“In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.”

In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.

In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.

I’ve been asked about this one several times, but have never written it up. There’s not much to say, really. It seems to be a variant on another Fake Buddha Quote that was lifted from Jack Kornfield’s “Buddha’s Little Instruction Book,” a lovely little book of sayings, few of which, if any at all, go back directly to the Buddha:

“In the end these things matter most: How well did you love? How fully did you live? How deeply did you let go?”

I can understand someone getting confused and thinking that a quote from Buddha’s Little Instruction Book was a quote from the Buddha. Presumably, though, at some point someone decided to “improve the quotation” and keep the attribution to the Buddha, which puzzles me a bit…

I can’t think of anyplace in the Pali canon where the Buddha sums up “life” in this kind of a way. If you see a purported Buddha quote that talks about “the secret of life…” or “only three things matter…” then be very suspicious.

But there are statements where the Buddha singles out certain qualities as important:

Control of the senses, contentment, restraint according to the code of monastic discipline — these form the basis of holy life here for the wise monk. (Dhammapada 375)

Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life. (SN 45.2)

In giving some advice to two elderly men who had done little good in their lives, the Buddha said the following:

When a house is on fire,
the vessel salvaged
is the one that will be of use,
not the one left there to burn.
So when the world is on fire
with aging and death,
one should salvage [one’s wealth] by giving:
what’s given is well salvaged.

Whoever here is restrained
in body, speech, and awareness;
who makes merit while he’s alive:
that will be for his bliss after death.

So while restraint of body, speech, and mind are generally praised, giving as a basic practice is being highly recommended. It’s not being said that giving is the only thing that matters, incidentally. The Buddha is giving a specific teaching to two specific individuals, addressing their specific spiritual needs.

Certainly all three things praised in our fake quote — loving, living gently, letting go — are things praised by the Buddha, but I’ve never seen a passage where these are praised together, or as the only things that matter. If you know of one, please do pass it along.

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46 thoughts on ““In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.”

  1. thanks! I didn’t think it sounded like a quote from Buddha when I saw it going around Facebook, so thanks for letting us know.

    • That’s actually slightly different quote, which I reference in the article above. Jack Kornfield isn’t a monk, incidentally, although he was a long time ago. But the main comment I have is that off you’re going to verify a quote, Goodreads isn’t an adequate source for citation. The site contains user-submitted quotes, and abounds with mis-citations.

  2. I headline this quote on my website’s home page. Now I must doubt it – can you please tell me if this is fake or not? To keep the body in good health is a duty…otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.

  3. Someone posted the above quote on Facebook and it just felt wrong. I had to look further since I’ve always thought that every single thing I could possibly encounter, was encountered because it was meant for me to encounter. Am I mistaken? Even the train that hits me was meant to hit me.

  4. Pingback: To Gracefully Let Go | theasceticlibertine

  5. thanks for this thoughtful and non-judgmental tutorial… I had seen this quote recently & as a yoga teacher, I thought it felt a bit ‘westernized’… I’ve bookmarked your website & will follow – I didn’t check if you had a facebook page or twitter feed – do you? Easier to know if there are new posts. thanks again & namaste!

    • Hi, Diane.

      Thank you. Unfortunately I don’t have a working Twitter feed for this site, and Facebook is pretty much useless for letting people know about new posts, so I haven’t bothered to set an account up. You might want to check out ifttt.com, which you can set up to email you when any site you’re interested in publishes a new article.

  6. Pingback: 7 Ways You're Practicing This Religion & Don't Even Know It - Meditation Classes | Latest News Feeds

  7. I often use the mys-quote of Abraham Lincoln warning not to trust Internet Quotes to illustrate how absurd it is to just blindly copy what others are also copying.

    I saw this quote (without the Buddha attribute) and was looking for the correct source. I was pleased to know of the similar quote from page 85 of Jack Kornfield’s ‘Buddha’s Little Instruction Book.’ I was also pleased to find this site. It is a bookmark of wise words for me from now on.

    Thank you.

  8. Pingback: In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of the things not meant for you. | philosiblog

  9. You saved me from a tattoo nightmare…thanks goodness I do my research. In the constant search of ones own personal search for inner peace, these words are actually very true to heart and meaningful – not meaningful to live with them for a lifetime but meaningful enough for a bit of an awakening moment and frankly, we all need a little of that. Peace to you…

    • Well, they are lovely words, even if the Buddha never spoke them. But I wouldn’t relish having a misattribution indelibly inked into my skin :)

  10. These words may be uplifting and comforting for a while but they also might lead to a fundamental misunderstanding of the Buddha’s doctrine.
    Buddha didn’t speak about love and if ever than rather in terms of it’s delusive nature.

    Nor was gentleness his prime concern. Awakening was and is the ultimate goal of his teaching whereas virtuous cultivation of the mind is either a preliminary practice to or a spin off from the ultimate attainment.

    “Gracefully let go” has quite a bit of a vain phrase, Unshakabley mindful should the practitioners observate their state of mind and patiently slacken and losen the fetters which tie them to the world of desire, form and formlessness…

    • I think that’s perhaps going a bit far. The English word “love” is very broad, and could easily cover major emphases of the Buddha, such as metta, karuna, and anukampa. Also, although awakening was his prime concern, cultivating gentleness was one of the prime things he described as as quality of the ideal practitioner or realized being. So we have things like:

      • “Not intoxicated with enticements, nor given to pride, he’s gentle, quick-witted, beyond conviction and dispassion” (Purabheda Sutta).
      • “One is termed noble for being gentle to all living things” (Dhammapada).
      • “This is what should be done / By one who is skilled in goodness, / And who knows the path of peace: / Let them be able and upright, / Straightforward and gentle in speech” (Karaniya Metta Sutta).
      • “Wise and virtuous, / Gentle and eloquent, / Humble and accommodating; / Such a person attains glory” (Sigalovada Sutta).

      The main problem I see with this quote, Dharmically speaking, is that “how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you” implies that there are things that are meant for us and that we’re supposed to hold on to them. Ultimately the Buddha didn’t leave any room in his teaching for holding on to anything!

  11. Thanks for the correction, and sorry for the improperly attributed quote. However, I thought there was some truth there, whatever the source. I suppose it isn’t the final answer to all of life’s problems (sigh).

  12. Thanks a lot!
    It’s very nice to run across a thorough, knowledgable & generous writer/researcher/practitioner. Good of you to take this on… Tilting at the Windmills of Hallmark! I will be back here again. This explains why as a former participant in the Antioch College Buddhist Studies Program in its first year in 1979, with a lifelong interest ever since, I had never heard this attributed to the Buddha. That program is still running in Bodh Gaya, India, by the way… a wonderful 3 month immersion in Buddhist philosophy, practice, & history, and in a gentle life in India.

  13. The quote you mention,
    “Whoever here is restrained
    in body, speech, and awareness;
    who makes merit while he’s alive:
    that will be for his bliss after death.”

    What would you say “…for his bliss after death” means?

    Is there something in Buddha’s teaching of an awareness after death?

    • Hey, David.

      “…for his bliss after death” would mean that he’d have a good rebirth.

      Rebirth doesn’t make much sense to me, but it seems to have been something the Buddha knew to be true, or believed to be true, or thought it would be useful for people to believe. I’m inclined toward the last possibility, but I’m open to him having had some kind of direct experience of rebirth. We do live in a very odd universe, after all.

      • If I may Bodhipaksa… in regards to the topic of rebirth. Buddha was raised initially as a Hindu, before he stepped away from the religion and discovered his own dharma.

        In regards to teaching his followers, he would have spoken using terminology, symbolism and ideals that they could have related to, and rebirth in ancient India was a big thing.

        Of course the ultimate goal of Buddhism, is not to be attached to the concept of rebirth either – and I am sure we all know of someone who wishes to be “reborn as a butterfly” or some other equally pretty thing.

        Now obviously none of us can say, one way or another, what Buddha’s own experiences were, in regards to death/rebirth… and that I guess is something we each need to determine, or understand ourselves.

        But yes, Buddha clearly used references to rebirth, because it was a topic that the people at the time, that he was instructing, were clearly familiar of.

        Metta :)

        • Hi, William.

          It’s a common misconception that the Buddha was raised as a Hindu. There was no such thing as Hinduism at the time of the Buddha. The very term Hinduism is a modern one, and was the result of the British trying to categorize religions in India. If you weren’t a Moslem, Sikh, Jain, etc., then you were categorized as “Hindu” (a word that essentially just means “Indic”). What you had was a bewildering variety of beliefs and practices, some of them based on the Vedas, and some of them not.

          At the time of the Buddha the predominant religious traditions varied depending on where you were in the subcontinent. The religions of the Sakyan country seem to have been quite different from those of Magadha and Kosala, where Brahminism was the predominant form. The Sakyans regarded themselves as superior to the Brahmins, and they had a very different attitude to caste compared to the Brahmins. He very much regards Brahminism as a strange and foreign religious tradition.

          It’s also probably a misconception that at the Buddha’s time everyone, or nearly everyone, believed in rebirth (not that you say they did!). The Vedas, Brahmanas, and Upanishads [at least some of them] assume that after death we go to heaven or hell, not that we’re reborn. Some people (as we know from the Buddha commenting on the fact) believed that death was “the end.” Reincarnation was clearly becoming “a thing” around the time of the Buddha, though. At the same time, the Buddha often talked in terms of heaven and hell, which makes me wonder if often he was just talking to people in their own eschatological idioms, whatever they happened to be, so that if he was with people who believed in heaven and hell he’d talk to them in those terms, or if he believed in rebirth he’d use those terms. His teachings seem to have been a large extent “platform agnostic” (like computer programs that will run on Linux, Windows, or the Mac OS). The one exception seems to have been nihilism, the idea that existence ceased at death, which he saw as promoting hedonism.

  14. thanks for the effort and the fun – this is indeed an interesting thing to think and debate about irrespective of where it all comes from -

    • If you only rely on information written in stone, your view of the world must be very outdated. It hasn’t been in wide use as a medium for many centuries now :)

      The information here comes from books. Feel free to verify or disprove it. I’m always happy to update the articles here in the light of new evidence.

    • Thoughts certainly matter, but for some of us factual accuracy is important as well. As Einstein said, “Whoever is careless with truth in small matters cannot be trusted in important affairs.”

  15. Hi, Bodhipaksa.
    I stumbled upon your website while searching for the source of this quote and of course like many fake quotes referred to Buddhaa and Rumi that are all over the internet this one also resulted as a fake one. I read the entire thread and your actual post, I stopped to thank you for all the research that you are doing, it’s just amazing. So thank you for putting in your time and effort. :)
    Peace! Salaam! Namaste!

  16. Pingback: On Detachment and Goodbyes | Gigi Labs

  17. So when the world is on fire (of lust, hate, and delusion, or, more briefly, of craving and ignorance) with ageing and death,
    one should salvage [one’s wealth: happiness, contentment?] by giving:
    what’s given is well salvaged.

    Whoever here is restrained
    in body, speech, and awareness;
    who makes merit while he’s alive:
    that will be for his bliss after death.

    Now, even there is no definition of how one makes merit (please forgive my ignorance, i’m sure it’s explained elsewhere) i don’t seem to agree with you in your statement “The Buddha is giving a specific teaching to two specific individuals, addressing their specific spiritual needs”. Not at all. If anything he is telling the two brahmani men that even if they are limited in body and speech (old and decrepit, having come to the last stage of life, 120 years of age) or awareness (having done no admirable deeds, no skillful deeds, no deeds that allay our fears) no one is to know how their deeds will be of value or not although i do believe they all are. All it says is that it’s the merit what will be their bliss after death and I think that is universally applicable. How you practice that merit is entirely up to you though.

  18. My friend posted this quote online this morning and I replied with this link. They thanked me for, “raining on [their] parade”. I don’t know how to respond to that.

    • It’s a shame that your friend’s happiness depends upon thinking that a particular set of words was uttered by the Buddha :)

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