“If you cannot find a good companion to walk with, walk alone, like an elephant roaming the jungle. It is better to be alone than to be with those who will hinder your progress.”

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this quote is fake:

“If you cannot find a good companion to walk with, walk alone, like an elephant roaming the jungle. It is better to be alone than to be with those who will hinder your progress.”

As soon as I saw it I was reminded of a verse from the Dhammapada, and my instincts turned out to be right.

However, it’s not exactly a quote, but an adaptation of two Dhammapada verses:

329. If for company you cannot find a wise and prudent friend who leads a good life, then, like a king who leaves behind a conquered kingdom, or like a lone elephant in the elephant forest, you should go your way alone.

330. Better it is to live alone; there is no fellowship with a fool. Live alone and do no evil; be carefree like an elephant in the elephant forest.

So, this isn’t quite fake, but is kind of in a gray area, being more of an interpretive paraphrase than an actual quotation.

I’m afraid I have no idea of its origins, since it’s not in any books on Google Books, as fas as I’ve found, although the last part of the quote is very similar to a piece of advice given in Instant Karma, by Barbara Ann Kipfer (2003): “Choose to be alone rather than be with those who will hinder your progress.”

But you may be surprised at how common such sentiments, and even precise turns of phrase are. For example, at the tender age of 14, George Washington apparently compiled a list of 110 rules for civility. Rule number 56 was, “Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for ’tis better to be alone than in bad company.”

Silence the angry man with love. Silence the ill-natured man with kindness. Silence the miser with generosity. Silence the liar with truth.

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A friend recently passed this on, thinking it sounded false. It’s actually a reasonably accurate translation of Dhammapada verse 223, which in Buddharakkhita’s translation is:

Overcome the angry by non-anger; overcome the wicked by goodness; overcome the miser by generosity; overcome the liar by truth.

The only real difference is the choice of verb: “silence” in the suspect quote, versus “overcome” in Buddharakhita’s version.

In the Pali the verb used is “jine” which is definitely “conquer” or “overcome.” It’s what’s called the “third person singular optative,” which means that it’s “one should conquer.” It’s kind of an instruction.

Perhaps the translator of the suspect quote thought that those words sounded too violent and martial, and hence out of line with the non-violence tenor of Buddhist teachings. But “silence” is, to my mind, acceptable as a translation.

The Buddha, incidentally, did not shy away from using violent or martial imagery in his teachings. In one sutta he uses the example of parents deciding to eat their child. Another time he said that just as a horse trainer might kill a horse that refused to submit to training, so he would kill a monk who was untrainable. He wasn’t being literal, of course. And he used a fairly unpleasant metaphor to describe the process of analyzing the body in meditation:

Just as a skilled butcher or his apprentice, having killed a cow, would sit at a crossroads cutting it up into pieces, the monk contemplates this very body

Lastly, one of Amazon’s customers, in reviewing Jan Chozen Bays’ How to Train a Wild Elephant, whose title is taken from a metaphor the Buddha used, condemned the use of that imagery in the book’s title. Apparently she was unable to read the book because she found the reference to training an elephant to be so unpleasant.

I suspect that the choice to use “silence” in place of “conquer” or “overcome” was rooted in the same sort of squeamishness, although I don’t yet know who the translator was.

The root of suffering is attachment

root of suffering is attachment

Message:
Hello,

I would like to know if the following is a Buddha quote or not:

“The root of suffering is attachment.”

Thanks,

Ozkan

This precise wording wasn’t familiar to me, and I’d assumed that it was an interpretation of Buddhist teaching rather than something the Buddha said himself, but there is a saying from the Pali canon, upadhi dukkhassa mūlanti, which means “Attachment is the root of suffering.” So this is a genuine canonical quote.

You’ll find it in this sutta, but translated by Thanissaro as “Acquisition is the root of stress.” His translations are rather idiosyncratic.

In this translation of the same sutta it’s “acquisition is the root of suffering.”

Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation (not available online, but in The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, page 868) has “attachment is the root of suffering,” although he sometimes has “acquisition” in place of “attachment,” in various repetitions of the phrase.

My Pali dictionary gives upadhi as “clinging to rebirth (as impeding spiritual progress), attachment (almost syn. with kilesa or taṇhā…).”

So attachment is the root of suffering” is a perfectly fine translation.

All the best,
Bodhipaksa

“Health is the greatest gift, contentment is the greatest wealth”

health is the greatest gift

Health is the greatest gift,
contentment is the greatest wealth,
a trusted friend is the best relative,
Liberated mind is the greatest bliss.

This one’s very common and it’s legitimate. It’s verse 204 of the Dhammapada, in a translation by Narada Maha Thera. He has

Health is the greatest gift,
contentment is the greatest wealth,
a trusted friend is the best relative,
Nibbana is the greatest bliss.

“Nibbana” has been changed to “liberated mind” in the Facebook version, but that’s fair enough, since it makes the verse understandable to non-Buddhists without significantly changing the meaning.

Buddharakkhita in Access to Insight, has:

Health is the most precious gain
and contentment the greatest wealth.
A trustworthy person is the best kinsman,
Nibbana the highest bliss.

He who loves 50 people has 50 woes; he who loves no one has no woes.

A reader, Andy, wrote to me about this one. The subject line of the email was “PLEASE tell me this one is bogus!” I knew I was in store for something interesting.

Andy continued: “I hope you can confirm my gut feeling that this is a fake Buddha quote: “He who loves 50 people has 50 woes; he who loves no one has no woes.” This seems a total distortion of the concept of non-attachment. And obviously completely at odds with loving kindness practice.” He pointed out that this quote is found on many sites.

Surprisingly, this one is a fairly accurate quote from the Pāli canon. I first came across it a few years ago in a Christian tract attacking Buddhism. Like Andy I was skeptical that this quote was accurate when I first came across it. The problem here is not that the quote is fake, but that it’s misleading unless understood in the context of other Buddhist teachings on love.

The original is found in the Visākhā Sutta of the Udāna, where the Buddha is depicted as talking to Visākhā, Migāra’s mother, who has just lost a grandson.

The Buddha teaches Visākha the connection between attachment and grief, and reminds her that every day people die.

“Visākhā, would you like to have as many children & grandchildren as there are people in Sāvatthī?”

“Yes, lord, I would like to have as many children & grandchildren as there are people in Sāvatthī.”

“But how many people in Sāvatthī die in the course of a day?”

“Sometimes ten people die in Sāvatthī in the course of a day, sometimes nine… eight… seven… six… five… four… three… two… Sometimes one person dies in Sāvatthī in the course of a day. Sāvatthī is never free from people dying.”

In what seems like an odd attempt to console Visāka, the Buddha points out to her that the fewer people one loves, the less pain one experiences:

“Visākhā, those who have a hundred dear ones have a hundred sufferings. Those who have ninety dear ones have ninety sufferings. Those who have eighty… seventy… sixty… fifty… forty… thirty… twenty… ten… nine… eight… seven… six… five… four… three… two… Those who have one dear one have one suffering. Those who have no dear ones have no sufferings. They are free from sorrow, free from stain, free from lamentation, I tell you.”

In Pāli, the two extracts of passage that comprise the quote are “Yesaṃ paññāsaṃ piyāni, paññāsaṃ tesaṃ dukkhāni” (those who have 50 dear ones — piyaṃ — have 50 sufferings) and “Yesaṃ natthi piyaṃ, natthi tesaṃ dukkhaṃ (those who have no dear ones have no suffering).

In the light of the Buddha’s other teachings on lovingkindness, we have to assume that he’s talking here about “dear ones” to whom one is attached, as opposed to having lovingkindness or compassion. In another situation, in the Mettā Sutta, the Buddha encouraged us to love all beings as if they were our own children:

Just as a mother would guard her child, her only child, with her own life, even so let him cultivate a boundless mind for all beings in the world.

What’s the difference between Visākha’s pain-inducing (grand)mother’s love and the mother’s love that Buddha encourages us to have to all beings?

In the latter case we’re cultivating mettā, or lovingkindness, which is a desire that beings be well and happy. We don’t have to know people to have mettā for them. We don’t even have to like them. In fact we can dislike them and still have mettā for them.

But in the former case, why does Visākha have love for her children and grandchildren? And what kind of love is that? For sure, she wants them to be well and happy, but does she feel the same way about all children, including children unrelated to her? We can assume that she doesn’t. She loves her children and grandchildren because they are her children and grandchildren. In other words there’s a form of possession and ownership that is characteristic of the love she feels. This sense of our children being part of ourselves is no doubt familiar to every parent.

The love Visākha feels is called pema, which is attached affection. The word pema comes from the same root as piyaṃ, or “one who is dear.” Pema is very different from mettā, where there is no such sense of possession. With mettā we want all children to be well and happy.

This doesn’t mean that we won’t experience pain when someone we have mettā for dies. I find it hard, in fact, to imagine the kind of “love” that would be so detached that it would not lead to suffering when the object of that love has died.

The well-known Sallatha Sutta suggests to me that the dukkha that we are spared by having “no dear ones” (i.e. no one to whom we are attached) is the added suffering that comes from being unable to bear the pain of loss:

In the case of a well-taught noble disciple, O monks, when he is touched by a painful feeling, he will not worry nor grieve and lament, he will not beat his breast and weep, nor will he be distraught. It is one kind of feeling he experiences, a bodily one, but not a mental feeling.

The noble (i.e. enlightened) disciple still experiences painful feelings, and these would, I assume, include the feeling of loss. the fact that the passage I just quoted refers to a “bodily” rather than a mental feeling needn’t trouble us; the pain of loss is experienced at least partly as a physical pain, and it can even be alleviated with painkillers, according to neuroscientific research. At any rate the principle that non-reactivity prevents us becoming distraught over physical pain also prevents us from becoming distraught over mental pain. Whether you regard loss as physical or mental, the principle is the same.

The noble disciple does not “worry nor grieve and lament, he will not beat his breast and weep, nor will he be distraught.” There’s no resistance to the loss. It’s accepted.

It’s also a different kind of loss. Rather than the disappearance of something that is in some sense ours, we simply have the simply the disappearance of someone we’d wished well. In both cases there’s a sense of being deprived of a human presence which has been intertwined with our own, but in the case of attachment there’s the added sense of the loss being a personal affront.

The Buddha’s advice to Visākha tries to place her loss in the context of the universality of death. People die every day. The more we remember this, the less distraught we will be when someone close to us dies. We’ll still feel the pain, but we’ll be better placed to bear it with mindfulness and self-possession, since we won’t think, as people tend to, that we’ve been uniquely singled out for the experience of bereavement.

If you knew what I know about the power of giving, you would not let a single meal pass without sharing it in some way.

I was asked today what I made of this quote:

“If you knew what I know about the power of giving, you would not let a single meal pass without sharing it in some way.”

My correspondent said, “I like it very much, but it sounds very much like a later translation/adaptation of something the Buddha might have said, but less soundbite-y and eloquent.”

The exact wording in that quotation is from Kack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein’s 1987 book, Seeking the Heart of Wisdom, but it’s a reasonably good paraphrase of a passage from the Itivuttika.

Access to Insight has:

“If beings knew, as I know, the results of giving & sharing, they would not eat without having given…”

So this one, happily, is not fake. Or, if we’re prepared to accept that what is canonical is, without good evidence to the contrary, the word of the Buddha, then it’s genuine. It’s at least a genuine canonical quote, even if we are to doubt that the Buddha said anything in the Pali canon.

“Be vigilant; guard your mind against negative thoughts”

Someone recently wrote and asked about a quote he obviously had his suspicions about:

I’ve tried to track down the source of the quote “Be vigilant; guard your mind against negative thoughts” which circulates on the internet, but was not able to. Do you have any clue?

Although this turns out to be a quotation from the Dhammapada, my correspondent was right to be suspicious. As I wrote in reply,

“Negative thoughts” is not an expression the Buddha would have used. It’s possible, though, that this is a paraphrase of “unskillful thoughts” or even “evil thoughts.”

It turns out that this is from Eknath Easwaran’s translation of the Dhammapada. It’s part of verse 327, which is literally “Be devoted to (or take delight in) conscientiousness. Guard your own mind.”

Thanissaro has “Delight in heedfulness. Watch over your own mind.”

Buddharakkhita has “Delight in heedfulness! Guard well your thoughts!”

There’s nothing in here (or in the original Pali) about “negative thoughts,” so Eknath’s translation isn’t very literal. It’s true that in modern parlance it’s negative thoughts (and emotions) that we have to guard against, but since this isn’t terminology that the Buddha would have used I don’t think it’s appropriate to use it in a translation.

Eknath also misses out the element of “delighting” (or being devoted to) heedfulness, which is another distortion introduced into his translation. It does seem a bit sloppy.

Anyway, it’s kind-of-genuine; a not-very-good translation. It’s in the gray area where it’s not so outrageous that it’s definitely fake, but not quite faithful enough to the Pāli for me to consider it as completely genuine. One saving grace is that it’s not terribly misleading. Modern Buddhists, myself included, tend to talk about “negative thoughts” in place of the more traditional “unskillful thoughts” (which requires a bit of explanation to newcomers to Buddhism) or “evil thoughts” (which is a bit offputting!). Presumably Easwaran was simply trying to make the same attempt to use contemporary language, which is a reasonable aim. So I’m giving this one the benefit of the doubt and classifying it as “not fake.”

Incidentally, the “heedfulness” or “vigilance” being encouraged here is “appamāda,” which the PTS Pali dictionary gives as “thoughtfulness, carefulness, conscientiousness, watchfulness, vigilance, earnestness, zeal.” Appamāda is the opposite of pamāda, which means intoxication or heedlessness.

Appamāda is similar to mindfulness (sati), but where sati suggests lucid and receptive awareness, appamāda suggests both that and an active quality of protecting the mind. In the Appamāda Sutta, the Buddha said “Heedfulness is the one quality that keeps both kinds of benefit secure — benefits in this life & benefits in lives to come.” In terms of the Eightfold Path, it seems to combine both Samma Sati (Right Mindfulness) and Sammā Vāyāma (Right Effort), and arguably Sammā Diṭṭhi (Right View) as well.

The Buddha’s last words were an exhortation to practice appamāda, so he must indeed have considered it to be a crucial spiritual practice or faculty.

“We will develop love, we will practice it, we will make it both a way and a basis…”


Name: Geoffrey
Email: xxxxxxxxxx@gmail.com
Subject: “We will practice love”
Message:My meditation teacher used this quote but she didn’t know the source of it. It’s really quite beautiful, but I am pretty suspicious it doesn’t come from the mouth of the Buddha. “It is in this way that we must train ourselves: By liberation of the self through love, We will develop love, We will practice it, We will make it both a way and a basis, Take a stand upon it, store it up, and thoroughly set it going.” – the Buddha

Hi, Geoffrey.

I was suspicious too, but this is actually a canonical quote, and as you say it’s rather lovely. It’s from the Samyutta Nikaya, and in Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation you’ll find it on page 708:

“Therefore, bhikkhus, you should train yourselves thus: ‘We will develop and cultivate the liberation of mind by lovingkindness, make it our vehicle, make it our basis, stabilize it, exercise ourselves in it, and fully perfect it.’ Thus should you train yourselves.”

The shift from 2nd person (you should train yourselves) to 1st person (we must train ourselves) is a bit of a fudge, but it’s So this is basically an accurate quote. I don’t know where your version of the quote comes from. The only Samyutta Nikaya I have is Bhikkhu Bodhi’s.

Thanks for sending me this one. I loved it!

All the best,
Bodhipaksa