“When you realize how perfect everything is, you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky.”

I came across this one in the feed of someone who started following me on Twitter. Here’s a link to the original status update.

When you realize how perfect everything is, you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky. ~ Buddha

This of course bears no resemblance to anything the Buddha’s recorded as having said.

With some Fake Buddha Quotes it’s possible to trace the origins to a bad translation or some other obvious misattribution (for example a quote appears in a book called “The Teaching of the Buddha,” is subsequently quoted and attributed “The Teaching of the Buddha,” and is then requoted as attributed to “the Buddha”). But this one’s rather mysterious. It simply starts appearing on the web about 2005 2004. The first mention I have found so far is on Nov 29, 2005 on a blog on a forum post dated November 30, 2004, as a signature. In 2007 it appears in “A Year of Questions,” by Fiona Robyn, and (in a slightly different form) in “Hell in the Hallway,” by Sandi Bachom. This of course lends the quote a false air of legitimacy, and it’s now found in most of the appalling quotes sites that litter the web.

If you come across any references to this quote earlier than November 2004, please let me know.

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85 thoughts on ““When you realize how perfect everything is, you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky.”

  1. Pingback: Tricycle » This is Getting Old: A discussion on aging at the Tricycle Community Book Club

  2. Sounds like a stanza from a Tibetan Dzoghcen text:

    thams cad mnyam rdzogs sgyu ma’i rang bzhin la//
    bzang ngan blang dor med pas dgod re bro//

    Since everything is but an illusion,
    Perfect in being what it is,
    Having nothing to do with good or bad,
    Acceptance or rejection,
    One might as well burst out laughing!

    from chapter 1 of The Great Perfection’s Self-Liberation in the Nature of Mind, by Longchenpa (1308-1364)

    • That’s very interesting, thanks. Zen and the Tibetan tradition are big on laughter. I don’t recall the Buddha of the Pali texts ever being described as laughing. I’m sure he did, however, and it’s just been edited out.

      • Neither is there a record of any of the noble disciples laughing. When you’re trying to memorize as much as possible to preserve for future generations, maybe the more frivolous episodes were considered frivolous. :-)

      • Can’t remember exactly where it is, but I think there’s a place in the suttas where it is said (by the Buddha I think) that Buddhas do not laugh, but they do smile.

  3. This quote is actually published in a book titled, “1001 Pearls of Yoga Wisdom” by Liz White. In fact, I think might have read it to my yoga class… :s

    • If you do a search on http://books.google.com/ you’ll find it’s in a lot of books. Once a Fake Buddha Quote is in print, it develops a life of its own. Frankly I’m surprised publishers don’t ask authors to do more fact-checking. For my own books I’ve had to spend many hours in libraries, tracking down obscure volumes so that I could send photocopies in to my publisher in order to verify the quotes.

  4. Years ago I had an initiated Sufi and Zen teacher who stated that people rarely read the words that Buddha wrote but would spend all their time reading and quoting secondary sources. It is similar to Christians reading interpretations of the Bible and being unfamiliar with what the Bible actually says.

    • That’s very much my experience as well. A lot of people don’t even read books that are “about” Buddhism (in the sense of outlining and explaining Buddhist teachings) but that are more along the lines of “how Buddhism can make you happy.” Admittedly, a lot of Buddhist scriptures aren’t very approachable and need a lot of commentary in order to bring out their meaning.

  5. As obscure as the origins of this quote is, I still find it to be incredibly beautiful.

    However, I am still hoping someone will be able to clear the mystery behind it here.

  6. Certainly I can not substantiate if the Buddha said this or not. But I have met numerous Lamas and Rinpoches that have indeed said this in many ways and in almost the same words. It is a marvelous statement, absolutely marvelous.

  7. Dan,…. please…this is not meant to be take so literally…as if one was laughing at the sky making fun of the sky…
    Laughing at the sky is to lift up ones awareness which at laugh with pure joy of the realization of the spaciousness of everything and it’s emptiness which is vast as the sky. Peace.

  8. How can there be such thing as a “fake” Buddha quote since we all have the potential to be Buddhas, in essence, we are all Buddhas. Siddh?rtha Gautama aka “The Buddha” (or the “one” people claim to be the Buddha) himself, when asked what he was, replied, “I am awake.” And that is all the word, Buddha means, the awakened, or enlightened, one.

    Just like Jesus, Moses, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Siddhartha Gautama was not seeking to acquire followers or fans, nor for people to treat him as someone or something more special than anyone else. These people were living their lives as examples for the rest of humanity, sharing the truth within their hearts, lighting the way, hoping that other people would see that the same was/is possible for them, for everyone.

    I truly believe that he would be laughing at the mere notion and/or concept of the existence of a “fake” buddha quote. ;)))

    • I don’t know where to start. Did the Buddha say “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99% perspiration”? No, that was Thomas Edison (more or less). If you take the words of someone else and put them in the Buddha’s mouth, that’s a false attribution, or as I prefer to call it, a Fake Buddha Quote.

      How is it relevant whether the Buddha did or did not want followers? (For a man who didn’t seek followers, he had an awful lot of them, incidentally, and he even went seeking them, but never mind that for now). How is it relevant if he did or did not want people to treat him as more special than anyone else? (Although five minute’s perusal of the Buddhist scriptures will reveal that he reportedly was very insistent on being treated with respect). If I just make something up and say the Buddha said it, that’s a fake Buddha quote. If I take something clearly attributable to another person and say the Buddha said it, that’s a fake Buddha quote. If I “translate” the Buddha’s words so badly that I’m turning them into an entirely different message, that’s a fake Buddha quote.

      Whether you believe the Buddha would laugh at the “notion and/or concept” (what’s the difference between a notion and a concept anyway?) of a fake Buddha quote is neither here nor there. You can imagine whatever you want about the Buddha. We do however, if you care to read the Buddhist scriptures, see numerous examples of the Buddha being confronted by people asking him about various “quotes” he had been said to utter, denying that they were from him, and putting the record straight. The Buddha, apparently, was very familiar with the concept of the “Fake Buddha Quote” and he’s not, I’m afraid, recorded as having laughed at any of them, never mind having laughed at the very “notion and/or concept.”

      I’d suggest that it’s useful to actually read the Buddhist scriptures before making pronouncements about what the Buddha was like and what he believed.

      • Its amazing to me that someone who is quite so into this topic would be quite as rude as you, Bodhipaksa. It takes away from any authority you may have on the subject. Instead of arguing with people, find your similarities and try to have a positive exchange. It’s what Buddha would want :)

        • I’m afraid I’ve no idea what I’ve said that you consider to be rude.

          As for “find(ing) your similarities and try(ing) to have a positive exchange,” that’s fine. But the Buddha was not one to shy away from critiquing other’s views, and I follow in his footsteps in that regard. I believe that a spiritually positive exchange is unlikely to result from blithely overlooking others’ lack of logic or their factual inaccuracies.

          • If we leave the teaching to the Buddha, then the Dharma is dead and gone. We need to constantly practice, and to pass on what we’ve understood.

          • I enjoyed this exchange thoroughly.

            If we can’t find the truth in something as mundane as a quote, where else shall we seek?

          • I think they are trying to say, that in Buddhism there is no such thing as Dogma. However it seems you are arguing everything, to the contrary. People write books. People cant remember what they ate last tuesday. Who cares what the Buddha said? It is the issue I have with “Buddhism”, too many Buddhists and not enough beginners.

          • Keep up the good fight, bodhipaksa. The comments are more disturbing than the quotes! I just had a great bowel movement. Shall I attribute it to the Buddha?

  9. I agree with the quote but it’s obviously not something Buddha would say.

    That wasn’t his form of medicine. When you devote your life to spread the noble truth of Suffering, you’re not teaching perfection

    • In response to the statement, “I agree with the quote but it’s obviously not something Buddha would say.That wasn’t his form of medicine. When you devote your life to spread the noble truth of Suffering, you’re not teaching perfection.” by Karl Baba.

      The Noble truth of Suffering is a lesson intended to be used as what I call a “pointer”. The meditation on the concept of life being suffering is one that leads (i.e. points) the practitioner to an awareness that we are the creators of our suffering. When we realize this and accept this into our practice we then begin the transformation of our perspective and how we choose to view our place in this world in human form. This is some times referred to as bliss consciousness or God consciousness. We are the creators of our reality. If we choose suffering then we live a life of suffering. However, when we realize that we have a chose in this matter then a shift in consciousness takes place which enables us to become awake to the life that we are creating in this moment. This state is a state of higher consciousness that allows us to let go of suffering. In the letting go of suffering one understands and is made aware that everything in this moment is as it should be. Everything is perfect as it is. It could not be any other way. Love is what emerges from this realization. Love for everything and everyone. We are all part of the one.

      Choose not to suffer and you make the chose to Love ; )

      • Hi, could you help me clear some doubts on “Everything is perfect as it is”? because as my interpretation. If everything is already perfect at the moment, I don’t find the needs to contribute or make changes to my surrounding. Thanks!

        • You may like to check out the Taoist philosophy of “wu wei” — roughly, “do nothing, and everything is done.”

          If you don’t find the need to contribute or make changes, that is perfect. If you do find the need to make changes, then continue doing so. That, too, is perfect. Most of us do find that need, whether or not everything is perfect.

          You may say “that is illogical.” The Dharma transcends logic.

          • Maybe your views are in line with Taoist philosophy, but they have no resemblance to what the Buddha taught.

      • This is good Hinduism, but very bad Buddhism. The Buddha in fact, claimed the opposite, that everything(sabbe sankhara) is imperfect/unsatisfactory(dukkha).

      • There is also little evidence the historical Buddha’s name was not Siddhartha Gautama. I’ve been a student of Buddhism for a long time and this is the first I’ve ever heard of this sort of theory. This was somebody’s blogpost not any kind of peer reviewed paper. The guy has no serious qualifications. The arguments for both names being fabricated were quite weak. Sort of like, well Joseph Smith couldn’t have been the son of a salesman because Smith is clearly the name of a metal smith. Let’s be more rigorous before we start passing around stuff like this.

        • The simple fact is that the name “Siddhartha/Siddhatha” doesn’t appear until rather late, which is exceedingly peculiar. Perhaps the Buddha’s first name was preserved as some kind of “secret” for centuries, even being kept out of the suttas. Perhaps someone, a few hundred years after the Buddha, decided to spill the beans. But it’s equally likely that his first name was simply never used, out of respect, that it was forgotten, and that a new name was invented for him.

          As for the argument from disbelief (you’ve been a Buddhist for a long time and you’ve never heard this), that’s a logical fallacy. Many Buddhists “know” that the Buddha went forth because he saw the four sights, and yet in the Pali canon the Buddha tells this story about someone else. What practicing Buddhists “know” and what reality is don’t always coincide.

  10. Since the Buddha spoke Pali, an energetic language, a translation into English (mostly intellectual) is very difficult. Therefore we should go off of what the Buddha may or may not have said, ;) “Don’t beleive a word I say”…His teachings are purly based on experientials and if it works for u great use it if not u must abandon it… If this quote works for you in some way to liberate ur suffering then use it, Bodhipaksa is simply outting fake quotes he is not denying the truth of it that it may have for some people…Yet, even Bodhipaksa is using an opinion , he never met the physical Buddha (Siddhartha), he is going off of research and texts and translations. . . and in that respect I would say he is both right and wrong …Not everyword Buddha said was documented and most are severly misinterpreted…Buddha never wrote anything down in fact it wasnt written until after his death…And this is possibly a reason he didnt. :) Om Tat Sat

  11. Actually, we don’t know whether the Buddha spoke Pali, or whether Pali was a spoken language or perhaps a literary construction. There are indications that Pali is based on (or was) a language spoken in the north west of India, far from where the Buddha was born, lived, and taught. It just so happens that the only complete canon we have is in Pali, but had history turned out differently we could have had many different recensions of the canon in different languages.

    Anyway … in some cases it’s possible to trace a Fake Buddha Quote back to a modern author, or to a mistranslation, which makes it possible to say that the quote didn’t originate with the Buddha.

  12. To make things even more complicated, the Tibetan teacher Minling Khandro Rinpoche (one of the only female Rinpoches that I have ever heard of), for her 2012 New Year address combined this quote with one by Jean Houston.

    “When you realize how perfect everything is you will tilt your head back
    and laugh at the sky. At the height of laughter, the universe is
    flung into a kaleidoscope of possibilities.”

  13. I came across this discussion while looking for a quote to add to a painting I’m doing with a laughing buddha on it. Does anyone know of any good laughter quotes by Buddha or by any of the buddhist teachers? Thanks.

    • You might want to know that the “Laughing Buddha” isn’t the Buddha, but is a figure called Ho Tei. He’s identified with a historical monk, but he’s really a kind of household deity of prosperity. In Asia he’s also identified with Maitreya, who is the mythical Buddha who, it’s said, will follow Gautama Buddha.

      Gautama doesn’t seem to have been big on laughter! As far as I can recall, there isn’t a single instance of him laughing in the entire Pali canon, which is many times the length of the Bible. Typical quotes are things like:

      When this world is ever ablaze, why this laughter, why this jubilation? Shrouded in darkness, will you not see the light? (Dhammapada)

      Shedding laughter, chattering, lamentation, hatred, deception, deviousness, greed, pride, confrontation, roughness, astringency, infatuation, one should go about free of
      intoxication, steadfast within. (Sutta Nipata)

      You’d have better luck in the Zen tradition, which seems very austere, but which is actually a laugh-riot compared to the Pali tradition. For example the monk Ryokan wrote:

      Everyone eats rice
      Yet no one knows why.
      When I say this now
      People laugh at me.
      If they laugh, that’s just fine.
      Laughing is something I like, too!
      Laughing and laughing, we won’t stop.
      We’ll welcome Maitreya here and now.

      That last two lines would be very appropriate to accompany a “laughing Buddha,” especially since he’s associated with Maitreya.

      • One thing that is forbidden to monks and nuns in the Vinaya is to tickle someone (because a monk was once died from being tickled). Disparaging jokes are also forbidden. In general, laughing out loud seems not to be done. Not that Theravadan Buddhist monks and nuns don’t have good senses of humor. They do. In my experience they smile, smile broadly or chuckle a bit, but don’t do out-loud open-mouthed laughs. Immodest perhaps ?

        Thank you for the information on fake quotes attributed to the Buddha.

          • I don’t have a systematic list, I’m afraid, but it you look at the right sidebar you’ll see a heading “Tags and Categories,” and the two links underneath should take you to those I’ve mentioned in blog posts. I have bunch more that I haven’t investigated yet — some of which may be genuine (or at least canonical, which may not always be the same thing), although my guess is that they’re all fake. They just keep on coming!

        • I’m a big fan of How to Train a Wild Elephant, and I’m honored that you commented.

          I recall a passage in the Pali canon where the Buddha smiles, and Ananda thinks to himself, “Not for nothing does the blessed one smile,” which gives him and opening to ask the Buddha what he’s thinking about. I believe the Buddha was recalling a previous life…

          I’m glad that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is fond of a good laugh! Presumably the Tibetan vinaya is a little more permissive.

  14. It is remarkably similar to this quote:

    “Since everything is like an ‘apparition,’
    Perfect in just being ‘What It Is’ — as it is.
    Having nothing to do with ‘good’ or ‘bad,’
    ‘acceptance’ or ‘rejection’ —
    You might as well just burst out laughing!”

    — Tibetan master Longchenpa, fourteenth century Tibet

  15. I wouldn’t have said it was “remarkably” similar, but you do get the idea in Zen, also, that insight experiences can be accompanied by hilarity. I suspect the Buddha liked at least a good chuckle, and that he wasn’t as po-faced as the Pali canon would have him.

  16. The stoic statues of a Buddha tell a tale of a serious man… He doesn’t really look like the life of the party…I ask you to try this…sit where you are, open your eyes and engage fully in the moment, notice the colors become richer the moment more real, try for just a second not to engage in thoughts of past or future…This technique brings immense joy when practiced. It’s all about experience, if it works then use it to better the world by bringing joy. You may even find you will start to laugh…go ahead, laugh. And this is where the Buddhas are, fully engaged in the present moment, it is not boring as u may think from statues and pictures, in fact its completely engaging each moment new and innocent and fresh. What’s boring is the same thing over and again, delusion after delusion spinning around for eons, quite boring…
    How about this quote: ( I believe the Buddha asked us to decide truth for ourselves…) Historical or not.

    “Don’t blindly believe what I say. Don’t believe me because others convince you of my words. Don’t believe anything you see, read, or hear from others, whether of authority, religious teachers or texts. Don’t rely on logic alone, nor speculation. Don’t infer or be deceived by appearances.”
    “Do not give up your authority and follow blindly the will of others. This way will lead to only delusion.”
    “Find out for yourself what is truth, what is real. Discover that there are virtuous things and there are non-virtuous things. Once you have discovered for yourself give up the bad and embrace the good.”
    Om Tat Sat :)

  17. Pingback: Laughing at the sky « a twisted pair

  18. Interesting disscussion on this quote. It’s beginning may be a mystery, but it’s reality certainly has been my experience!!

  19. This quote showed up on my “buddha quotes” app for android, I just assumed everything on there was what from the dhammapada – now I think I should just read the original texts rather than get 140 character-ish adages from the internet.

    • Sadly, when someone’s creating a “Buddha Quotes” app or webpage they simply go to another app or webpage and copy their quotes. And so misattributed quotes spread further and further.

  20. You know, for a moment I thought the same thing too, if those were really Buddha’s words. It did sound more Dzogchen/Mahamudra or Zen.
    Then I thought, “mind the gap”…

    Then i just tilted my head back and laughed at the sky! =)

  21. During my travels, I once read that there is no evidence that the Buddha had written a single word of his teachings, yet there are books upon books upon books that claim to be his words. Certainly not everything written came from the mouth of the Buddha. We can however; hope that we have access to some of his original work passed on to his students orally.

    Despite the origins of this quote, I cannot help but feel that it does capture an essence of Buddhism. Whether this feeling is deserved or not is open to debate. The ability to recognize at any moment in time that everything is perfect is a very comforting thought, while at the same time paradoxical.

    • If you find anything at all in the Buddhist scriptures (especially the Pali canon) that suggests the Buddha saw everything as perfect, please let me know. I’d be very interested to see it. There may be something along those lines in Tibetan Buddhist teachings, but I can’t imagine the Buddha of the Pali canon expressing that opinion.

  22. Thanks for exposing this and many other quotes. I was actually shocked (that is how naive I am!) when I read this – in a facebook post of course – attributed to Buddha!
    I could not understand how anyone could believe this was a Buddhist quote when the first Noble Truth is “All life is suffering”. Far from “Everything is perfect”.
    So thank you for the courage to hold these Hallmark quotes up to the light. And thanks for the expertise that you bring, you have much more familiarity with the canon and other sources than certainly I do. Keep it up!

  23. Sorry, guys… I made this up years ago and attributed it to Buddha because I was experiencing total awareness when it popped into my head. Can’t believe it spread around the web so much.

    • I don’t know if you’re joking or not, Russ, but assuming that you’re serious, can you tell me where you first published the quote?

  24. I mean if you take it that life is suffering, it would be kind of crazy to have some kind of Pangloss/Leibniz “The world is perfect” view. It’s also probably personal bias on my part but it seems like a world of suffering is more worthy of ridicule as solace than a perfect one would be.

    But yeah, prompted to track this down by the fact that I’m going through the Pali canon and, in unrelated practice, playing Civ V where this quote is associated with the construction of the Borobudur wonder of the world.

    The various Buddhas and bodhisattvas smile, but it’s preposterous to suggest that they smile at the perfection of the world.

    The quote itself is great; if I felt that way maybe I would laugh that way.

  25. That everything is perfect is self-evident. Realizing it is cause for spontaneous joy. Regardless of whether the Buddha said it or not, the quote could not be more “Buddhist”. The “laughing” need not be gut-busting hysterics. The point is the joyful release experienced when one recognizes how ridiculously perfect the universe is, and how petty our attachments to it really are. I don’t know if the Buddha said anything like this, but there isn’t a doubt in my mind he’d have understood the intent perfectly.

  26. Although this quote cannot be connected directly to the Buddah, could it still be described as a ‘Buddhist Quote’ as many of us seem to agree with its content?

    • There’s no way to define a “Buddhist quote.” The term could refer to anything said by any Buddhist any time, no matter how much or little it reflects what the Buddha taught. In this particular case I can’t think of anything the Buddha taught that corresponds even vaguely to this quote. He saw Awakening, nibbana, as being perfect, but otherwise he said that the world is on fire with suffering.

      • Thanks for your reply. When I first read the Noble Truths this phrase described how I felt. Everything was laid out before me, perfect and simple, if only I could follow them. I am still learning to. Hope this makes sense? Keep up the good work!

  27. It seems like even the developers at Firaxis weren’t even able to spot the fake. The quote appears in their computer game Civilization V when you complete the world wonder Borobudur. So it looks like even professionals have a bad habit of simply copying from one source to the next. You can see the quote and image in this collection on imgur: http://imgur.com/a/Kl3jc

    I’m a bit disappointed that this one is a fake. It always brings me up whenever I’m feeling a bit down. It seems to express the sentiment that regardless of what happens in life, things will turn out alright.

    Regardless, I’m very impressed by your dedication to the truth and vetting out these fake Buddha quotes. I frequently stumble across very dubious quotes attributed to other famous people (notably Einstein) and often wonder whether they are simply there to justify nonsensical whims and platitudes. Reading these quotes reminds me of my favorite “fake” quote:

    “The problem with quotes found on the Internet is that it’s often hard to verify their authenticity.”
    ~ Abraham Lincoln

    (Coincidentally, Lincoln has dozens of quotes attributed to him which are known to be patently false)

    • To my mind there’s no reason to think that computer game designers would be any less likely than anyone else to pass on mis-attributed posts.

      • My impression is that historical strategy games tend to be very well-researched, based as they are in historical fact. The Total War series of games has won several awards for their pain-staking research. It doesn’t surprise me that this would get passed around on Facebook by regular users, but I’m surprised this one slipped by professionals. Then again, professionals are merely people as well.

  28. This is also part of the computer game “Civilization V”. It is used when one builds a certain religious building.

  29. Pingback: Riding the Sine Wave | Dr Kevin Gyurina

  30. LOL Oh my, I have some work to do!

    When I first encountered this quote several years back, it took me by surprise. It seemed very out of character for the Buddha I’d been introduced to through studies of Therevada. So I looked around and allowed myself to be convinced by admittedly non-scholarly resources.

    Laughter and perfection are certainly not unfamiliar territory for Buddhists inclined to Mahayana. Before this fake quote, my favourite Buddhist proverb was one I encountered while visiting the Shugakuin monastery in Kyoto:

    To a practitioner of Tendai, everything is wonderful.
    ~ Tendai Buddhist proverb

    At the time, I thought this the perfect reflection of the difference between the two traditions: wonder vs suffering. I suppose this difference was inevitable given the Taoist filter through which Chinese Buddhist monks interpreted pali and sanskrit texts.

  31. Pingback: Beginning again with Sacred ~ Lotus Feet & Shakti | My Muse ~ Movies, Music & Books

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