“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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Bodhipaksa

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27 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.
    -Buddha

  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.

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