, nor in any way cowardly. But just matter-of-factly he said, “What next?” There was no reaction on his part.

But Buddha’s disciples became angry, and they reacted. His closest disciple, Ananda, said, “This is too much. We cannot tolerate it. He has to be punished for it, otherwise everybody will start doing things like this!”

Buddha said, “You keep silent. He has not offended me, but you are offending me. He is new, a stranger. He must have heard from people something about me, that this man is an atheist, a dangerous man who is throwing people off their track, a revolutionary, a corrupter. And he may have formed some idea, a notion of me. He has not spit on me, he has spit on his notion. He has spit on his idea of me because he does not know me at all, so how can he spit on me?

“If you think on it deeply,” Buddha said, “he has spit on his own mind. I am not part of it, and I can see that this poor man must have something else to say because this is a way of saying something. Spitting is a way of saying something. There are moments when you feel that language is impotent: in deep love, in intense anger, in hate, in prayer. There are intense moments when language is impotent. Then you have to do something. When you are angry, intensely angry, you hit the person, you spit on him, you are saying something. I can understand him. He must have something more to say, that’s why I’m asking, “What next?”

The man was even more puzzled! And Buddha said to his disciples, “I am more offended by you because you know me, and you have lived for years with me, and still you react.”

Puzzled, confused, the man returned home. He could not sleep the whole night. When you see a Buddha, it is difficult, impossible to sleep anymore the way you used to sleep before. Again and again he was haunted by the experience. He could not explain it to himself, what had happened. He was trembling all over, sweating and soaking the sheets. He had never come across such a man; the Buddha had shattered his whole mind and his whole pattern, his whole past.

The next morning he went back. He threw himself at Buddha’s feet. Buddha asked him again, “What next? This, too, is a way of saying something that cannot be said in language. When you come and touch my feet, you are saying something that cannot be said ordinarily, for which all words are too narrow; it cannot be contained in them.” Buddha said, “Look, Ananda, this man is again here, he is saying something. This man is a man of deep emotions.”

The man looked at Buddha and said, “Forgive me for what I did yesterday.”

Buddha said, “Forgive? But I am not the same man to whom you did it. The Ganges goes on flowing, it is never the same Ganges again. Every man is a river. The man you spit upon is no longer here. I look just like him, but I am not the same, much has happened in these twenty-four hours! The river has flowed so much. So I cannot forgive you because I have no grudge against you.

“And you also are new. I can see you are not the same man who came yesterday because that man was angry and he spit, whereas you are bowing at my feet, touching my feet. How can you be the same man? You are not the same man, so let us forget about it. Those two people, the man who spit and the man on whom he spit, both are no more. Come closer. Let us talk of something else.”

This is from a “Intimacy: Trusting Oneself and the Other” (pp. 60–62) by Osho, the guru formerly known as the Bhagwan Shri Rajneesh, who loved collecting white Rolls Royces, and who ran a commune in Oregon that launched the first biological warfare attack on US soil (they were trying to influence an election).

Osho wasn’t above making up stories about the Buddha. Now generally this is unobjectionable, as long as the general points being make by the storyteller are in line with the scriptures. After all, Buddhism started off as essentially an oral tradition, and oral teaching is still an important component in the transmission of the Dharma (as a lived reality, not just as a collection of teachings). It would be ridiculous to say that no teacher could ever put words into the mouth of the Buddha in passing along the teachings in this way. Anyone who’s taught has dramatized a sutta or two. I know I have. And in telling a story dramatically we end up inventing dialog. But I think the words we put into the Buddha’s mouth should at least not conflict with his teachings, and should preferably be paraphrases.

Unfortunately Osho had none of these scruples. The teaching given here is one that the Buddha would call “nihilistic” — that is, the belief is that the person who acts is not the same person who experiences the consequences of his or her actions, because of the action of change.

The Buddha was in fact once asked this very question by a Brahmin priest:

The brahmin: Is the one who acts the same one who experiences [the results of the act]?

The Buddha: ‘The one who acts is the same one who experiences,’ is one extreme.

The brahmin: Then, Master Gotama, is the one who acts someone other than the one who experiences?

The Buddha: ‘The one who acts is someone other than the one who experiences,’ is the second extreme. Avoiding both of these extremes, the Tathagata teaches the Dhamma by means of the middle.

So the teaching that Osho puts into the mouth of the Buddha is one he’d explicitly rejected.

The message of non-resentment and non-reactivity is certainly true to the Buddha’s teachings, although not on the basis that “The man you spit upon is no longer here.”

Verses three and four of the Dhammapada read:

“He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me.” Those who harbor such thoughts do not still their hatred.

“He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me.” Those who do not harbor such thoughts still their hatred.

The Buddha taught mudita (appreciation) as a way to counteract resentment:

It’s impossible, there is no way that — when appreciation has been developed, pursued, handed the reins and taken as a basis, given a grounding, steadied, consolidated, and well-undertaken as an awareness-release — resentment would still keep overpowering the mind. That possibility doesn’t exist, for this is the escape from resentment: appreciation as an awareness-release.

He also taught the practice of lovingkindness as a way of avoiding resentment, using a rather extreme example:

Monks, even if bandits were to carve you up savagely, limb by limb, with a two-handled saw, he among you who let his heart get angered even at that would not be doing my bidding. Even then you should train yourselves: ‘Our minds will be unaffected and we will say no evil words. We will remain sympathetic, with a mind of good will, and with no inner hate. We will keep pervading these people with an awareness imbued with good will and, beginning with them, we will keep pervading the all-encompassing world with an awareness imbued with good will — abundant, expansive, immeasurable, free from hostility, free from ill will.’ That’s how you should train yourselves.

Ultimately, though, it’s non-clinging to any idea of the self (including the idea that the self does not exist) that leads to the kind of equanimous mind is which resentment doesn’t have to be dealt with because it simply doesn’t arise. This teaching is from the Alagaddupama Sutta, in which the Buddha says that grasping the Buddha’s teaching wrongly is like grabbing a snake by the tail: you’re going to end up bitten:

Both formerly and now, monks, I declare only stress and the cessation of stress. And if others insult, abuse, taunt, bother, and harass the Tathagata for that, he feels no hatred, no resentment, no dissatisfaction of heart because of that.

“Remembering a wrong is like carrying a burden on the mind”

Edwin Ashurst sent this one along today:

Remembering a wrong is like carrying a burden on the mind

I don’t have much to say about it, unfortunately, because I haven’t yet been able to track its origins. The earliest reference I’ve found on the web dates from November 23, 2006. It’s in several books, but none I’ve found was published prior to 2010, and the words “Buddha is quoted as saying…” are used.

I’m fairly sure it’s not canonical (i.e. that it’s not from the Buddhist scriptures) just on the basis of the language.

There’s nothing wrong with the message, however. The Buddha is recorded as having said:

“He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me.” Those who harbor such thoughts do not still their hatred. (Dhammapada, verse 4)

Clearly, harboring resentments is seen here as a kind of mental burden, but the suspect quote isn’t close enough to be even a bad paraphrase.

Hopefully more information about this quote will come to light in due course.

The hate mail is getting more polite

Well, perhaps this is better termed “passive-aggressive mail,” rather than “hate mail,” but in a comment, Tharindu wrote:

Buddha was the most greatest person in the world. what he was say is so true..! some things you will never understand my friend. you are just a little kid who try to find write and wrong in the world dear Bodhipaksa. so please don’t put this kind of post unless you don’t know what your are talking. just observe the Buddhist and then say some thing. this is the most friendly advice i can give to you.

See? “Dear Bodhipaksa” and “my friend.” That’s polite :)

He also wrote:

yes. there are lot of books about history things that said by the Buddha. try to read the old books and learn some thing my friend. you have lot of things to learn before you die.

Not only is that polite, but it’s excellent advice, since I do like to read old books and to learn things.