It has recently come to my attention that a number of widely-used Buddha quotes circulating around the internet are fake. Most of the quotations are things that have actually been said by someone, but have somehow been falsely attributed to the Buddha. Some are modern paraphrases of things the Buddha said as others explain the context of particular Buddhist scriptures. Others have just simply been made up.
Of course, I cannot take credit for this discovery. Since his first post about fake Buddha quotes in 2009, Bodhipaksa at Bodhi Tree Swaying has become (perhaps an unintended) authority on quotations falsely attributed to the Buddha. So far, he has written almost 30 posts about erroneous Buddha quotations from around the internet, discovered by himself, close friends, and his blog followers. Usually, he explains why the quotation is false, and cites where it actually came (or may have come) from. However, some 'fake' quotations he leaves unexplained, and are therefore not mentioned in this post.
The following are examples of fake Buddha quotations pointed out by Bodhipaksa, which I have linked to appropriate posts on his blog. I think you will find that these are prominent quotations, and like me, may have even considered them your favorite 'Buddha quotations'! Here they are:
"Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared."
"You cannot travel the Path until you become the Path itself." The original source of this quotation is listed in the comments of this linked post
finally (and ironically):
"Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and common sense."
As I mentioned before, there are quite a few more, which you should feel free to look up.
Of course, it doesn't help that these false quotations are constantly perpetuated on the internet, especially through facebook and twitter. Bodhipaksa also states that many of these false Buddha quotations have even made it into published books. How could this happen? Why are writers not doing their research?
The prevalence of fake Buddha quotations was initially quite shocking to me, as I am sure it is embarrassing to authors who have used these quotations in their writings. As for (inadvertently) perpetuating the fake Buddha quotes on twitter, I am among the guilty. Although I avoided 'Buddha' quotes that seemed too 'touchy-feel-y' or 'new age-y', I did so because I felt that the language didn't sound right, not because I thought the quotations were complete forgeries. My mistake!
Although discovering these fake Buddha quotes was initially disturbing to me, I would like to emphasize that I think Bodhipaksa is doing a great service. His blog posts have brought this issue to light, and because of that we can all be more aware and questioning of the origins of Buddha quotations, and be careful in how we attribute them. I for one was humbled by this revelation, and have resolved to be more discerning in the future, just as I would be while reading a peer-reviewed scientific paper in Plant Biology. I have therefore done my best to remove false quotations from ByChanceBuddhism, but if you see one, please let me know!
Finally, I want to mention that although being discovered as fakes can cause them to lose their luster, there is nothing intrinsically bad about the above quotations. I for one believe that if they give peace to someone and help them in their spiritual journey, they still have merit. It is just important that they be properly attributed, so that in the future sayings categorized as 'Buddha quotes' remain true to and do not distort the core teachings of Buddhism.
What did you think about this post? Did its contents surprise you? Please share with me your reaction, as I am anxious to discuss this issue. In the very least, I hope this discussion will help others avoid the mistakes I have made! Also, if you would like to discuss how to avoid fake Buddha quotations, please see my next post.
May all beings be happy!