Monday, April 21, 2008

Misquoting the Buddha

Misquoting the Buddha
Just browsing through the internet really brings home to you just how much misinformation there is about Buddhism. On non-Buddhist websites I have seen enlightenment described as “the highest state of God-consciousness,” the Buddha himself called a ‘Nepalese’ and of him attaining enlightenment under a banyan tree. One website shows a brahman with a caption saying ‘Buddhist monk.’ And of course all this is besides the usual and by not firmly entrenched nonsense that Buddhism is a branch of/originated from/is the same as Hinduism, that the aim of Buddhism is to destroy the ego and that the Buddha really did believe in God but understood that the Divine cannot be described in mere words. Yawn! Yawn!
Another pervasive form of misinformation is attributing to the Buddha things he never said. I harvested these spurious saying in less half an hour on the internet. Apparently the Buddha said “Not this! Not this!” (actually from the Upanishads); “Look within. Thou art Buddha” (really penned by that old fraud Madam Blavasky) and “Protect the Earth and be kind to all living things” (how comforting to know that the Buddha was actually a politically correct greeny). One web site called Timeless Quotes had two dozen ‘sayings’ of the Buddha several of them authentic, most of them spurious. This one “Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself to it” makes the poor old Buddha sound like a forerunner to Norman Vincent Peel. And what about this one? “Unity can only be manifested by the Binary. Unity itself and the idea of Unity are already two”!!! One of those ‘Buddhism and Christianity are the same’ web sites claims that the founders of both religions called themselves “fishers of men.” The Buddha compared himself to an elephant trainer, a chariot driver, a potter and even a nanny (A.II,110; M.I,395;M.III,118, etc). But a fisherman? For me, this one really takes the booby prize! These and numerous other fake sayings infiltrate the general discourse on Buddhism, circulate for decades and are quoted as authoritative. Sad to say we Buddhists ourselves are partly responsible for this. Way back in the early 70’s Danial Goldman wrote a paper for the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology called The Buddha on Meditation and Higher States of Consciousness which was later republished by the Buddhist Publication Society. Problem is, almost nothing in this article/booklet was spoken by the Buddha. The bulk of it is from the Visuddhimagga, a work composed in Sri Lanka some 900 years after the Buddha. Very often I have heard or read that the Buddha said “All ordinary people are mad” (Sabbe putujjana umattaka). It’s an astute observation on the human psyche but the Buddha never said it. In fact, I have never been able to find out where it really comes from. Can anyone help? The wed site of an organization called the Buddhist and Pali College has these quotes attributed to the Buddha – “Ambition is like love, impatient both for delays and arrivals,” “Do not speak unless it improves on the silence” and “All know the way but few actually walk it.” I would be most interested if one of the pundits at the Buddhist and Pali College could show me where these cheesy gems come from. Ven. K. Sri Dharmmananda often use to quote these words as having been spoken by the Buddha, “A man should accept truth wherever he finds it and live by it.” In fact it was one of his favorite sayings and he often used it in his sermons. When he was compiling his book The Treasury of the Dhamma he asked me to find the reference from the Tipitaka for this saying. Immediately I tensed up. I knew he did not like being contradicted or shown to be wrong. As tactfully as I could I told him that these words were not from either in the Tipitaka or the commentaries. There was a thunderous silence for a few moments, then he cleared his throat and said. ‘Its there somewhere. I’ll find it myself.’ When his book finally came out I was relieved to see that this saying was not included.
Admittedly, most of the sayings passed off as being authentic Buddha Vacana show the Buddha in a good light. Even so, there is something mildly disrespectful about attributing to someone something they never said, quite apart from the fact that it shows lack of care, shoddy scholarship and a disregard for and an ignorance of what they did say. I can understand why non-Buddhists do this – they know no better and in many cases they have got their skewed quotes from we Buddhists. “Look within. Thou art Buddha” is cited as being from the scriptures by none other than Christmas Humphries in his Wisdom of Buddhism. But why are we Buddhists so careless about quoting our master? Amongst traditional Buddhists it almost certainly because they are so woefully ignorant of the sacred literature. In traditional Buddhists countries very few people ever read the Tipitaka and that goes for monks too. The Dhammapada usually gets a fair showing but that’s about it. Another reason could be the prevalence throughout much of Buddhist Asia of the attitude reflected in the Thai saying “Mai pen rai.” There is 1 ¾ million child prostitutes in the country. “Never mind”. There has been another coup. “Never mind.” Thousands of people left homeless by the tsunami are still without shelter. “Never mind.” The Buddha didn’t actually say that. “Never mind.” Sometimes one gets the feeling that shrugged shoulders rather than the anjali should be the archetypical Buddhist gesture. In the case of Western Buddhists it may be that just as we grew out of Theosophical gobbledygook we grew into New Age flimflam and we have never entirely succeeded in freeing ourselves from the influence of either. Whatever the case, its time we stopped misquoting the Buddha. The bulk of the Buddha’s words, at least as preserved in Pali, are now easily available in Walsh’s translation of the Digha Nikaya and Bhikkhu Bodhi’s accurate and readable translations of the Majjhima Nikaya and the Samyutta Nikaya. So if you are going to quote the Buddha quote him properly and give the source.

8 comments:

Noonshyne said...

Is the Tipitaka available on the net? Are any of the buddhism texts on http://www.sacred-texts.com/index.htm the Tipitaka?

David said...

Yes and there is a more extensive one at:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/index.html

Noonshyne said...

Thank you David.

piotr.paweł said...

Hi,

I have heard or read that the Buddha said “All ordinary people are mad” (Sabbe putujjana umattaka). It’s an astute observation on the human psyche but the Buddha never said it. In fact, I have never been able to find out where it really comes from. Can anyone help?

this comes from the letters of Ñāṇavīra Thera, who quoted from memory words of Buddhaghosa Thera. But actually he misquoted it a bit, because this phrase is not found anywhere in Buddhaghosa's writings. Original statement “... for the worldling is like a madman” (ummattako viya hi puthujjano) is to be found in the Visuddhimagga (Vis. 650) and in commentaries to the Mūlapariyāyasutta (MA. i. 25), the Sabbāsavasutta (MA. i. 68-9), the Paccayasutta (SA. ii. 41-2), and the Vibhaṅga (Vibh.A. 186)

Here is a good overview about it: http://www.lioncity.net/buddhism/index.php?showtopic=36594&view=findpost&p=516145

Terrance said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Terrance said...

From this blog:

http://www.wildmind.org/blogs/quote-of-the-month/krishnamurti-measure-of-health

There is the quote:

“Worldling” is a translation of “putthujana,” which is simply anyone who isn’t enlightened. That’s me, and you. The Buddha had his own ideas about what constitutes mental health, and by his definition anyone who isn’t well on the way to Enlightenment is insane. Quite how literally he meant it when he said “All worldlings are mad” is hard to say, but when he looked at ordinary people like us going about their daily business he saw a world out of balance — and a world that by necessity is out of balance, because it is composed of those same off-kilter individuals.

He had a term for this imbalance, which was viparyasa in Sanskrit, although the less-well-known Pali equivalent vipallasa is a bit easier on the tongue and the eye. Vipallasa means “inversion,” “perversion,” or “derangement.” Specifically, in using this term the Buddha was talking about the ways in which we misunderstand the world we live in, and the ways in which we misunderstand ourselves. ...

Googling we find:

Anguttara Nikaya IV.49
Vipallasa Sutta

http://city.tomsk.net/~sutras/angutara/an4-49.html

"Monks, there are these four perversions of perception, perversions of mind, perversions of view. Which four? 'Constant' with regard to the inconstant is a perversion of perception, a perversion of mind, a perversion of view. 'Pleasant' with regard to the stressful...'Self' with regard to not-self...'Attractive' with regard to the unattractive is a perversion of perception, a perversion of mind, a perversion of view. These are the four perversions of perception, perversions of mind, perversions of view.

"There are these four non-perversions of perception, non-perversions of mind, non-perversions of view. Which four? 'Inconstant' with regard to the inconstant is a non-perversion of perception, a non-perversion of mind, a non-perversion of view. 'Stressful' with regard to the stressful...'Not-self' with regard to not-self...'Unattractive' with regard to the unattractive is a non-perversion of perception, a non-perversion of mind, a non-perversion of view. These are the four non-perversions of perception, non-perversions of mind, non-perversions of view."

Perceiving constancy in the inconstant,
pleasure in the stressful,
self in what's not-self,
attractiveness in the unattractive,
beings, destroyed by wrong-view,
go mad, out of their minds.
Bound to Mara's yoke,
from the yoke they find no rest.
Beings go on to the wandering-on,
leading to birth & death.

But when Awakened Ones
arise in the world,
bringing light to the world,
they proclaim the Dhamma
leading to the stilling of stress.
When those with discernment listen,
they regain their senses,
seeing the inconstant as inconstant,
the stressful as stressful,
what's not-self as not-self,
the unattractive as unattractive.
Undertaking right view,
they transcend all stress & suffering.


I think this might be the source?

Avatar said...

Dear Shravasti Dhammika,

I had no idea that there are quotes wrongly attributed to the Buddha. Now, I see the reason for your concern in my blog about Buddhist Economics as well.

Thanks for highlighting this problem. Frankly, this misinformation is quite disturbing for me.

Rgds

piotr.paweł said...

Hi bhante,

It's not only the Buddha who is often misquoted. Take a look at this book:

http://books.google.com/books?id=NCOEYJ0q-DUC&dq=They+never+said+it&hl=pl&source=gbs_navlinks_s

There a lot of misquotes, some are very famous.