“Follow then the shining ones, the wise, the awakened, the loving, for they know how to work and forbear.”

Follow then the shining ones, the wise, the awakened, the loving

This is another quote sent in by a blog reader, and we seem to be on a roll with Thomas Byrom quotations, for this is another from his poetic but highly inaccurate translation of the Dhammapada.

“Follow then the shining ones, the wise, the awakened, the loving, for they know how to work and forbear.”

It was found on the quotes site, Thinkexist. ThinkExist, like every quotes site I’ve visited, is very unreliable. As far as I can see, they do no fact checking at all. You’ll often find the same quote attributed to different people, and it’s full of obvious misattribution. All the quotes sites copy each other’s material, so once one of them gets hold of a misattributed quote they all end up with it, lending the quote a false sense of legitimacy. And when authors want to spice up their books or blog posts with a wise quotation, they end up putting the quotes into even wider circulation, and give them even more of a sense of legitimacy. This particular quote is found in books by Jack Kornfield and Lama Surya Das.

Of course the ultimate, when it comes to the appearance of legitimacy, is having a quote in a book that’s described as a canonical text, which is what we have here.

“Follow then the shining ones, the wise, the awakened, the loving, for they know how to work and forbear” is from Thomas Byrom’s “rendering” of the Dhammapada. The Dhammapada is of course a canonical text, meaning that it’s accepted by convention that it’s the word of the Buddha. But the quotes I’ve put around the word “rendering” indicate that Byrom’s words are not even close to being an accurate reflection of what’s in the original text. (Actually, even the publisher of Byrom’s version of the Dhammapada call it a “rendering” rather than a translation.)

The passage this quote is supposed to correspond to is part of verses 207–208:

Tasmāhi,
Dhīrañca paññca bahussutañca
Dhorayhasīlaṃ vatavantamāriyaṃ
Taṃ tādisaṃ sappurisaṃ sumedhaṃ
Bhajetha nakkhattapathaṃ’va candimā

(The first line is the last word of verse 207; the others are from verse 208). A very literal translation (my own) would be: “Therefore, the devout noble one — wise, knowledgable, of great learning, forbearing — associate with such a wise, good person as the moon the path of the stars.”

Byrom’s “rendering” in this case isn’t one of his worst:

“Follow then the shining ones, the wise, the awakened, the loving, for they know how to work and forbear.”

But there’s nothing in the original about “shining ones” or “loving” or “knowing how to work.” “Shining ones” in fact would tend to suggest, for those in the know, the devas, or gods. The word “deva” comes from a root meaning to shine. Since the original is talking about those who are awakened, rather than gods, this is highly misleading.

Basically, Byrom, in producing his “rendering,” seems to have just bluffed his way through the text, probably using other translations as a rough guide but often taking random words from the Pali and then weaving them into his own creation. His Dhammapada, to my mind, is a bit of a stain on the otherwise very fine reputation of Shambhala publications.

“Meditate. Live purely. Be quiet. Do your work with mastery. Like the moon, come out from behind the clouds! Shine.”

quote-meditate-live-purely-be-quiet-do-your-work-with-mastery-like-the-moon-come-out-from-behind-the-buddha-297814

This one was passed on to me by an old friend in the UK;

“Meditate.
Live purely. Be quiet.
Do your work with mastery.
Like the moon, come out
from behind the clouds!
Shine.”

This quote is from Thomas Byrom’s “rendering” of the Dhammapada, and it comprises two quotes that have been joined together.

The first part, “”Meditate. Live purely. Be quiet. Do your work with mastery,” corresponds to this verse from Buddharakkhita’s quite literal translation:

386. He who is meditative, stainless and settled, whose work is done and who is free from cankers, having reached the highest goal — him do I call a holy man.

The second part, “Like the moon, come out from behind the clouds! Shine!” corresponds to the following, which is also by Buddharakshita:

382. That monk who while young devotes himself to the Teaching of the Buddha illumines this world like the moon freed from clouds.

It’s almost as if Byrom just plucked a few random words from the original (or more likely from various translations — I’ve seen no indication that he knew Pali or any other Indian languages) and make something up.

The publisher’s description on Amazon, for the Shambhala Pocket Edition, says, “Thomas Byrom’s verse rendering of the Dhammapada uniquely captures the Buddha’s original teachings with simplicity and lyricism.” At least they don’t call it a translation.

In the spirit of Byrom’s “rendering,” here’s an extract from Shakespeare’s Sonnet Number 18.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.

And now we have my “rendering” which we will nevertheless attribute to the Bard:

“Let your beauty shine. Find balance. Let yourself open like a bud trembling in the wind. Remember that all things pass.” William Shakespeare

Hopefully I’ve uniquely captured Shakespeare’s original with simplicity, although I make no claims to lyricism.

OK, that was a bit sarcastic, but I hope my little reductio ad absurdum illustrates the problems of trying to “render” a classic text by taking a few words from the original and creating a new context for them. My Fake Shakespeare Quote quote above is of course me, not Shakespeare, just as Byrom’s “rendering” of the Dhammapada is Byrom, not the Buddha.

(And in any publishers are reading, for a suitable advance I’d be happy to “render” all of Shakespeare’s sonnets for publication. I’m not proud. For a really big advance I’ll do the Complete Works.)

“Always be mindful of the kindness and not the faults of others.”

Always be mindful of the kindness and not the faults of others.

Adrian Rush sent me this quote, along with the comment following it:

“Always be mindful of the kindness and not the faults of others.”

Sounds suspect to me. So many of these fake quotes going around make the Buddha sound like a 2,500-year-old version of Oprah. The Buddha’s philosophy merits more than being reduced to feel-good, new-age, fortune-cookie philosophy.

Anyway, I’ve been an armchair Buddhist for about a decade, and I’ve never run across this quote in my studies.

I think Adrian was right to be suspicious. I’m 99.9% sure this isn’t a canonical quote, and that at best it’s a paraphrase.

According to Frank MacHovec’s 2007 book, Buddha, Tao, Zen, “Be mindful of the kindnesses and not the faults of others” (note the absence of “always” and the use of “kindnesses” rather than “kindness” was a saying of Master Chin Kung of the Amida Society.

Some of the sayings attributed to Master Chin Kung are actually from the Dhammapada, including the following one which may be the inspiration for the quote in question:

Do not focus on the rudeness of others, what they do or leave undone. Focus instead of what you have done and left undone.

This is clearly a rendition of Dhammapada verse 50, which in Buddharakkhita’s translation is:

Let none find fault with others; let none see the omissions and commissions of others. But let one see one’s own acts, done and undone.

Verse 50 of the Dhammapada is from a chapter called The Flowers, and another of master Chin Kung’s sayings is also reminiscent of verses from that chapter:

“Saying pleasant words without meaning them is like a beautiful flower with no fragrance.”

This is obviously drawn from verse 51:

Like a beautiful flower full of color but without fragrance, even so, fruitless are the fair words of one who does not practice them.

How the specific version “Always be mindful of the kindness and not the faults of others,” with its addition of “always” and the change from “kindnesses” to “kindness” came to be, I can’t say. It’s in a book of “Buddha Quotes” (many, if not most of which are fake), but the book was published in 2013, and since Google says there are 25,000 instances of the quote on the web, the saying must have been around for a while.

“Have compassion for all beings, rich and poor alike; each has their suffering. Some suffer too much, others too little.”

buddha-quote-have-compassion-for-all-beings-rich-and-poor-alike-each-has-their-sufferingThis quote was passed on to me by a couple of different people. It’s found in several books, including Meditations for Pain Recovery, Meditation and Qigong Mastery, and The Law of Attraction (insert your own joke here about fake spirituality attracting fake quotes).

Have compassion for all beings, rich and poor alike; each has their sufferings. Some suffer too much, others too little.

It’s also on many websites. It’s not surprising it’s on quotes sites like ThinkExist, since they seem to do no fact-checking at all. But with sites like Buddhist Belief Blog you’d hope for better.

It is of course patently fake. There’s nothing at all unusual about the Buddha encouraging us to have compassion for all beings. But I don’t think he would ever have suggested that some people need to experience more suffering.

The earliest of the books mentioned above is from 2009, so this is almost certainly a new Fake Buddha Quote. It’s hard to search the web by date, but Leo Babauta on Zen Habits uses the quote on a post dated August 14, 2008. Someone called Arvind used the quote a little earlier, on January 5th of 2008. Those are among the earliest blog posts I’ve found using the quote.

A forum post dated April 8, 2006 takes us back a little further, but contains no source. That’s the earliest reference to the quote that I’ve found on the web, apart from a deleted post from March 19, 2006, on a now-defunct site at bighappybuddha.blogspot.com.

A forum post dated August 23, 2007 mentions having lifted the quote from a site called BrainyQuote (one of those quotes sites littered with misattributed quotations). Alas, where BrainyQuote got the saying from, or whether it predates the 2006 examples, I just don’t know.

So the origins of this quote are a mystery, although its fakeness is clear.

There is a sutta where the Buddha is asked why some are rich, healthy, long-lived, good-looking, etc., and some are poor, unhealthy, short-lived, ugly, etc. Here’s a passage from that sutta:

But here some woman or man is not obdurate or haughty; he pays homage to whom he should pay homage, rises up for whom he should rise up, gives a seat to whom he should give a seat, makes way for whom he should make way, worships him who should be worshipped, respects him who should be respected, reveres him who should be revered, honors him who should be honored. Due to having performed and completed such kammas, on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in a happy destination… If instead he comes to the human state, he is high-born wherever he is reborn. This is the way that leads to high birth, that is to say, not to be obdurate or haughty, to pay homage to whom he should pay homage, to rise up for…, to give a seat to…, to make way for…, to worship… respect… revere… honor him who should be honored.

Here, student, some woman or man when visiting a monk or brahman, does not ask: ‘What is wholesome, venerable sir? What is unwholesome? What is blamable? What is blameless? What should be cultivated? What should not be cultivated? What, by my doing it, will be long for my harm and suffering? Or what, by my doing it, will be long for my welfare and happiness?’ Due to having performed and completed such kammas, on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in a state of deprivation… If instead he comes to the human state, he will be stupid wherever he is reborn. This is the way that leads to stupidity, that is to say, when visiting a monk or brahman, not to ask: ‘What is wholesome?… Or what, by my doing it, will be long for my welfare and happiness?’

This is often taken as the Buddha saying that people who are rich in this life must have acted well in a past life and that people who are poor in this life must have acted unskillfully in a past life. But it seems to me that all the Buddha is saying is that acting badly leads to poverty, ugliness, illness, etc., but not that all poverty, ugliness, illness, etc. are inevitably the result of previous karma. This is a very important distinction to observe, otherwise we’ll tend to blame the poor and the sick for misfortunes that may be nothing at all to do with their own actions.

“It is not what others do and do not do that is my concern. It is what I do and do not do — that is my concern.”

I was asked about this on Facebook today:

“It is not what others do and do not do that is my concern. It is what I do and do not do — that is my concern.”

But before I could reply Jeff Stefani stepped in with a suggestion that it resembled Dhammapada verse 50:

“Let none find fault with others; let none see the omissions and commissions of others.
But let one see one’s own acts, done and undone..”

This of course isn’t a first person statement, like our fake quote. But the first person version does purport to be a translation of Dhammapada verse 50. It’s from The Dhammapada (page 54), in the translation by the Indian poet, publisher, and professor, Purushottama Lal, where I’m told it’s presented as:

It is not what others do,
or do not do, that is my concern:
It is what I do,
and what I do not do, that is my concern.

I don’t have a copy of the book or access to a Google Books version so that I can check that information. But the translation as presented is very inaccurate, rendering the verses as a first person statement. This steps well beyond the bounds of accurate translation, in my eyes.

And of course paying no attention to the faults of others and paying attention to your own faults has a very different meaning than not being concerned by what others do. The intent of the original verse is that we don’t obsess about others’ unethical actions but concentrate on scrutinizing our own ethics. This is to avoid us getting involved in unskillful activities such as blaming, ill will, and conceit. The first person version on the other hand could easily suggest a lack of interest in others on the part of the Buddha himself. We know, however, that the Buddha was in fact very concerned about the actions of others. He was even very concerned about their faults and their actions done or not done, but out of compassion rather than a desire to blame, or out of ill will, or out of conceit.

This already inaccurate translation by Lal has then been slightly misquoted as:

It is not what others do
and do not do that is my concern.
It is what I do and do not do
— that is my concern.

And this is the form, with its illogical em-dash, that now circulates. We’re in the rare position of knowing how this particular Fake Buddha Quote came into circulation. The quotation (that is, the misquotation of the mistranslation) seems to have been popularized almost entirely by one person, whose Dharma name is Genkaku (aka Adam Fisher). For several years Genkaku has been posting his misquotation of the Lal version of the quote in blog posts and discussion forums. Back in 2010 he even offered a “mea culpa” for his misquotation, but he’s posted the same version subsequently, although he often says they are “attributed” to the Buddha or that the Buddha is “alleged” to have said them, which at least puts a little distance between the Buddha and some words we can safely assume he never said.

“Let yourself be open and life will be easier. A spoon of salt in a glass of water makes it undrinkable. In a lake almost unnoticed”

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A reader, David Nash, wrote to me asking about the following quote, which he’d spotted on Twitter.

“Let yourself be open & life will be easier. A spoon of salt in a glass of water makes it undrinkable. In a lake almost unnoticed” ~Buddha

David was suspicious: “Something about this doesn’t seem right… is it legit or not?”

Apart from the use of the word “glass,” which is, as far as I’m aware, anachronistic, the phrase “let yourself be open” is a dead giveaway. It’s simply not the kind of thing that the Buddha would have said, and it has a very late-20th century ring to it. A search of Google books shows only one result for “let yourself be open” in the first half of the 20th century, but several for the last year of that century. (And it seems to have become even more common since then.)

The analogy itself is fine, and in fact it’s taken from the Buddha’s teachings. In discussing how the same “trifling” unskillful action, performed by two different people, can have two radically different karmic effects, the following dialog is recorded:

“Suppose that a man were to drop a salt crystal into a small amount of water in a cup. What do you think? Would the water in the cup become salty because of the salt crystal, and unfit to drink?”

“Yes, lord. Why is that? There being only a small amount of water in the cup, it would become salty because of the salt crystal, and unfit to drink.”

“Now suppose that a man were to drop a salt crystal into the River Ganges. What do you think? Would the water in the River Ganges become salty because of the salt crystal, and unfit to drink?”

“No, lord. Why is that? There being a great mass of water in the River Ganges, it would not become salty because of the salt crystal or unfit to drink.”

“In the same way, there is the case where a trifling evil deed done by one individual takes him to hell; and there is the case where the very same sort of trifling deed done by the other individual is experienced in the here & now, and for the most part barely appears for a moment.”

The Buddha here is talking about a kind of “karmic butterfly effect.” In one who hasn’t developed mindfulness, the habit of acting ethically, mental clarity, discernment, and love, a trifling unskillful thought, word, or action can be the catalyst for further, and more extreme unskillful actions. For one who has developed these faculties, the trifling unskilful action is stopped in its tracks. The trifling unskillful act done by this sort of individual “is experienced in the here and now, and for the most part barely appears for a moment.”

To give an example, one person may tell a small lie, and then to cover that up they create more and more lies, along with patterns of defensive anger, etc. A whole life of deceit may be built up. Another may tell a small lie, but then immediately regrets it and corrects their account of events. The current of deceit is born and dies in an instant.

The Fake Quote above comes from Jack Kornfield’s Buddha’s Little Instruction Book, where it’s found (on page 21) in the following form:

Let yourself be open and life will be easier. A spoon of salt in a glass of water makes the water undrinkable. A spoon of salt in a lake is almost unnoticed.

Buddha’s Little Instruction Book is a lovely book, and I’d recommend it. Jack certainly had no intention to mislead or to create a fake quote; the problem is simply that many readers seem to have missed the description on the back cover that says that jack has “distilled and adapted an ancient teaching for the needs of contemporary life.” It’s fine to distill and adapt the Buddha’s teaching, of course. But unfortunately many people have taken the book as a book of Buddha quotes.

“The Bare Bones Dhammapada”

bare bonesThe Dhammapada seems to be regarded as fair game. Not only have rather inaccurate “translations” been done by people who don’t know the Pali language (Anne Bancroft and Thomas Byrom are prominent examples), but now we have someone who wants to liberate the Dhammapada from the Buddha’s meaning and intent altogether.

Fortunately, Shravasti Dhammika, a Buddhist monk for 32 years and the spiritual advisor to the Buddha Dhamma Mandala Society in Singapore,is on the case:

According to the blurb on Tai Sheridan’s The Bare Bones Dhammapada, the original text is “burdened by the stylistic and conceptual dust of the early and middle ages” and this new version “strips the Dhammapada of monasticism, literalness, chauvinism, anachronisms, and concepts of evil, shame, and sensual denial. It presents the path of wisdom as universal truths for a contemporary audience of any gender, lifestyle, or spiritual inclination”. No it doesn’t! All it does is offer cryptic verses, some of which are actually quite poetic, but that in no way reflect either the Buddha’s words or intent.

For example the Buddha of both the Pali Theravada and the Sanskrit Mahayana sutras was disparaging of dancing while Tai Sheridan apparently enjoys it and therefore Dhammapada verse 16 can be rendered as “do good dance joyfully”. Tai loves partying and is convinced the Buddha did too, hence verse 18 can be rendered as “do good throw a party on the path sing and dance.”

“Our life is the creation of our mind”

“What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: Our life is the creation of our mind.”

This one’s a translation of the first verse of the Dhammapada, or at least the first half of the first verse. It’s from the Juan Mascaró translation, published by Penguin, which happens to be the first translation I ever encountered. When I read this verse I realized that I was a Buddhist — although I have to say that I now think it’s a terrible translation.

As a minor point, the words “yesterday,” “today,” and “tomorrow” are not in the Pali. “Yesterday,” “today,” and “tomorrow” would be acceptable translations for the terms “past,” “present,” and “future,” taken poetically. So I wouldn’t have ruled this out of the basis of that language alone. As I said those terms aren’t in the original, but you’d have to look at the original to know that.

But “our life is the creation of our mind” is very, very far from what’s in the original, which could be translated very literally as “All experiences (or mental states) are preceded by mind, they have mind as their master, they are produced by mind.” And it’s very far from being similar to anything the Buddha taught.

“Mental states” or “experiences” (dhamma could also be translated as “mental phenomena”) and “life” are very different things, and that’s a much deeper distortion of the text, and of the Buddha’s teaching. The Buddha didn’t seem to hold any view that our life was the creation of our mind.

“The thought manifests as the word; The word manifests as the deed; The deed develops into habit; And habit hardens into character.”

thought-word-deed

The thought manifests as the word;
The word manifests as the deed;
The deed develops into habit;
And habit hardens into character.
So watch the thought and its ways with care,
And let it spring from love
Born out of concern for all beings.

When the quote above was emailed to me by a reader, there was nothing much in the actual content to trigger my suspicions. The concepts are Dharmic, and there are probably parallels in the Pali canon to each line of this poem. It seemed, perhaps, a little too neat. But I wondered, why had I never come across such a pithy, coherent, and beautifully expressed teaching in my 30 years of studying the Buddhist scriptures? Let me be clear that I haven’t memorized, or even read, the whole of the Pali canon. But I have read a lot of it, and it would be surprising for such a beautiful expression of Dharma, had it been part of the scriptures, not to have been mentioned more often by some of the scholars and Buddhist teachers whose work I’ve read.

Well, maybe I don’t read enough, because it turned out that this quote had in fact been cited as the word of the Buddha by Sharon Salzberg, Allan Lokos, Lama Surya Das, and other esteemed teachers. In fact it’s all over the web. In some cases it’s said to be from the Dhammapada, but although it has resonances with some verses from that text, that’s certainly not where it’s from.

So where does this quote originate?

The progression thoughts, words, deeds, habit, character, has its roots in 19th century Christianity, and so we find, for example, in Character and Work (1878), by Scottish theologian William Robinson Clark,

“Among those things which constitute the power or the weakness of human life, character must be allowed to have a foremost place … to this everything else leads up—thoughts, words, deeds, habits.”

Clark wasn’t the originator of this sequence, which seems to have been floating around, unattributed, in various versions. A Indiana newspaper, the Connersville Examiner, on Tuesday, July 10, 1877, had the following on its front page:

Some one has said, “Sew an act reap a habit; sew a habit and reap a character; sew a character and reap a destiny.”

It’s not surprising that the words of the quotation I was asked about should be thought to come from the Dhammapada, whose first two verses are, in Buddharakkhita’s translation:

“Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.

“Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts happiness follows him like his never-departing shadow.”

I haven’t yet found a definitive origin for the formulation that starts: “The thought manifests as the word…” The earliest citation of this in a book is from 1984′s Staying Alive: The Psychology of Human Survival, by Roger N. Walsh, who ascribes it to that prolific author, “Anonymous.” So I don’t know exactly where this quote originates. The best I can say at present is that it emerged from many minds that were engaged in a mid- to late-19th century Christian exploration of character building — arguably an attempt to create a Christian equivalent of karma.

And then at some point before 1984 it acquired a coda about “concern for all beings” that sounds distinctly Buddhist. But the quote as a whole is not from the Buddhist scriptures. We can be fairly sure the Buddha never said this, although we can be equally sure that he said things like this.