“The inclination to accept unverified opinion simply because of currency or familiarity is a dangerous human weakness that is instrumental in self-deception, and easily exploited for the deception of others.”

inclination

Goodness gracious. Sometimes I see a quote like this one:

The inclination to accept unverified opinion simply because of currency or familiarity is a dangerous human weakness that is instrumental in self-deception, and easily exploited for the deception of others

and I’m simply staggered that anyone would think it was uttered by the Buddha 2,500 years ago. The language and syntax is just so very, very modern that this just has to be 20th century.

The Buddha did give advice about not believing something simply because of its “currency” or “familiarity,” and perhaps the true author of this quote had that in mind:

Don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, “This contemplative is our teacher.”

You’ll notice that the language is much more down to earth, and doesn’t get lost in heady latinate formations.

But who is the author? It’s definitely not the Buddha, but is Thomas Cleary, in the introduction to his No Barrier: Unlocking the Zen Koan, published in 1993.

Fortunately this misattribution doesn’t seem to have spread much yet, and hopefully we can keep it that way!

“Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant with the weak and wrong. Sometime in your life, you will have been all of these.”

Consider this post to be a “stub.”

“Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant with the weak and wrong. Sometime in your life, you will have been all of these.”

I’m still researching this quote, but it seems to be by a journalist called Bob Goddard, who wrote for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat around the 1960s. (It’s definitely not the Buddha.)

The Globe folded in the early 1980s.

So far I’m not having much luck tracking down an original source. It’s a bit tricker with newspaper sources, especially if they haven’t been scanned by Google.. If I find out anything more I’ll add to this blog post.

“If you cannot find a good companion to walk with, walk alone, like an elephant roaming the jungle. It is better to be alone than to be with those who will hinder your progress.”

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this quote is fake:

“If you cannot find a good companion to walk with, walk alone, like an elephant roaming the jungle. It is better to be alone than to be with those who will hinder your progress.”

As soon as I saw it I was reminded of a verse from the Dhammapada, and my instincts turned out to be right.

However, it’s not exactly a quote, but an adaptation of two Dhammapada verses:

329. If for company you cannot find a wise and prudent friend who leads a good life, then, like a king who leaves behind a conquered kingdom, or like a lone elephant in the elephant forest, you should go your way alone.

330. Better it is to live alone; there is no fellowship with a fool. Live alone and do no evil; be carefree like an elephant in the elephant forest.

So, this isn’t quite fake, but is kind of in a gray area, being more of an interpretive paraphrase than an actual quotation.

I’m afraid I have no idea of its origins, since it’s not in any books on Google Books, as fas as I’ve found, although the last part of the quote is very similar to a piece of advice given in Instant Karma, by Barbara Ann Kipfer (2003): “Choose to be alone rather than be with those who will hinder your progress.”

But you may be surprised at how common such sentiments, and even precise turns of phrase are. For example, at the tender age of 14, George Washington apparently compiled a list of 110 rules for civility. Rule number 56 was, “Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for ’tis better to be alone than in bad company.”

Debunking Fake Albert Einstein Quotes

There’s a pressing need for a “Fake Dalai Lama Quote” website and perhaps even more of a need for fakeeinsteinquotes.com. In the meantime, we have this post by someone calling themselves “Borna” on the site, Skeptica Esoterica.

Presumably Fake Einstein Quotes appear for the same kinds of reasons that Fake Buddha quotes appear: things like people wanting a quote to seem more substantial by attaching the name of a great man, simple errors, wishful thinking, etc.

One of the quotes I saw most recently attributed to Einstein was this one:

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is.”

This was oohed and aahed over as if it was the most profound thought imaginable. But give it a moment’s thought and inquire whether these two positions do in fact constitute the “only two ways” to live life. Is there really no middle ground, where you could regard some things as being miracles and others as not being miracles? (I’m not arguing for the correctness of one view or another, but for the existence of this third view.) In fact I’d argue that many people fall into the third category — the one that’s dismissed as impossible in the quotation. A great many people believe in the existence of miracles as actually existing, but rare.

So having established that the quotation presents a false dichotomy, and is an example of black-and-white thinking, ask yourself whether the Einstein you know was a black-and-white thinker. Of course it could be that he had off days, but the crudity of thought expressed in the quotation should make us pause before automatically assuming that this is a quotation from Einstein.

And investigating the quote online suggests that it only became attributed to Einstein around 1993, which casts further doubt on it being Einstein’s.

The article I’ve linked to debunks several Fake Einstein Quotes, but there’s still plenty of work to be done. Have at it!

“Regardless of the shadows that cross the moon to make it appear less than it is, to the moon, it is always full. So it is with us.”

Someone passed this on to me the other day, saying they’d found it on Facebook:

Regardless of the shadows that cross the moon to make it appear less
than it is, to the moon, it is always full. So it is with us.

I’m 100% certain it’s fake, although I don’t know where it comes from originally. The first uses of this quote that I’ve found online date from only 2011, which is rarely a good sign for a quote that purports to be 2,500 years old.

There’s not a lot of hard astronomy in the Pali canon. There are references to the moon being obscured by clouds, or coming out from behind clouds. There are references to the phases of the moon, which were an important part of the Buddhist lunar calendar. There are references to meditators being able to touch the moon (and sun!) with their hands. There are references to the moon as a god. But I’ve never seen anything suggesting that the Buddha knew the moon to be a sphere that was hidden and revealed by shadows. I’m not saying those references don’t exist, just that I haven’t seen them. If you know of any, or if you have any clue where this quote might have originated, please let me know!

“To force oneself to believe and to accept a thing without understanding is political, and not spiritual or intellectual.”

Quotation-Gautama-Buddha-wisdom-force-knowledge-truth-understanding-Meetville-Quotes-74997“To force oneself to believe and to accept a thing without understanding is political, and not spiritual or intellectual.”

Sometimes it truly baffles me that some people think a particular quote comes from the Buddha. This is a case in point, because it’s so unlike the tone and language of any Buddhist scripture.

But this particular one is found on Goodreads, in the books Which God Should I Choose? (page 62), by Ben Kniskern, and The Little Red Book of Yoga Wisdom (unnumbered page), edited by Kelsie Besaw, and on numerous quotations sites and blogs.

The quote is actually from Walpola Rahula’s well-known book, What the Buddha Taught (page 3).

Granted, if you’ve never actually read any Buddhist scriptures then you’d have no understanding of the kind of vocabulary and idiom that the Buddha used (or is recorded as having used) and so you perhaps wouldn’t know that the Buddha didn’t talk like a 20th century intellectual — but yet I’m still surprised that the modernity of the phrasing and vocabulary didn’t trigger some kind of alert in the minds of the many people who have passed this on.

The word “political” stands out for me. I don’t recall the Buddha using any language similar to that. My Pali-English dictionary tells me there is a term, khattadhamma, which means “the law of ruling, political science,” although it’s not clear that the Buddha used this term in any of his discourses. Rather than using concise terms like “politics” or “political” the Buddha’s suttas are far more expansive, and so when “unedifying talk” about politics is condemned it’s talk “about kings, robbers, ministers, armies, dangers, wars” etc. that is mentioned.

I wholeheartedly agree with what Rahula has to say, incidentally. Buddhism is not principally a belief system, but a system of practice. Belief is not absent in Buddhism, and faith is reckoned as an important spiritual faculty. But faith in Buddhism is more like trust or confidence. That trust or confidence is based on experience, and is in turn the basis for practice and exploration. It’s not unlike taking on a hypothesis in a scientific sense and checking it out. The hypothesis is not believed blindly, either in Buddhism or in science, but is the starting point in a search for the truth.

Rahula points out that the Buddha encouraged his disciples to voice their doubts or uncertainties about the teaching, and said that if it was out of respect for him, the teacher, that they didn’t ask questions, they should get a friend to ask for them. It’s this kind of spirit of openness and inquiry that attracted me to Buddhist practice in the first place.

Radical honesty in Buddhism

The Rev. Genryu posted a comment today that I think deserves to be amplified:

For those who keep raising the point that a quote that is misattributed to the Buddha is somehow fine because it’s nice or noble or whatever, that is entirely irrelevant. Honesty is a radical practice in Buddhism. Not just honesty when it suits us but being honest when things are misrepresented (even in a seemingly well intentioned manner).

One thing that the Buddha is recorded as saying is that when teachings or sayings are ascribed to him which he did not say, it is the duty of those who practice the Dharma to correct such misattributions. By asking Buddhists to allow misattribution and misrepresentation, once a quote is known not to be from the Buddha, you are asking them to be deliberately dishonest and to misrepresent the Buddha and the Dharma. That is not acceptable. Hold yourself to a higher standard – one of being as accurate and honest as you can be – and you will find it a far more transformative practice than making excuses for misattributed platitudes.

I’m deeply grateful for this clear expression of Dharma.

“There is pleasure and there is bliss. Forgo the first to possess the second.”

This quotation, “There is pleasure and there is bliss. Forgo the first to possess the second,” is from Thomas Byrom’s “rendering” of the Dhammapada, which is a classic Buddhist scripture. Since this quote is from a scripture, you might think that it automatically would qualify as a genuine saying from the Buddha. But there’s a problem with the word “rendering.” “Rendering” a text is apparently what you do instead of translating when you don’t know the original language.

And as far as I’m aware, Byrom didn’t know any Pali. I assume that he worked from other translations, from the Pali dictionary, and from his own creative urges. Certainly, his “renderings” often have little to do with the original language of the Dhammapada. And although this particular verse isn’t his worst, it’s certainly not very faithful to the original (which is Dhammapada 290):

If by renouncing a lesser happiness one may realize [lit. "see"] a greater happiness, let the wise man renounce the lesser, having regard for the greater. [Buddharakkhita's translation]

In Pali this is:

Mattāsukhapariccāgā passe ce vipulaṃ sukhaṃ
Caje mattāsukhaṃ dhīro sampassaṃ vipulaṃ sukhaṃ.

The verse is not split into two declarative sentences, “There is pleasure and there is bliss,” and “Forgo the first to possess the second.” Instead it is a conditional statement. First there’s the setup, “If by giving up a measure of happiness one might see a larger happiness…” followed by the statement of what, having seen this, one should do, i.e. “…the wise one, considering the larger happiness, should renounce the lesser happiness.”

One problem with using “pleasure” and “bliss” is it sounds like two qualitatively different phenomena are being discussed, while the actual Dhammapada verse is quantitative: there are smaller and larger happinesses. There’s nothing in the original about “possessing” bliss. We’ve also lost “the wise.”

I actually like Byrom’s “rendering.” It’s just not in any way an accurate translation.

Even Byrom’s chapter title is rather odd. In the Pali it’s “Pakiṇṇakavaggo” (Miscellaneous Chapter) but Byrom renders this, for some reason, as “Out of the Forest.”

“If you want to know the past, look at your present. If you want to know the future, look at your present.”

This one was passed on to me this morning by a reader who had spotted it on Facebook.

It’s all over the web, and in several books as well.

The earliest occurrence of it that I’ve seen in a book is from 1992, in Tarot of the Spirit, by Pamela Eakins, page 314. Rather handily, Eakins gives a reference, and points us toward the late Roshi Philip Kapleau’s The Three Pillars of Zen. The page she gives as a reference (294) doesn’t contain the quote, but the glossary at the end of the book contains the following in its definition of “karma.”

“Thus our present life and circumstances are the products of our past thoughts and actions, and in the same way our deeds in this life will fashion our future mode of existence.” (p. 408)

I don’t know how Eakins came to take this to be a quote from the Buddha, but it’s not, to the best of my knowledge, something that the Buddha said.

The Buddha is often hard to quote, and that’s especially the case when it comes to technical points like the operation of karma. So I’ll offer you here some words from Bhikkhu Thanissaro, who explains the Buddhist teaching of karma in relation to the past and present in an introduction to his translation of the Devadaha Sutta:

The general understanding of this teaching [on karma] is that actions from the past determine present pleasure and pain, while present actions determine future pleasure and pain. Or, to quote a recent book devoted to the topic, “Karma is the moral principle that governs human conduct. It declares that our present experience is conditioned by our past conduct and that our present conduct will condition our future experience.” This, however, does not accurately describe the Buddha’s teaching on karma, and is instead a fairly accurate account of the Nigantha [Jain] teaching, which the Buddha explicitly refutes here. As he interrogates the Niganthas, he makes the point that if all pleasure and pain experienced in the present were determined by past action, why is it that they now feel the pain of harsh treatment when they practice asceticism, and no pain of harsh treatment when they don’t? If past action were the sole determining factor, then present action should have no effect on their present experience of pleasure or pain.

In this way, the Buddha points to one of the most distinctive features of his own teaching on kamma: that the present experience of pleasure and pain is a combined result of both past and present actions. This seemingly small addition to the notion of kamma plays an enormous role in allowing for the exercise of free will and the possibility of putting an end to suffering before the effects of all past actions have ripened. In other words, this addition is what makes Buddhist practice possible, and makes it possible for a person who has completed the practice to survive and teach it with full authority to others.

It’s not uncommon, actually, for people to present as “the Buddhist teaching of karma” things that the Buddha explicitly refuted. Many times I’ve seen Tibetan Buddhists, in particular, make claims like “everything that happens to us is the result of karma,” even though that’s a teaching explicitly refuted in the Devadaha Sutta. For example, Lati Rinpoche talked about the Jewish Holocaust of the Second World War as follows:

“The victims were experiencing the consequences of their actions performed in previous lives. The individual victims must have done something very bad in earlier lives that led to their being treated in this way.”

I’ve seen other Tibetan teachers with more nuanced views, but this idea of everything that we experience being the result of our own past actions is a common one.

There’s an expanded version of this quote, which goes:

If you want to know the past, to know what has caused you, look at yourself in the present, for that is the past’s effect. If you want to know your future, then look at yourself in the present, for that is the cause of the future.

This is commonly attributed to the Majjhima Nikaya, or Middle Length Sayings, which is a Buddhist scripture, although those words are not to be found in that work.

“If you light a lamp for someone else, it will also brighten your own path”

If you light a lamp for someone else, it will also brighten your own path

This is a nice quote, but every time I saw it being shared in social media or quoted in blogs it rang an alarm bell: not because the sentiment is untrue, nor because the language was of the kind that the Buddha wouldn’t have used, but simply because in many years of reading the Pali canon and various Mahayana sutras I’d never seen it in a primary source, nor had I seen it come with a scriptural citation.

I was very grateful to have a commenter suggest that it might come from one of the works of Nichiren Daishonin, but I wasn’t able to track down the reference he gave me. However with a little searching I was able to locate the original in a passage known as “The Three Virtues of Food,” which is a fragment of a letter, written by Nichiren, possibly in 1278:

If one gives food to others, one will improve one’s own lot, just as, for example, if one lights a fire for others, one will brighten one’s own way.

This is a different translation but it’s from the same original.

Nichiren’s followers regard him as a Buddha, but when a quote is attributed to the Buddha then it’s Shakyamuni Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) that is meant, and these are not the words of the founder of Buddhism.

Again, this isn’t to question the spiritual validity of the quote. I just want to straighten out false attributions.

The most common use of a lamp metaphor in the Pali canon is not actually something said by the Buddha, but something said to the Buddha, by many who had come to talk with him. Having learned from their exchanges, these learners would exclaim, in a stock phrase,

Magnificent, lord! Magnificent! Just as if he were to place upright what was overturned, to reveal what was hidden, to show the way to one who was lost, or to carry a lamp into the dark so that those with eyes could see forms, in the same way has the Blessed One — through many lines of reasoning — made the Dhamma clear.

Nichiren’s saying is a nice reminder that when we shine our own lamp of knowledge, as the Buddha did, it illuminates the way for others as well.

One of the loveliest statements of mutual benefit that I’ve seen is from the Sedaka Sutta, and although there’s no mention of lamps I’d like to share it with you:

“I will look after myself,”
so should you, monks, practice the establishment of mindfulness.
You should (also) practice the establishment of mindfulness (by saying)
“I will look after others.”

Looking after oneself, one looks after others.
Looking after others, one looks after oneself.