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Lions Roar : September 2017
Real Buddha Quotes... about Fake Buddha Quotes! SOME CLAIM THAT the Buddha was too “spiritual” to care about being misquoted. Yet the Buddhist scriptures indicate this was something that he was concerned about. For example, from the Abhasita Sutta: Monks, these two slander the Tathagata [the Buddha]. Which two? One who explains what was not said or spoken by the Tathagata as said or spoken by the Tathagata. And one who explains what was said or spoken by the Tathagata as not said or spoken by the Tathagata. These are the two who slander the Tathagata. Strong words! The Buddha even encouraged us, as part of our practice of the dharma, to identify and reject fake Buddha quotes! In the Maha-Parinibbana Sutta he tells us that when we see some- thing he is reported to have said, our response should be the following: Without approval or scorn, but carefully studying the sentences word by word, one should trace them in the discourses and verify them by the discipline. If they are neither traceable in the dis- courses nor verifiable by the discipline, one must conclude thus: “Certainly, this is not the Blessed One’s utterance; this has been misunderstood by that bhikkhu—or by that community, or by those elders, or by that elder.” In that way, bhikkhus, you should reject it. The Buddha was concerned that his teaching might become diluted over time, and even that fake Buddha quotes would arise. In the Ani Sutta, he predicted that his disciples would end up listening to “the works of poets, elegant in sound, elegant in rhetoric, the work of outsiders, words of disciples” rather than to his own teachings. He compared this process of substitution to a mighty drum becoming mute as it was patched over the years, until its original wooden body had disappeared, leaving only “a conglomeration of pegs.” This might seem like an exaggerated fear, but what are we to make of it when the majority of quotes on certain Bud- dhist Facebook pages are fake? Since many of us rely mainly, and sometimes almost entirely, on modern sources for our understanding of the dharma, it’s worth getting familiar with the actual scriptures. Then we can follow the Buddha’s own encouragement to attend to the actual words of the Tatha- gata—“deep, deep in their meaning, transcendent, connected with emptiness.” ♦ –BODHIPAKSA Did the Buddha say something even vaguely like this? He might have, but these aren’t his words. One objection I often hear to my investigation of suspicious quotes is that it’s the meaning and spirit of a quote that are important, not who said it. And it’s true that just because a quote is fake doesn’t mean that it’s wrong or spiritually invalid. Some fake quotes are so Buddhist that I wish the Buddha had actually said them. This particular quote is actually based on the words of Mary Ann Pietzker, a Victorian poet, but it certainly isn’t at odds with the Buddha’s teachings. In fact, it strikingly resembles the suttas. So what’s the problem? The problem is that to attribute a quote to the Bud- dha is to make a claim about fact: “This is something the Buddha said.” A quote may be in line with the Buddha’s teaching, and may even be inspiring and spiritually use- ful, but surely it’s better to get our facts straight. After all, didn’t the Buddha have a few things to say about truthful speech? ♦ LION’S ROAR | SEPTEMBER 2017 71