“Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.” Buddha

My reputation as a Fake-Buddha-Quote-Buster is spreading. Today a non-Buddhist friend, trembling no doubt at the thought of incurring my wrath and scorn by posting a quotation erroneously attributed to the Buddha, asked me on Twitter whether “Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth” was a genuine Buddha quote.

This is an interesting one. I’ve seen it around a lot on quotes sites and in books, mostly attributed to the Buddha (but once to Confucius and another time to Colin Powell) and it’s never rung any alarm bells. My instant gut response was it sounded like something the Buddha might have said.

In the exact form given above, the quote first appears in Google Books in a 2003 work, A Way Forward: Spiritual Guidance for Our Troubled Times, by Anna Voigt and Nevill Drury. The recent provenance made me wonder if this was still a genuine quote (it did more or less ring true), but with altered wording.

I did a bit of digging around and found the canonical original sitting on my bookshelf, in the Pali Text Society’s Gradual Sayings, Volume I. It’s in “The Book of the Threes,” and in full it runs like this:

Monks, there are these three things which are practiced in secret, not openly. What are they?

The ways of womenfolk are secret, not open. Brahmins practice their chants in secret, not openly. Those of perverse views [that’s philosophically rather than sexually perverse views, I assume] hold their views secretly, not openly. These are the three things…

Monks, there are these three things which shine forth for all to see, which are not hidden. Which three?

The disc of the moon shines for all to see; it is not hidden. The disc of the sun does likewise. The Dhamma-Discipline [dhamma-vinaya] of a Tathagata [Buddha] shines for all to see; it is not hidden. These are the three things.

So “Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth” has its origins in a genuine Buddha quote, although its paraphrased and simplified. I’m pleased to have my instincts validated.

A contracted form of the canonical version dates at least to the early twentieth century. For example in The Essence of Buddhism by Pokala Lakshmi Narasu (1907) we see:

Three things shine before the world and cannot be hidden. They are the moon, the sun, and the truth proclaimed by the Tathagata

The resemblance is obvious, especially if we highlight the parts that the contemporary quote and the 1907 version have in common:

Three things shine before the world and cannot be hidden. They are the moon, the sun, and the truth proclaimed by the Tathagata

The word order has been rearranged (we nearly always say “sun and moon,” not “moon and sun”) and the word “long” has been inserted, but otherwise the two versions are identical.

However the version I was originally asked about, I can’t accept as a canonical quotation. It’s simply a rather poor paraphrase.

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Bodhipaksa

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27 thoughts on ““Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.” Buddha

  1. i just read that attributed to buddha somewhere else.
    didn’t sound like what i read from buddha.
    but the original text quoted here does.
    thanks man, hail to you and the internet!

  2. Thanks for this. I’d like to know the original source reference more precisely though, from the Pali suttas, if you don’t mind. I cannot find this quote or anything similar to it in Anguttara Nikaya 3 (The Book of the Threes) in the accesstoinsight.org library, for example.

    • No problem, although remember that magnificent as it is, accesstoinsight.org only has a small percentage of the Pali canon online. The quote is from page 261 of the book I referenced above (the Pali Text Society’s Gradual Sayings, Volume I). The equivalent would be AN 3:129. Bhikkhu Bodhi recently mentioned that he’d completed his translation of the Anguttara Nikaya, so these wonderful suttas will soon be much more accessible.

      The following sutta is a nice one, too. It includes the simile: “Just as what is carved on water disappears and lasts not long, even so, monks, here we have a certain person who, though harshly spoken to, sharply spoken to, rudely spoken to, yet is he easily reconciled, he becomes agreeable and friendly.”

  3. It’s a delight to come across another person hacking through the thicket of quotes erroneously attributed to the Buddha. For me, the funnest part is tracing an actual quote back to its source and finding the context. In an odd way, these quotes help me get oriented in the vast territory of the Pali Canon.

  4. Hi, Shira.

    It can be a lot of fun. I actually have a backlog of suspect quotes to work through, but I’ve been caught up in other things, some of which involve a lot of Pali canon research…

    All the best,
    Bodhipaksa

  5. I’m thinking that your page labelled “All Fake Buddha Quotes” is so-labelled because the quotes on it are the fakes, rather than being called that because it is all the quotes on the Fake Buddha Quotes site. If the former is the case, I thought I’d point out that this one appears there among the fakes, though it seems you’re saying (and I agree) it is genuine even if not an exact translation.

  6. To me this quote looks very different from the original. I think the usual meaning of the word ‘truth’ is significantly different from the word ‘dharma’, which to me is a much more specific type of truth, not just a mundane everyday truth. I think this is far too watered down to have any worth.

    • I’m mystified why I switched this to the “not fake” category, to be honest. I must have been tired. It obviously has a canonical basis but is equally obviously not in any sense a quote. At best it’s a poor paraphrase. I’ll be recategorizing, with a fuller explanation.

      • Maybe it’s just difficult to categorize some of these completely one way or another. I came across your site by accident because of being unsure of a few that I came across on Facebook. I am not in any way qualified to know the Buddhist canon.
        The most recent I looked up was “Defeat anger by love. Defeat evil by good. Defeat the stingy by giving. Defeat the liar by truth.”
        I suppose some quotes just don’t _seem_ very ‘Buddhist’ to me, even if they are genuine. I suppose I was associating defeat with killing and if they say ‘the liar’ (or ‘the stingy’) that to me meant a person. However I looked it up on the internet and there are obviously translations that use ‘the liar’. Like this one http://www.aimwell.org/Books/Suttas/Dhammapada/17-Kodha/17-kodha.html. Here it says ‘conquer the liar’, but I would probably also associate the word conquer with killing. Maybe that says more about how violent and war-like our society is that I make that association – or maybe it’s just me!

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  8. I truly love and appreciate what you have created here. I have always been interested in The Buddha’s teaching, but it has only been most recent since I have had time to myself to begin learning his philosophies.
    From time to time I come across quotes which sound like things The Buddha would say, and always come here for a reference check.
    Once again, thank you.

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  10. If anyone is interested in a direct quote that has the same meaning, try this one:

    “Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t going away.”
    ― Elvis Presley

    • Of course I’m always interested in sources, especially when a quote, like this one, doesn’t seem to appear in any books (at least those on Google Books) until the 21st century.

      • Ahem…WELL, I thought it was confirmed in 2012 as one of the footnotes Mr. Presley wrote in the margins of his Bible, but since I cannot find proof and the quote appeared earlier than that particular Bible (and his underwear) hit the auction block, it’s most likely a misquote. Sorry folks!

        • It’s crazy, isn’t it? Almost every time I see a quote on the internet and check it out, I find no evidence for it having been said by the putative source.

  11. I heard this quote from the TV show Teen Wolf. Despite how shallow it is to watch a TV show, this quote struck me. I looked it up on the internet and found your website. I wonder what is the origin meaning of this quote, where it comes from.

  12. Hello I’d like to know why “The Dhamma-Discipline [dhamma-vinaya] of a Tathagata [Buddha] shines for all to see; it is not hidden.” can be translated to: the “truth” can not be hidden. I don’t know much about Buddhism so I’m really confused. I thought the Dhamma-Discipline meant the teachings of Buddha. So I don’t understand how it can refer to ” truth”. Hope you can help me. Sorry if the question is a little unintelligible, English isn’t my first language. Thank you very much and best regards from Germany

    • The word Dhamma can mean not just “teachings” but also to the underlying truth or reality that the teachings help us to see. In the context of “Dhamma-vinaya,” though, it obviously means “teachings” rather than “truth,” which is one of the reasons why this “quote” is not genuine but is, as I put it, “a poor paraphrase.”

  13. Which book is the quote: “The disc of the moon shines for all to see; it is not hidden. The disc of the sun does likewise. The Dhamma-Discipline [dhamma-vinaya] of a Tathagata [Buddha] shines for all to see; it is not hidden.” from?

    • It’s mentioned in the article, actually: “Gradual Sayings, Volume I, The Book of the Threes.” The Gradual Sayings is the Pali Text Society’s name for the Anguttara Nikaya. There’s a recent, and very good, version available from Wisdom, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi.

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  15. Thank you so much! I LOVE the paraphrased quote and I am really happy it has a genuine basis. Thanks for this amazing page. Peace to you :)

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