“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.

“Tune as the sitar neither low nor high, And we will dance away the hearts of men.”


From time to time there are Fake Buddha Quotes that just make me shake my head in disbelief. This is one of them:

It’s not just on Twitter, but on Goodreads, and in a fair number of books.

The idea of the Buddha talking about “dancing away the hearts of men” is stunningly out-of-character with the Buddha. It’s the equivalent of Moses saying “Party people, are you ready to dance?” or Jesus saying “Get on down, like a sex machine.”

In a fuller version the original quote is:

Fair goes the dancing when the sitar’s tuned;
Tune us the sitar neither low nor high,
And we will dance away the hearts of men.

The string o’erstretched breaks, and the music flies;
The string o’erslack is dumb, and music dies;
Tune us the sitar neither low nor high.

The fake quote has substituted “as” for “us.” Presumably this is taken to mean “tune yourself as the sitar.”

This isn’t, as you probably already worked out, from the Buddhist scriptures. It’s from Sir Edwin Arnold’s epic poem, “The Light of Asia,” which is a Victorian biography of the Buddha. To be fair, the Light of Asia is loosely based on the Lalitavistara, which is a Mahayana Sutra. But the speaker here isn’t even the Buddha, but a temple dancer. (Arnold calls her a “Nautch Girl,” although those were more along the lines of erotic dancers.)

With the mention of the sitar there’s an obvious reference to a sutta in which the Buddha gives advice to the Bhikkhu Sona, who is having problems living a monastic life, despite putting great effort into his practice. The Buddha compares Sona’s erratic striving as being like a lute (vina) which is sometimes too tight and sometimes too slack.

“Now what do you think, Sona. Before, when you were a house-dweller, were you skilled at playing the vina?”

“Yes, lord.”

“And what do you think: when the strings of your vina were too taut, was your vina in tune & playable?”

“No, lord.”

“And what do you think: when the strings of your vina were too loose, was your vina in tune & playable?”

“No, lord.”

“And what do you think: when the strings of your vina were neither too taut nor too loose, but tuned to be right on pitch, was your vina in tune & playable?”

“Yes, lord.”

“In the same way, Sona, over-aroused persistence leads to restlessness, overly slack persistence leads to laziness. Thus you should determine the right pitch for your persistence, attune the pitch of the faculties, and there take up the object [of meditation].”

“When you meet your ‘soul mate’ you’ll feel calm.”

Screen Shot 2014-10-01 at 2.03.51 PMA reader passed this quote on to me this morning:

“The Buddhists say if you meet somebody and your heart pounds, your hands shake, your knees go weak, that’s not the one. When you meet your ‘soul mate’ you’ll feel calm. No anxiety, no agitation.”

Obviously this is not described as a quote from the Buddha, who was not noted for being a fount of dating advice.

In fact Buddhists generally are not noted for talking about “soul mates.” The word “soul” doesn’t sit very easily within a tradition that teaches that we have no permanent essence, or atman (Pali, atta). The website Tiny Buddha does have an article on soul mates for Buddhists. Spoiler: your soul mate is you. Ram Dass points out that in the Buddhist view, samsara (the endless round of rebirth) is so inconceivably vast that we have each been in every conceivable relationship with each other. We are all each other’s soul mates.

The Buddha didn’t entirely steer clear of relationship advice, although he talked more about married couples than about those looking for a mate. He said, for example, “If both husband & wife want to see one another not only in the present life but also in the life to come, they should be in tune [with each other] in conviction, in tune in virtue, in tune in generosity, and in tune in discernment. Then they will see one another not only in the present life but also in the life to come.” In some rare dating advice he pointed out that one who gambles “is not sought after for matrimony,” although this was in the context of arguing against gambling rather than saying what one should do to get hitched.

The source of our quote seems to be a novel by Monica Drake, published in 2007, called “Clown Girl” (page 57). She also says that “every good Buddhist” knows that the Buddha was yellow, which (I admit) I did not actually know. (Another spoiler: it’s not true.)

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that “the Buddhists” (taken as a whole) don’t actually say that when you meet your soul mate you’ll feel calm. I don’t take offense at Drake for introducing this rather odd concept; after all “Clown Girl” is a novel, not a treatise on the Buddhadharma!

“Real peace and happiness has to come from the heart, from within.”

I don’t think this one is very widespread yet, but it appeared on a Facebook page called “Spreading Buddhism,” with an attribution to the Buddha. Perhaps we can nip it in the bud.

The full quote is:

Real peace and happiness has to come from the heart, from within. So therefore, to eliminate wars and destroying each other, to eliminate famine, disease and earthquakes, and to eliminate all other disasters an unfavourable experiences, all this can be stopped by having loving kindness toward each other. From having a good heart with loving kindness, negative action cannot arise.

The language (happiness coming from within — negative action) is all completely wrong for something said by the Buddha.

The quote is generally attributed to Lama Zopa Rinpoche, but I haven’t yet found an original source, so I can’t be 100% sure that’s correct. But it does sound like something a Tibetan Buddhist like Lama Zopa would say. The idea that lovingkindness can stop earthquakes is rather touching.

The Spreading Buddhism page offers an eclectice mix of genuine canonical quotes, quotes by other non-Buddhists such as Lao Tzu, contemporary teachers like Pema Chodron, and a good number of classic Fake Buddha Quotes.

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.

Buddha-vacana.org 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.