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Lions Roar : September 2017
the “lost in translation” quotes where someone has cre- atively rendered the Buddha’s words into a “new, improved” version that may express their own view of spirituality but are so far from the original meaning that they’re essentially fake. And sometimes people just make up a spiritual- sounding quote and stick “—the Buddha” on the end. But it can be hard to tell; I’ve been convinced a quote is genuine only to discover that it’s not. Is there such a thing as a genuine Buddha quote? We can never know! The Buddha didn’t write anything down. The best record we have of what the historical Buddha said is found in the scriptures of Nikaya Buddhism, including, but not limited to, the Pali canon. But these teachings were passed down orally for hundreds of years before being committed to writing, and in the process they were simpli- fied, edited, and made easier to memorize by being made repetitious. There’s no guarantee that anything in the scrip- tures is exactly what the Buddha said. But it’s the best we have to go on. However, we don’t have to be certain about what the Buddha did say in order to know what he didn’t say. My rule of thumb is this: if you can’t find a quote in the scrip- tures—any scriptures, including those of the Mahayana traditions—we should regard it as fake. If there’s no evi- dence of him having said something, then we shouldn’t claim he did. People often tell me that the Buddha was “too spiritual” to be bothered about being misquoted. But the reality is that the scriptures are full of stories in which the Buddha sets some seeker straight about what he’s said, and where he condemns those who have misquoted him. I’ve devoted a lot of time to rooting out and debunking these fake Buddha quotes. Here are some of my favorites. Did the Buddha say something even vaguely like this? Vaguely? Yes. This quote is often attributed to the Buddha, sometimes to “unknown,” and occasionally (and perhaps more accurately) to the Chan patriarch Seng-Ts’an, aka Sengcan, who died in 606. The Buddha did in fact have a lot to say about letting go of (or not clinging to) opinions, although the term he used was ditthi, or view. He repeatedly pointed out the need to renounce wrong (spiritually limiting) views and to embrace right (spiritually lib- erating) views. Only in this way can we reach nonview. In fact, one of the most famous similes in the Buddhist scriptures, found in the Alagaddupama Sutta, describes right view as being like a raft that helps us cross a river to get to the further shore—awakening. The raft is abandoned once its job is done, but without the raft of right view we have no way of making progress. LION’S ROAR | SEPTEMBER 2017 67