What The Buddha Said … Or Did He?

August 6, 2012 § 5 Comments

This is just “a little something” I came across while doing some hunting and pecking online for another essay I’ve been working on and has to do with all those little quotes we see on Twitter, Facebook, posters, greeting cards, coffee mugs, Android and iOS apps and anywhere else you can think of. You’ve probably seen them: Buddha Bless is one common source of these quotes that I’ve seen my friends posting on Facebook, but there are others, too.

Free image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I was adding a signature to my forums profile for the Secular Buddhist Association that I’ve been trying to post to more often lately. I wanted to find something interesting that Siddhartha Gautama might have said. While on my search, I queried on Google “Buddha quotes,” and came across this:

In a controversy the instant we feel anger we have already ceased striving for the truth, and have begun striving for ourselves.

This, according to brainyquote.com is something that the Buddha said. Now, because I’m not familiar with the suttas and this is a line that I’ve never heard being referred to before, I wanted to be able to cite in my signature exactly where this came from — as in which sutta/teaching what have you. So, I searched further by plugging in the whole quote into ask.com with “Who said ‘quote’?” Lo and behold, among top in search results was Fake Buddha Quotes, and specifically, it pointed out the fact that this quote is NOT one of Sid’s.

Fake Buddha Quotes is a blog kept by someone I haven’t managed to identify yet, but is full of quotes found circulating online and elsewhere. This individual, since 2009, has been finding and receiving e-mails about quotes found here and there, and figuring out if they are real or not. What’s great about this blog is, that not only does this person tell us if the quote is real or not, he or she also does the research to figure out what the actual source is, if possible! Even if the quote is true, he or she backs it up with a reference to the particular sutta from which it comes.

I’ve really enjoyed going through this blog, as there are the occasional pieces in which the blogger has had to defend himself/herself from readers who apparently don’t like the fact that this person is identifying fake from real quotes, or other issues that come up here and there. This writer very skillfully defends his/her position, and regardless of the verity of the quote, the reader always comes away feeling like they’ve learned something. I’m not much of a blog reader really — I find reading on the computer uncomfortable and awkward, so I tend not to do it much — but I’ve gone through much of the archived blog posts and enjoyed finding out that many, many of the quotes that various of my friends put up, are in fact attributable to more (relatively) modern sources, and definitely not Buddhist sources.

So I guess the question is, why shouldwe care if a “Buddha quote” turns out not to be so Buddhist? Well, I know for myself, had I just popped up that quote into my signature, and later found out it wasn’t in fact a Buddhist quote, I would have felt rather silly — especially since I would have had to admit that “I Googled it” and didn’t actually get the quote from an ‘acutal Buddhist source.’ Finding out the truth led me to more learning, more knowledge, and, it hasn’t prevented me one bit from using the quote in my signature. I just won’t look the fool by attributing it to someone who didn’t actually say it! Rather, I’ve given it the attribution of ‘unkown,’ as the blogger’s research led to multiple possible sources, and in the end, was inconclusive.

Free image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Another reason is what the Buddha himself would want — it seems this blogger has run into situations where readers have said that the Buddha would not mind or care about having quotes attributed to him which are not his own. There’s no way in heck I could do a better job than this blogger — who is clearly a scholar of Buddhism — of refuting this line of thinking. So here’s the link to what he has found as far as the Buddha’s stance on being misquoted, or having others’ words attributed to him: Read that blog entry by clicking this 😉

If what the Buddha would have thought doesn’t really concern you, we could also point to the practice of Right Speech. Would blindly letting someone tell me the Buddha said something be skillful of me? Would I be contributing to spreading a false impression of something that someone said? Also, what about those people who are the actual originators of those quotes? Do they not deserve credit for that intellectual property?

Of course, when push comes to shove, I shouldn’t really let my search stop at reading up on the Fake Buddha blog. If I were being a GOOD studier of Buddhism,  I really should go and see if this blogger’s information is right, by checking the information out myself, too. He does make the information awfully easy to find as he points directly to the sources.

Perhaps I will sometime … when I don’t have my child whining at me that she can’t find the remote, when the dishes aren’t piling up, dust bunnies under the couch aren’t taunting me and rapidly multiplying, and lessons aren’t sitting around waiting to be planned.

I’m just heartened to know that there are people out there doing the hard work of research so laypeople like me can depend on them for right information. Thanks to all of you!

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§ 5 Responses to What The Buddha Said … Or Did He?

  • Bodhipaksa says:

    Thanks very much for your kind comments. I’m glad that you find my FBQ blog useful, and I appreciate your support where it comes to people being annoyed at me for pointing out that some of the quotes attributed to the Buddha didn’t originate with him. It’s a funny business!

    I’d overlooked that I don’t make it clear on the blog who I am, which is rather embarrassing in a blog about attributions! I’ve added a brief bio on the “About” page. The situation arose because the FBQ posts used to be on my personal blog, and I moved them to their own site a couple of months back. In the rush to get the new site set up I overlooked to say much about myself. So thanks for pointing that out!

    All the best,
    Bodhipaksa

    • Of course 🙂 Your blog is so informative. I suppose there may be a certain defense mechanism involved in some readers’ responses to your blog. One of my friends said once something to the effect of that if what you’re doing is causing a stir, then you know you’ve hit the right nerve. I’m looking forward to your future posts.

      That’s wonderful that you’ve added some information about yourself! I’ll have to scoot over and take a look 🙂

      Thank you for taking a look at this blog and commenting, and it’s very nice to ‘meet’ you!

  • Wonderful! And thanks so much for pointing out Bodhipaksa’s blog — I’ll add it to my blogroll..

    This is a subject dear to my heart in part, I think, because in reading the suttas the only spots where I find the Buddha to be showing anything like “temper” are around (1) noisy crowds of monks (I, too, prefer quiet) and (2) when someone misrepresents what he says.

    MN 38: “…”And to whom, worthless man, do you understand me to have taught the Dhamma like that? Haven’t I, in many ways, said…”

    What he says is important, and he is very careful in his choice and use of words.

  • Thanks for sharing, Miyo! A noble effort on Bodhipaksa’s part. Although this kind of misattribution is no doubt aided by our modern communication technology, who’s to say it didn’t go on in Gotama’s time as well? While it’s useful to weed out statements that Gotama is not recorded as having made, it’s also important to remember that the Pali texts themselves are not a reliable record of “what the Buddha said.” Like everything else, the teachings are ultimately empty and unfindable. If we are to locate their authority, we have to find it in our own hearts and minds.

    • bodhipaksa says:

      Hi, Mark.

      Yes, these are very real questions, and I do go into them on the site. Even in the Buddha’s day he was misquoted, and as Linda points out it’s one of the few things that seems to have really pissed him off.

      We know also that some of the Pali canon was distorted as a result of factionalism in the Sangha, and I’m sure that some of the verses in texts like the Dhammapada were sayings that were in circulation and happened to be attributed to the Buddha.

      What I’ve mostly been able to do is find the actual sources of these fake quotes. If I can establish that a suspect “Buddha Quote” is not only contrary to the general tone of the Buddha’s teachings, employs language and idioms that are foreign to the scriptures, but also that the saying actually by another author, then we can be confident in saying that it’s fake.

      But we can never prove that anything in the Pali canon was actually uttered by the Buddha…

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