Soren Gordhamer has a nice little article in The Huffington Post called "If the Buddha Used Twitter." It’s based around five quotations that he uses as guidelines for how to how the Twitter service:
- Never allow yourself to envy others. For you will lose sight of the truth that way.
- Better than a thousand senseless verses is one that brings the hearer peace.
- The one who talks of the path but never walks it is like a cowman counting cattle of others but who has none of his own.
- The conquest of oneself is better than the conquest of all others.
- Your work is to find out what your work should be. Clearly discover your work and attend to it with all your heart.
His interpretations of these are generally very creative and sensible — but you can read the article. The only thing that bothers me is that some of these don’t sound at all like quotes from the Buddha — at least not anything I’ve read. The tone, the language — all wrong.
The first — “Never allow yourself to envy others. For you will lose sight of the truth that way” — doesn’t sound right. I did a little digging around and found that it is actually from a translation of the Dhammapada — but it doesn’t appear to be a very good translation. Google Book search shows it to be Anne Bancroft’s rendering of verse 365, which actually reads more like:
One should not neglect one’s own spiritual gain. One should not envy others. The monk who envies others will not attain concentration.
Bancroft takes samadhi to mean "truth" when actually it means meditative concentration. In later Buddhism it can mean "wisdom" but this is the Dhamapada and not later Buddhism.
The second, third, and fourth verses are good renderings of what the Buddha is supposed to have said, but that last one is just plain weird: "Your work is to find out what your work should be. Clearly discover your work and attend to it with all your heart." It sounds more like Khalil Gibran than the Buddha. It’s just not the Big B.’s style. I did a bit more digging around and found it on a Beliefnet discussion forum, complete with a reference to the Dhammapada:
Your work is to find out what your work should be and not to neglect it for another’s. Clearly discover your work and attend to it with all your heart. (Dhammapada, v. 166)
This also comes from Anne Bancroft’s Dhammapada, which now looks to be less a translation and more of an improvisation loosely based on a theme by the Buddha.
If you look at Buddharakkhita’s translation you can see this is a wild paraphrase:
Let one not neglect one’s own welfare for the sake of another, however great. Clearly understanding one’s own welfare, let one be intent upon the good.
The word translated by Buddharakkhita as "welfare" is "attha," which means "interest, advantage, gain; (moral) good, blessing, welfare; profit, prosperity, well- being." And absolutely nothing to do with work.
I don’t really know much about Bancroft. Incidentally she’s not the film actress, although the two have often been confused. She’s edited or written many books, and her "Zen: Direct Pointing at Reality" was one of the first Buddhist books I bought. Her understanding of Pali, frankly, seems non-existent.
Anyway, it’s almost refreshing to see Fake Buddha Quotes that have arisen through bad translations rather than just made up, which often seems to be the case. At least there is some connection with the Buddha’s recorded teachings, which is something we should rejoice in.
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