“A man said to the Buddha, ‘I want Happiness.’”

A man said to the Buddha, “I want Happiness.”
Buddha said, first remove “I”, that’s ego,
then remove “want”, that’s desire.
See now you are left with only Happiness.

I only recently started seeing this one doing the rounds, and at first I ignored it, because it was so obviously fake that I didn’t think anyone would take it seriously, any more than they would think that the Dalai Lama really had gone to a hot dog vendor and asked him to make him one with everything.

And yet, it seems some people really do think that this play on words really is a conversation from some Buddhist scripture. It ain’t.

For a start, this joke wouldn’t even work in Pāli because its conjugation of verbs is rather different from English. So for example, hoti is the Pāli verb to be. While in English we indicate the first person use of this verb by adding a personal pronoun, forming “I am,” in Pāli it’s the ending of the verb that changes. To say “I am” the verb hoti becomes “homi.”

So there’s no separate word for “I” that we can remove from whatever verb would represent “want” (it might be the verb kāmeti, to desire). We’d have to remove “I” and “want” at the same time, since they’re inseparable. And maybe that’s a more Buddhist teaching, since in Buddhism the problem with our sense of personal identity is that we cling to it.. The Buddha didn’t eradicate references to himself from his speech, but he made it clear that there was nothing that he clung to as part of his sense of self. We get rid of the problem of the self by ceasing to cling to the self. The clinging and the clinging to self vanish simultaneously.

I’ve no idea where this quote originated. I’m assuming that someone was making a little Buddhist-themed joke rather than trying to claim that this is actually a canonical quote, but I haven’t, so far, managed to find a source. Or at least not an original one.

Anyway, it would be silly to take this little pun too seriously. I only decided to write it up because so many people have been concerned about people who seem to think it might be a genuine scriptural quote. If you’re one of those people, I have the address of the Dalai Lama’s hot dog vendor, if you’re interested. But be warned, you have to have the exact money, because he can’t issue change. Change, after all, comes from within.

The following two tabs change content below.

Bodhipaksa

DIrector at Wildmind
If you'd like to support the work I do here, please feel free to donate to Wildmind, the online meditation center I run, or to visit Wildmind's online meditation supplies store, where you'll find lots of meditation MP3s, CDs, and other cool stuff.

Latest posts by Bodhipaksa (see all)

67 thoughts on ““A man said to the Buddha, ‘I want Happiness.’”

  1. Thank you for providing this necessary service. The Buddha should not be used to validate random platitudes and glib nonsense. Buddha soda can’t be far behind.

      • I’m a Buddhist from Sri Lanka. I’m sorry to say this but using Buddha for brands and businesses is not much of a good thing, in another way it’s kind of insulting. And I wonder what kind of a Buddhist you are, promoting those disgusting brands which happened to be using Buddha in such inaccurate ways. That’s no good for Buddhism

          • I think Ishan didn’t understand the context or that you were being facetious. Sarcasm doesn’t translate well anywhere.

          • Hmmm. I wouldn’t have thought of that as sarcasm, but I see what you mean.

  2. I don’t think it’s important if the Buddha actually said it. The important thing is that the phrase makes sense with the Buddhas view of happiness and ego… and I think it does. Buddha himself didn’t want to be no one’s master, he said we should be our own masters, so in that order if someone makes his own phrase out of Buddhas teachings, there is nothing wrong with that. Now, if the phrase goes with or against Buddhas teaching, that’s another discussion, but I think it does a good job. Cheers!

    • “The important thing is that the phrase makes sense with the Buddhas view of happiness and ego… and I think it does.”

      Unfortunately it doesn’t make sense at all and could be considered to be “wrong view”; the Buddha never used the term “ego” and such a psychological concept didn’t even exist at that point in history. When asked whether or not there was such a thing as a self, he did not reply. Why? Because to posit the existence or non-existence of a self would be to invoke it’s opposite in ignorant minds, thus causing the perpetuation of ignorance and continued suffering. In directly experiencing anatta (not-self), as taught by the Buddha, it becomes immediately apparent why quotations like this, while entertaining, are not accurate.

      If you want to learn what the Buddha taught, go read his words and not the words of others who misrepresent the dharma. There are plenty of good sources for genuine quotes from the Buddha, this site being one of them, so don’t waste your time on trying to force-fit fake quotations.

      May you find an end to suffering in this lifetime.

      • Do wonder why people get so hung up on whether a particular saying is attributable to someone or not. Doesn’t any teaching, if it provides what the person needed in order to advance them a bit further down the path to enlightenment, have value? Isn’t this what the ‘Parable of the raft’ teaches? Don’t get hung up on whatever it is that enables you to cross the river because once it has achieved what it has set out to do you will put it aside anyway.

        • “Hung up” is a rather tendentious term. To say that “the Buddha said x” when the Buddha did not, as far as we know, say x, is to make a statement that is false. I’m bothered about making false statements, myself. I’d rather speak the truth if I at all can.

          Also, many of the things put into the mouth of the Buddha are not even in accord with the Buddha’s teaching. If you’re talking about rafts, don’t you want to get on a raft that’s taking you in the right direction :)

          • I hate that false Buddha quotes are being posted, but this one does have a lot of relevance to the teachings of Buddha. Although I may be wrong in the way I view things, I have never worried on whether the Buddha said this or that, or if he was even real. To me his memory, his image motivates me, teaches me to be a person who accepts their own truths and paths. Yes this quote may not make sense in the Buddha’s native tongue. Yes it may even offend others because of it being posted in the form of a lie. But if you strip away the circumstances and the origin, this quote can be seen as an enlightened way of thinking. As long as the quote is not spreading hate or false impressions, I have no hard feelings about the deceit. Since many non- Buddhists will look at this quote and find motivation to study up on the ways of the real Buddha, I am content.

  3. There were many Buddha, which one specifically was it “not”?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddha_%28disambiguation%29

    Buddhism

    Gautama Buddha, founder of Buddhism, clan name Gautama (Sanskrit; Pali: Gotama), personal name said to be Siddhārtha (Sanskrit; Pali: Siddhattha), epithet Śākyamuni (Sanskrit; Pali: Sakyamuni or Shakyamuni), commonly known as “The Buddha”

    Other figures considered to be Buddhas by various Buddhist groups include:

    Budai, the Laughing Buddha, a figure in traditional Chinese culture
    Adi-Buddha, the primordial Buddha
    Akshobhya, one of the Five Wisdom Buddhas of the Vajrayana tradition of Buddhism; lord of the Eastern Pure Land Abhirati
    Amitābha, one of the Five Wisdom Buddhas of the Vajrayana tradition of Buddhism; principal Buddha of the Pure Land sect
    Amoghasiddhi, one of the Five Wisdom Buddhas of the Vajrayana tradition of Buddhism
    Dipankara, First Buddha of the current world age
    Tonpa Shenrab, Buddha of the Bön religion
    Ratnasambhava, one of the Five Wisdom Buddhas of the Vajrayana tradition of Buddhism
    Vairocana, one of the Five Wisdom Buddhas of the Vajrayana tradition of Buddhism; embodiment of Dharmakaya

    • When a quote is attributed to “the Buddha” it’s being attributed to the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni. So if something is being said here to not have been said by the Buddha, it’s being said not to have been said by Shakyamuni. Of course we don’t know what the Buddha did or did not say, so to say that something was not said by the Buddha is shorthand for “it’s not in the scriptures attributed to the Buddha.”

      • Isn’t it amazing that Buddha’s life (and his quotes) come from just around the time he was live (600 years before Christ) and over these years He has not been converted into a God (of course that was because he insisted he was not one) whereas so many teachers / saints / social activists / gurus are today accepted as God (or his son). Buddha’s message has been so powerful it has endured without much mutation. We today know He was just a human who one day just ‘got it’! In 600 BC! Amazing!

    • …..or it specifically was “not” The Buddha to which the quote is being attributed to all over the internet, in the first instance.

  4. One can create a story with anyone as the protagonist. Perhaps this story isn’t “true” in that the words actually came out of the Buddha’s mouth, but it is still a good story that illustrates an excellent point.

    Another thing to consider is that Buddha probably didn’t have a transcriptionist at his service throughout his entire life. Who knows what actual stories may surround the Buddha that we may never know…

    • It seems like the hundredth time I’ve said this on this blog, but no doubt I’ll say it hundreds of times more :)

      Saying that a quote is not recorded as having been said by the Buddha is not the same as saying that the quote is invalid. All I’m saying is that this quote does not come from the Buddhist scriptures.

      I think everyone’s aware that not everything the Buddha said was recorded, but that’s not of any relevance.

  5. May I please post this on Facebook on my page? I love it and of course agree…:-) This was made up by either some well-meaning person or someone who is simply mocking Eastern teachings. I have seen a poster with HH Dalai Lama’s name on it with some of the most pedantic New Age sayings on it…

  6. I’m very new to the teachings of the Buddha. My comment here has 2 purposes, one, I understand that the above quote was not in the scripture, and as such has no attributes to the Buddha, but doesn’t it fit into a modern interpretation? If you saw a man with a limp and using a stick to walk, but the stick was old and hard to use, and you, having knowledge of a newer, more sturdy stick, would you not offer it to the older man in order to better help him on his way?
    Second, as previously stated, I’m very new and any insight that you can share on where a good place to start reading and meditating, would be most appreciated.
    Thank you.

    • Well, I gave my opinion of the quote above, and I don’t find it very helpful. Happiness is not exactly the point of Buddhist practice, for example. It’s not dreadful, just lame.

      I’m not making a general point that “old is good” and “new is bad.” In this particular case this quote is misattributed to the Buddha, and to say its his words is false speech, which is an unskillful act in Buddhist terms. And in this case I just don’t think the “stick” is a very good one.

      I think an excellent place to start researching the buddha’s teaching is Bhikkhu Bodhi’s “In the Buddhas’s Words,” which is a compilation of translations from the Pali along with superb essays by the good Bhikkhu.

      • Hi, just come across your site and I wanted to say how I entirely agree with your mission.
        What I don’t quite is your comment that happiness is ‘lame’. As the Dalai Lama & Matheiu Ricard have both written books on the Art of Happiness, would you please clarify what you mean ?
        Surely there is lesser happiness & greater happiness? Do you think that ‘pleasure’ would be better defined as lame, instead?
        Many thanks.

          • Thanks for replying.
            Just wondering why anyone would want to put out fake quotes? Is there something going on here or is it just plain mischief?

          • Sometimes it’s just misinterpretation, for example when someone sees a quote attributed to “The Teaching of the Buddha,” which is actually a book title, and takes it to be a quote from the Buddha. Sometimes it’s because people think a quote will be taken more seriously if it’s attributed to the Buddha rather than to “anon.” or someone relatively obscure. And sometimes, I’m sure, it’s mischief.

          • I agree with your points. Translations of the original words by Buddha are acceptable if they skilfully transmit the core essence of the teaching, and show right understanding. But this quote simply does not. So I’m sorry, but with respect I have to disagree that this is not dreadful. It is dreadful & toxic.

  7. If the quote itself has value, then why not attribute it to it’s true speaker? The problem with the fake quotations is that they exploit the respect that people have for the Buddha and his teachings. I actually like this quotation, rather it came from the Buddha or Phil from Reddit. This is not to say that I believe it agrees with Buddhist teachings.

  8. I figured it probably wasn’t a real quote seeing as I saw it in cartoon-form first, but at the same time it really is a pretty good, basic description of some of the teachings of Buddhism.

    • Specifically when it comes to shedding ego and desire. Happiness is not the goal of Buddhism, but Buddha also understood that not everyone could live the life of the monk. For those not seeking the path of spiritual enlightenment, basic teachings like shedding ego and desire would most certainly help them achieve a level of happiness or contentedness.

  9. No enlightment comes from discussion. It is not something you learn outside yourself, but within. You are not going to find enlightment in Siddhārtha’s words nor in, Adi-Buddha word´s nor in Dalai Lama’s word. You will find only within yourself. These words are not diminished because they don´t belong to buddha nor these words were to be exalted if they belonged to buddha.

    • Well, historically it seems as if quite a lot of people have gained enlightenment through discussion. There are many examples of such in the Buddhist scriptures. And that’s one of the values of studying the Dharma — it challenges your preconceptions and opens you to new possibilities.

      Enlightenment is indeed to be found internally, but that doesn’t rule out benefitting from the words of the Buddha or from other spiritual teachers. Few of us would have made any progress without guidance from those wiser than us.

      • Historically, scriptures…what other said, what others lived…You show great knowledge about others and too little about yourself. You will only find what you seek only when you start looking within yourself.

        Dhamma is not suposed to be intelectual amusement.

        • Ricardo. Please don’t fall into the delusion of thinking you know me. You don’t know me, or know what I have sought or found.

          Any why are you wasting your time on the “intellectual amusement” of reading a blog about fake Buddha quotes? Shouldn’t you be off “looking within”?

          • Well, if my words were of no use to you then I wasted my time, if they were of any use to you or anyone who is reading this then the time was not wasted.

            And I do know this, one can become enlighted in a monastery without ever hearing the word dhamma, than one that holds all the scriptures in the memory.

            I hope to see a blog about your own words not others…

            See beyond the words of others…Sometimes people use different, even oposite words to express the same experiences.

          • “I hope to see a blog about your own words not others… See beyond the words of others.”

            You do know about my other blogs, and my books?

  10. No, but I would be glad to take a look. Could you point them out for me? It is always good to get to know other people experiences…Even though I could never really tell what you´ve been through, through your words.

  11. Buddha can refer to the historical Buddha Shakyamuni or to anyone who has attained full enlightenment. Assuming the Buddha in this quote is Shakyamuni and then calling it fake is well …. you know how to spell assume.

    • No, that’s incorrect. If a quote is attributed to the Buddha, that means it’s attributed to the historical individual known as Gautama, Siddhartha Gautama, or Shakyamuni. If you assume otherwise … well, you know also how to spell assume :)

  12. I do not want to be insulting in any way but I want to speak truth. The truth is that Buddhism is not about love, it is about pride. If you are searching this forum for truth stop now and instead read the words of Jesus Christ, who did not come to give you a little secret teaching, or to show some mysterious way to enlightenment that only the enlightened being can understand, but who came to shine His simpe light of truth upon men so that the humble may come before him and bow down, separating the wheat from the tares. Don’t let your pride get in the way of salvation which is only through Jesus Christ, who said “I am the Way, I am the Truth, and I am the Light……”

    • It’s almost a law of the universe that someone who opens with “I do not want to be insulting…” fully intends to be very insulting indeed.

      I contemplated deleting your comment or even marking it as spam, but I decided to leave it up here, so that people can see how arrogant your behavior is.

      • I am sorry. I guess I didn’t need to start out by saying that. You are right, it was wrong to say. I think that I said that because the truth always tends to be perceived as an insult by those who refuse to accept it or have a different set of man centered beliefs. However truth by its very definition can not be relative, it must be narrow and subjective, just as Jesus taught. Just read the words of Jesus that is all I am trying to say. He was not just a great teacher who died and was buried like Buhdda or any other great teacher. He was and claimed to be God incarnate in the flesh, and was resurrected from the dead and seen by many. All of this was accompanied by many miracles, which is why Christianity spread so fast. People do not willfully lead themselves to torture and death for a lie. Just read the gospels and see what God has already accomplished for you. There is no work or knowledge of man that can even remotely compare. Prophecy is another amazing testimony, take a look at the newspaper and see the Middle East gearing up for the battle of Arrmageddon foretold thousands of years ago in the holy scriptures.
        Prayers

        • “The truth always tends to be perceived as an insult by those who refuse to accept it.” That’s sometimes true. It’s also often the case that insults are perceived as insults.

          For example, “Buddhism is not about love, it is about pride,” is not truth. It’s egregiously inaccurate, and I’m quite sure it was intended as an insult. Buddhism is about the opposite of pride. It’s about the relinquishment of self-clinging, and the grasping and ill will that accompany self-clinging. I can’t say that all Buddhists manage to pull this off, but at least I’ve never felt the need to Christian blogs in order to leave insulting comments.

          “A little secret teaching.” Again, outrageously inaccurate. The Buddha did not give “secret teachings.”

          “I have taught the Dhamma, Ānanda, without making any distinction between exoteric and esoteric doctrine; for in respect of the truths, Ānanda, the Tathāgata has no such thing as the closed fist of a teacher who hides some essential knowledge from the pupil.”

          “…Some mysterious way to enlightenment that only the enlightened being can understand.” This is tautological as well as inaccurate. If the way to enlightenment could only be understood by the enlightened, then no one would ever be able to become enlightened. The Buddha’s teaching is accessible to anyone.

          “Just read the gospels and see what God has already accomplished for you.” You’re rather presumptuous. I, along with many Buddhists, have read the Bible and found it to be lacking.

          Perhaps you should take up meditation. It might clear your mind and help you to let go of some of your hatred and confusion.

        • What I wanted to say in the last post was narrow and objective not narrow and subjective. Once again very sorry if I insulted you. I should have been more thoughtful about my first post. It was a mistake that I now recognize.

  13. How can an insult be percieved as an insult when everything is an illusion?

    Remember love and compassion are two very different things. There is no fear in love. But Perfect love drives out all fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18.

    The relinquishing of self clinging is based on the self. It is trying by your own power to make yourself free from yourself. Christ has already accomplished what many try to do their entire lives in vain through meditation. The only real freedom is knowing the Truth. Jesus called Himself truth, and also said know the truth and the truth shall set you free.

    Sorry I guess it just seems that a lot of buddhists I meet act like they hold some secret knowledge. Like calm and mysterious. Don’t want to stereotype. Being a Christian I know how unjust that can be.

    The word enlightenment looks down on the world. It says I am above. The Lord says that “the wisdom of men is foolishness unto God”. We are to be humbled not enlightened. We are to serve not out of compassion but out of true love for one another. Love The Lord thy God with all your mind, heart, soul, and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.

    There is nothing lacking in Jesus Christ, he was perfect. So if you find the Bible to be lacking you have not seen Christ, who was the fulfillment of all the scriptures.

    I meditate every single day…on the Word of God. Not just with my mind but with my heart. This fills one with the Holy Spirit. Emptiness allows many unclean spirits to enter in, and is a very spiritually dangerous practice.

    I definitely am confused in just about everything except my faith in Jesus Christ, which at the end is the only thing that actually matters. And no I assure you that if you spoke with me in person you would realize that I am not in the least filled with hatred, save that which is evil in the eyes if God. Amazing that someone who has the ability to relinquish self clinging could make such rash assumptions about someone by reading a few posts on the Internet. As for me I am just a fallen human being like everyone else. I made some rash comments and assumptions that I apologize for. I am just trying to help those out there who are “always learning but never coming to a knowledge of the truth”. 2 Timothy 3:7.

    There is true salvation in Jesus Christ and if you seek Him you shall find it. In
    John 10:9 Jesus says “I am am the door; if any man enter through me he shall be saved”. Jesus was not playing around. He made some astonishing claims that should not be taken lightly. He said that He was God in flesh and that no man can be saved but through Him. He also said that man is appointed once to live and once die and then the judgment. Just give it so thought that’s all.

    • “How can an insult be percieved as an insult when everything is an illusion?”

      First, Buddhism doesn’t teach that everything is an illusion. Second, I don’t take your comments personally. It’s like when one of my children calls me a poopyhead — if I chastise them it’s for their benefit, not because I feel insulted. (I’m not saying that I never feel insulted, just that in this case I don’t.)

      “The relinquishing of self clinging is based on the self. It is trying by your own power to make yourself free from yourself.”

      Actually, there is no “self” to do any relinquishing. The idea of self that you have is a delusion, and so it leads you into thinking in dualistic terms of self-power versus other-power. Actually, neither of those terms corresponds with reality. It takes a great deal of observation for this to be anything but an idea, but the truth of these things has been seen by many.

      “A lot of buddhists I meet act like they hold some secret knowledge. Like calm and mysterious.”

      This seems to mean two things: 1. You find Buddhists to be calm. 2. You think there is something mysterious about Buddhists. I don’t think Buddhists can be held responsible for what you think about them. I don’t believe I’ve ever met a Buddhist who held onto what they knew as a secret. Generally Buddhists are only too happy to talk about their practice. They don’t, on the other hand, tend to go around proselytizing and trying to force their beliefs and practices on others, so perhaps that’s part of the “mystery” you think they have.

      “Emptiness allows many unclean spirits to enter in, and is a very spiritually dangerous practice.”

      That’s so charmingly iron age! Unclean spirits! I love it. Also, your views on Buddhism and meditation seem to rest entirely on what you’ve read in Christian tracts.

      Really, I doubt if many people here are interested in reading about Christianity. Having someone say that if I find the Bible lacking it’s because I haven’t found Christ is as persuasive as hearing that if I find the Bhagavad Gita lacking it’s because I haven’t found Krishna. Now do you find yourself suddenly wanting to explore the Bhagavad Gita? No, I didn’t think you. Your attempts to persuade me of the validity of your religious tradition have the same effect on me.

  14. Dear Bodhipaksa
    you poor, patient man, having to read all this.
    Your Fake Buddha Quotes site, is interesting and very important for Buddhism.
    What else would people expect to see, on a site by this name, other than quotes attributed to the Buddha that the Buddha didn’t say.
    Perhaps there should be a site called “Things That The Buddha Didn’t Say But We Like Them Anyway And Maybe He Did Say Them But I Don’t Think He Did And By The Way We Like Jesus Too” but that would be a silly name for a website.
    So thank you for your diligence.
    Theravada monks have been doing the same thing, since the time of The Buddha, just trying to keep things as The Buddha had left them.
    People like you (and Bhikkhu Bodhi) are essential, because of the internet, to keep things under control.
    Otherwise, 1000 years from now, we’ll be left with nothing.
    Thank you

    • Perfectly said…thank you…I just fell into this site tonight and enjoyed the dialogue created by Justin. And I agree, the words of the Buddha should not be watered down and should remain as true and clear as possible as it is handed down…Otherwise it becomes like the memory game played as children, where one starts a sentence and whispers it to another and then to another…etc…the end result….is nothing like the first sentence….The teachings are just much to important…to all.

      • @Maria, your analogy of memory game is the best so far in explaining why the need to refer back to the original source to see what the original words of buddha were.
        I think the purpose for correcting these fake quotes are not to say that other writers are not allowed to translate or render these teaching into modern language so that it can be better understood in the modern world which I believe the teaching needed badly.
        Rather, I notice in this popular internet culture, more and more over simplified ideas are being associate with buddha’s teaching that tend to simplify the teaching to the point of misleading just as some ideas that Justin has mentioned above. I believe there is a need to examine these quotes not only to see if it is exactly as quoted from buddha’s scripture but also whether it is correct interpretation of original buddha’s teaching.
        I do notice that it is very easy to form misunderstanding in the depth of the teaching if we are not being alert.

  15. 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.

  16. Just want to say Thank you for all the work you do on this site and Wildmind they help me greatly in understanding the Dharma.

  17. First, I obviously agree with what you are doing and think it’s a great service actually.

    Second, I enjoyed your conversation with Justin because it was like watching a Buddhist practice Right Speech and patience. It is also sometimes amusing to see a non-Buddhist comment on doctrine.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>