Monday, June 17, 2013

Separating The Diamonds From the Rough



Browsing through the internet really brings home to you just how much misinformation there is about the Dhamma. 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 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 rascal 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 website called Timeless Quotes had two dozen  “sayings” of the Buddha, a few authentic, some very loose paraphrases of  something he did say, 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?  
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.  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  someone 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.  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 “Never mind.” (Mai pen rai). 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 Theosophy we grew into New Age-ism 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,  the Samyutta Nikaya and the Anguttara Nikaya. 
Bodhipaksa,  a member of the Triratna Buddhist Order, has an excellent website called Fake Buddha Quotes in which he diligently and carefully separates  the fake from the true sayings. It is well worth reading. You can find it at  http://www.fakebuddhaquotes.com/

34 comments:

DiamondTraces said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Margaret Hall said...

Thank you so much for the link to the Fake Buddha Quotes website. So many people -- not just the Buddha! -- get misquoted on the internet these days, so having a resource to check the Buddhist ones is very useful for people like me who came to Buddhism later in life and perhaps are not as well read as we could be.

Moon Fang said...

Venerable sir,
I have been following mahayana Buddhist school for more than a decade. Recently I have met with theravada follower. I ask about Theravada Tipitaka and wish to read about Sutta in this flow of Buddhism. Many of them encourage me to read books by monks and other teacher but not Sutta. They even argue that some forest monk nvr read Sutta and can still attain fruits of Arahan. Why must we read Sutta?

I was shocked by this comment. But lucky I found your blog sir. And started to read Anguttara Nikaya translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi. Really opens my mind into a brand new horizon.

Blogger said...

Dear Venerable,

Some of the Mahayana Buddha quotes seem Dhammic in nature.How do we deal with Mahayana,should we condemn it as a heretical and a schismatic sect,a thorn in the doctrine of The Bhagava as the Elders felt?

Best Regards

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Moon Fang, it is true that certain groups within the Thai forest are strongly against reading the suttas, probably because, as you say, the suttas “really open the mind into a brand new horizon” and they prefer closed minds and narrow horizons. Reading the suttas offers unparalleled encouragement, inspiration, guidance and wisdom.

Dear Blogger, Mahayana is neither heretical or schismatic and studying Mahayana sutras and shastras can be helpful and deeply rewarding.

yuri said...

I agree that this problem is there but I also see it as a part of a much more serious problem. There is a trend in modern Buddhism similar to Christian theology - to quote so profusely Buddha and Buddhist Scriptures (whichever and how genuine the source) as well as debate what Buddha really said or meant. This might be a pleasurable occupation or pastime, but the fact remains that one cannot learn Dhamma just from books. Reading them could be inspiring but also sometimes confusing... If the scriptures could be the source of learning dhamma, Buddha surely would have written them. Admittedly, for some people prepared for accepting dhamma through their life experience or even many lives' experience, a single quotation from a sutta may happen to be a mind-opener, but this surely is a rare occasion. Scholarly approach to Buddhism is OK and can be quite interesting and informative, however alone it will not lead to enlightenment but only to debates, what enlightenment "really" is...

paulmalone said...

A very post, Bhante. All sorts of rascals out there, quite willing to lead people up the garden path.

I checked out the link too. Great stuff.

paulmalone said...

Bother! "interesting" is missing. Too busy trying to keep the robot detector happy (need to have my eyes checked!)

Russell said...

I agree with Ven Dhammika. Here in Melbourne a monk was essentially hounded out of Bodhivana Forest Monastery because he was interested in the sutta's.

It's called Fundamentalism and shares exactly the same traits as Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Islamic Fundamentalism in having almost no academic/scholarly tradition and the word of the Ajahn-Guru-Imam-Rabbi-Pastor=Pope being treated as THE final word on any given subject...whether they have any actual experience of it or not.

And absolutely the LAST sutta these Forest Fundamentalists ever want us to read is...the Kalama Sutta.

Blogger said...

Dear Venerable,

Thanks for the reply.Many monks say," I realized studying the scriptures was not useful,so I gave it up and went into solitary retreats".But suddenly they emerge and start preaching the Suttas.What did The Bhagava say, a Bhikku should know the discourses or even without knowing the doctrine a Bhikku could attain the same results?


Best Regards

paulmalone said...

In response to Russell's comment: That is terrible. I wondered if western monasteries might be less prone to fundamentalism or other such wayward teachings. But I guess not. It must be very difficult for someone who has chosen to become a monk to find themselves in this situation.

Russell said...

paulmalone: it's actually a feature of the Thai Forest Tradition where experience is KING. Brahmavamso Bhikkhu and Thanissaro Bhikkhu are the exceptions.

Fundamentalism in ALL religions shares exactly the same characteristics of an extremely limited scholarly tradition, a likewise limited questioning of authority and a very selective interpretation of religious texts.

Think Westboro Baptist Church, Wahhabi Islam (Al Qaeda, Jemaah Islamiyah, Front for the Defence of Islam) and increasingly the Ajahn Chah Tradition.

The monks in the Ajahn Chah Tradition in the West are a curious bunch. Tertiary education is almost unknown, Bodhinyana Forest Monastery again being the exception, they are often young and have categorically failed in sexual relationships...yet presume to tell those of us with tertiary educations and children about how life should be lived. Little wonder I stopped listening

yuri said...

Why so much ado about those who see Buddhism differently? Buddhism is no longer what it was in the days of Buddha, when buddhist scriptures didn't exist. Now we have different schools of Buddhism, different scriptures and not always in accord with each other. We have Buddhism as several religions, as a public, cultutal and sometimes even political force. We have scholarly approach and we have practical meditational and mindfulness approach.

Why go into mutual accusations and conflicts? Just use any of them and see if you really progress on the 8-fold Path: whether serious transformations of your character, emotions and thinking mode take place, if you better understand anicca, dukkha and anatta. Whether you start seeing things as illusion and develop nonattachment. If greed, hate and delusions leave you and are replaced by generosity, metta and wisdom. If not - then try some other form of Buddhism. For these things are most important, and not how many suttas we have studied.

Buddha's method was direct transmission of dhamma from an enlightened teacher to disciples with a strong emphasis on practice. The real problem today is to find an enlightened teacher. I do respect Shravasti Dhammika for honestly admitting that he has not even reached the stream-enterer stage. But this is the stage when the Dhamma Eye is opened and the core message of Buddha becomes deeply understood. This blog is a well of useful and interesting information about historic, cultural, theoretical and practical aspects of Buddhism. Yet at times it is used for attacking other schools of Buddhism, especially the Thai Forest tradition. For Russel and generally for sutta lovers here is a quotation from Sutta Nipata: "Even if you talk with conviction about the way you know, why scorn others and their ways? If you say they’re fools you only stir up trouble." I very much recommend to read this sutta, especially its chapters devoted to disputes and quarrels!

yuri said...

To Russell. Sorry for misspelling your name in my previous post! Mea culpa! The 8-fod Path - is the experience!!! And Ajan Brahm (I guess you meant him as Brahmavamso Bhikkhu) once said that reading buddhist literature to realise dhamma is like eating menus instead of meals.

j d said...

Russell, "Tertiary education is almost unknown" so what?! What does education have to do with enlightenment or nirvana?
I respect the forest tradition which of course includes Ajahn Chah, Ajahn Sumedho. They lived and live the teaching and didn't just talk the talk.
There's so many teachers around now with the gift of the gab, globtrotting, 5 star accomodation. Certainly not living a simple life style as in the time of the Buddha, on the contrary actually seeking the very opposite.

paulmalone said...

An étiquette question: How should I be addressing the blogger--Venerable one, Shravasti Dhammika, Bhante Dhammika? Not trying to be facetious here. I've noticed all sorts of variations and I don't want to be disrespectful.

Yuri: I think Bhante (?) is poking fun at himself when he says he has not yet even reached the stream-enterer stage. Even though he has lived for many years outside of Australia, he still would have ingrained in him a particular self-depreciating humor that is derived from Australian's aversion to boastful people. Colloquially know as Tall Poppy Syndrome.

paulmalone said...

I forgot to mention how fortunate people here in Austria are in regards to Buddhism. The Austrian Buddhist Society has been recognized by the government for 30 years now. All Asian Buddhist traditions are represented by the society, and there are always inter-tradition events going on.

On any one night you might attend a vipassana meditation session at the Theravada School, and rub shoulders in the corridor with Zen or Tibetan Buddhists. A really wonderful place to be.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Paulmalone, being disrespectful (or respectful or anything else) is a behaviour that gets its ‘flavour’ by the intention behind it. If your intention is to be polite, respectful, etc, then whatever form of address you use is polite and respectful. The usual way to address a monk would be to call him venerable or sir. Pali terms would be bhikkhu or bhante, and if you wanted to be all ‘ethnic’ you could use sayadaw for a Burmese, phra or ahjan for a Thai or swamivahanse for a Sri Lankan. For myself, I find venerable or sir too formal, I’m not Burmese, Thai, Cambodian, Laotian, Tibetan, Mongolian, Sri Lankan, Chakma, etc, etc, etc, so I favour the Pali bhante which was the polite and usual way of addressing monks in ancient India and which to me sounds nice. Meaning-wise the Pali bho would be better as it means something like friend or my dear. But it sounds a bit funny in English

Blogger said...

Dear Bho(yes, it is weird!!),

In Indian tradition, we don't greet elders using their names but in some Suttas The Bhagava is addressed as Bho Gotama,Samana Gotama and sometimes as Bhante, Bhagava.The term Brahmana(Pali) is also applicable to Him,did any one call Him Brahmana Gotama?Could you tell what other forms of address were used?
Is Bhante a shortened form of Bhadantacariya/Bhadanta?
What does Swamivahanse mean ?

Best Regards

Russell said...

jd: perhaps you didn't understand the context of the uneducated and or childless giving life advice to those with an education and children or just children. How can these people give meaningful advice on topics that they have never experienced. Perhaps though you will show me, what I once was...someone without either a tertiary education and children...yet an expert on both.

Yuri: yes Brahmavamso Bhikkhu is also known as Ajahn Brahm. I knew him well for almost 20 years and that quote is both typical of him and of the Thai Forest Tradition itself. It must be old, because in the time I knew him and the times I spent in his monastery, study of the sutta's was very much encouraged.

The other thing that I think JD addressed is the collossal ego's on some "Teachers". Perhaps the worst I have ever seen is Khemanando Bhikkhu of Vimokkaram Forest Hermitage, Kallista, Victoria who on being told of my wifes miscarriage and the death of our child gave me rather stern telling off for "having a soap opera of a life" despite me saying clearly "Selina miscarried", "my son is dead" no less than three times in 15 minutes. We had been bearing the brunt of a hate campaign from Selina's father, a devout Roman Catholic. We had had the audacity to love each other and Kontiarso Konjo only wanted our love to die. We had, unreasonly in Khemanando Bhikkhu's eyes, complained about the harassment. But please feel free to tell me I'm wrong.

Walter said...

Reading the scriptures is in the final analysis only a secondhand knowledge. It is like a color-blind person trying to know what is color by reading descriptions of colors. So how much need he read before he gets to know what is color? The answer, of course, is until he is cured of his color-blindness. Then he can see colors for himself. Therefore, the key is in understanding and gaining insight.

I am reminded of Zen/Chan Buddhism. It probably is a reformist movement to the Buddhism of the time which stressed so much on scholarly mastery of the scriptures. Hence "不立文 字 ", (literally "not establish text"). The Zen master Huineng (6th "Patriarch") in fact declared himself to be illiterate.

yuri said...

to paulmalone: :) I undertand that the self-presentation of Shravasti Dhammika in his blog is only half serious. Still, entering the stream is not a joking matter. It is a tremendous event. For the first time, instead of the taste FOR Dhamma one gets the taste OF Dhamma. Yes, Buddha alleviated somewhat the enormous task of liberation for us by giving (after his enlightenment) discourses, which later became suttas in Scriptures but which originally were just what we call now dhamma talks. But dhamma talks are only preliminaries to the main work - MEDITATION! Vipassana and Samatha meditation, walking and sitting meditation and developing mindfulness. Buddha did not know a single sutta and yet became enlightened.:)

to Russell: Sorry to hear your story. I lost my younger brother in January and I do understand how religious blah-blah and lack of purely human compassion can hurt. It is quite typical for dogmatic minds even of buddhists to be fixated on various dogmas and forget about genuine human feelings, forget even that Buddha considered compassion as truly divine quality of our minds. Blownn-up egoes are one of the greatest obstacles on the way to liberation. Egoes are not even fully dethroned at the initial stages of enlightenment - like entering the stream. But I think your idea of Forest school aversion to suttas is a bit exaggerated. If a monk can be expelled from a monastery because he had some interest in suttas that monastery is run by idiots. The problem is simply in priorities. If suttas are worshiped as some kind of deities - it is no less idiotic.

brahmavihara said...

Hi all, it's remarkable how some of Bhante's posts seem to hit a nerve and others pass into unremarked oblivion, so to speak.
So I wish to make an offering in the spirit of the above subject of a translation or rendering of a famous saying attributed to The Lord Buddha. The quote, is this one as best I can remember. "Avoid all evils, learn to do good, purify your mind.
This is the saying of all The Buddhas" To my mind this translation from the Pali has always had a kind of clunky or awkward feeling to it. The meaning, however seems clear! On a musical forum that I sometimes contribute to I have used as my tag or signature the above, but translated in a slightly more polished? translation. See what you think.
"Try to live a harmless life, make the world a happier place and keep your mind as clear as a shining diamond. This is the saying of all The Buddhas" I did put a certain amount of thought into it and tried to use Buddhist themed keywords such as, diamond (Vajra) harmless,(Ahimsa) but not lose the focus of the familiar translation. Maybe this is how those other flabby or innaccurate sayings began, with good intentions perhaps? Others seem born of really poor comprehension of Buddhism. I must say that this discussion about whether reading Suttas, Sutras or other Canonical sources, or whether meditating is the better approach, I should say that following The Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path is generally what is reccomended. As I have come to understand this, it is really a combination of the "two" (really eight) but of course really what resonates with each person as they understand it. Hopefully, and actually with good guidance of course!

Russell said...

yuri: He wasn't expelled. More given enough grief to the point where he left...thus hounded out.
He could also recite the entire Pattimokkha from memory. Seriously intellectual.

I think that if you want to hand out advice to people on living...it helps if you've done some.

If you are going to quote the sutta's...helps if you read them.

j d said...

Russell, Indeed I am also sorry to hear your story.
Most authentic teachers do not invite talk on romantic, domestic problems as they wish to stick to spiritual matters.
Nevertheless a teacher with compassion and insight should be able to handle such problems in their stride. They should also be able to guide a devotee towards some sort of solution so they can find inner peace.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Well, as often seems to be the case, the comments have strayed some distance from the main point of the post – poor knowledge of Buddha Vacana. Surely the arahats of old took the trouble to preserved the Buddha’s discourses because they saw them as a precious inheritance, and to ignore them is to waste this inheritance. The issue need not be an either/or matter? Surely a familiarity with the suttas it is possible while still giving time to meditation. Surely our meditation can be guided and enriched by things the Buddha said. In a very real sense, reading a sutta is like receiving guidance from the Buddha himself. This does not mean that guidance from a living teacher cannot be valuable, but surely the words of the Buddha are valuable too. Surely it is possible to have a good knowledge of the suttas without neglecting meditation.

Russell said...

Ven Dhammika
I completely agree. You need both sutta's & meditation. With a knowledge of the sutta's you can get away from the fake quotes.

yuri said...

Well, dear Russell, I am not sure that knowing by heart lengthy suttas or even the whole of Tipitaka is in anyway helpful in moving towards the goal of all Buddhists. Being very intellectual could be a hinderance on the Path. Whatever our intellect produces is charged with dukkha just as products of any other aggregate of clinging. It is not easy to understand it - I do not mean intellectually but directly and totally. Memorising Satipatthana sutta will not give this direct understanding. Only through mindfulness and meditation it can be achieved.

There was a period in my life when I was an avid reader of suttas. And I was so sure I did know and understand Buddha's teaching. Then one day I felt that this was purely intellectual knowledge and it didn't go deep enough to the core of my being. And then I had a chance to attend a retreat conducted by Ajahn Sumedho (also of Thai Forest School so much criticised by you :). There were no readings of suttas, but dhamma talks and various forms of meditation. And then it happened during a very deep meditation. Thanks to Ajahn Sumedho who helped me to get through one strong mental block.

None in this world is perfect unless he attains buddhahood. We can meet corrupt or too dogmatic and even silly people in all Buddhist schools. But to react to them vehemently is a sign of our immaturity. As to pieces of advice I would welcome any, whatever the source or the tone used. You choose and decide of course, but when there is progress in meditation, strange things start happening - you may hear a good recommendation in a conversation of two strangers in the street, or read it on a cover of a book in a book-store window, or - OK - find it in a sutta :).... As Dogen said: when you lose your "I" ten thousand things can give insight and enlighnement.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Yuri, I have had this sort of discussion with people many times before, and although I find it rather tiresome I’ll do my best and patiently explain my position again. I am not advocating “committing lengthy suttas to memory”, or “memorizing the Satipathana Sutta”, nor am I advocating “purely intellectual knowledge”. I think we are all agreed that such things are unhelpful. And yes, we all agree that being “very intellectual” is pretty fruitless to, but so is being un-intellectual or anti-intellectual. What I do recommend is careful, thoughtful consideration of the Buddha’s words as preserved in the Tipitaka, giving respectful attention to the insights and advice they offer, and using them to guide one’s meditation. I would have to say that I am not only distressed by the stubborn anti-knowledge attitude prevalent in some Buddhists but also bewildered by it. Cannot we, should not we, make use of all the recourses available for our spiritual practice, including the Buddha’s own words? After all, we claim to be Buddhists.

yuri said...

Dear Shravasti Dhammika! To say that Buddha himself instructs us in suttas can only be partly true. Buddha did not write them. Yes, we should feel gratitude to people who preserved the teaching first as the oral transmission and a few centuries later in a written form. But how authentic any sutta is - it's a question. How authentic, for example, are Mahayana's famous sutras in Sanskrit when Buddha was against using Sanskrit in his teaching? Similar questions may arise concerning many mythical stories found in Tipitaka, e.g. like Jatakas but not only.

We should be selective concerning suttas. But what can be our touchstone? The force of our intellect and logic? Buddha wouldn't approve of it. :) Knowledge? Anti-knowledge? When Buddha speaks of knowledge he means something different from what we usually mean. It is direct knowledge, direct understanding, and that can be achieved only through practice. He provides us with the answer in Kalama sutta, so unpopular with many religiously- and dogmatically-minded Buddhists. It is our experience, our practice. Ehipassiko!!! Suttas certainly are important especially at the early stages of the Path - they do provide guidance especially when we do not have an enlightened teacher (and who of us has?). But again we should be careful and selective and put them to test in our practice. Sometimes, I think, excessive interest in suttas can develop into a kind of attachment and block our progress. That is what prompted the emergence of Chan and Zen Buddhism as Walter here pointed out. One of the factors of enlightenment is free inquisitive mind and not great knowledge of suttas.

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

Sorry for this short comeback. But here is a quotation about knowledge: "Depend not even on knowledge and follow no learned group. You hold no view at all!" Is it from a Zen Patriarch or from that 'abominable' Thai Forest school? No - it is from Sutta nipata - Paramatthaka sutta! And one more quotation from it: "The wise point out that you’re bound if you see your way as best and the rest as inferior." Indeed, one is stuck in discrimination. Yes, we can really learn important things from suttas!

一只没有人会记得的萤火虫 said...

Please Google "The 128 Evil and Erroneous Views" and read the one posted on on dharmadhatu-center dot org website. These views are non-sectarian. All Buddhists who learn Buddhism and cultivate themselves must never follow any of these 128 evil and erroneous views if they want to progress on the path toward enlightenment, increase their good fortune and wisdom, and eventually attain liberation. Thank you.

brahmavihara said...

These wrong views are laid out in the Brahmajala Sutta 1st Sutta of the Digha Nikaya. They are also referred to the 64 wrong views and their opposites.I believe that the first of these is how an individual(given the right circumstances) can believe that they are a Great Brahma otherwise known as a creator God.