Sunday, November 22, 2009

Fake Buddha Quotes

I came across this post a little bit ago. It's not the first post I have seen about made up quotes attributed to the Buddha, but I think it points to an issue we have to look at much closer: authenticity of nice sounding spiritual quotations.

The author of the blog bodhi tree swaying writes:

I came across this on Twitter today, tweeted by Buddha_Bones: “RT @Sharon_Phoenix “When words are both true and kind, they can change our world.” ~Buddha”

This can be found in various books attributed to Jack Kornfield, the Buddha, and Shunryu Suzuki.

What's interesting first off is the locale of dissemination: Twitter. I can imagine that, given the highly condensed, sound bite like appearance of Twitter, lots of fake spiritual quotes are being shared there every day. But Twitter is just one example; fake Buddha quotes are all over, including being published in books by well-known dharma teachers.

On the one hand, you might say "Who cares? If it's uplifting, positive, and supportive of practice, what does it matter?" In some ways I agree with that sentiment. However, on the other hand, false quotes can easily lead to ignorance about the same spiritual teachers and teachings the quote was meant to stand for in the first place.

There have been a lot of translation issues when it comes to ancient spiritual texts. Older English translations of Buddhist texts are riddled with a Christianized language and framing that highly muddles the original teachings. Some newer translations of the Bible, bent on upholding socially conservative political agendas, insert the word "gay" into lines of the Bible that are frequently used to substantiate anti-GLBTQ political propaganda. These are just two of the many examples of issues that come up with translations, which don't account for all fake spiritual quotations, but definitely a fair amount of them.

Given the speed of technology, and our general ability because of it to spread information quickly, it's important that we do our best to not create any more confusion than there already is.

Although fake Buddha quotes might feel good, in the long run, they might not be the best medicine.


Richard Harrold said...

I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiment. Misinformation about the Buddha's teaching is abundant, and I believe at the root of this misinformation is the propagation of these folklore quotes. And as you point out, sometimes the misappropriation of the Buddha's words is deliberately done with an agenda in mind.

spldbch said...

A lot of meaning can be unintentionally lost in translation as well. The English language does not always have words or concepts that are equivalent to those of the original language of whatever is being translated. Thus, what we get is actually an approximation in which nuances have been lost.

Anonymous said...

how would we know a "real" quote from a "fake" quote. who disseminates the true word, whose is a distortion? some zen masters say they have it passed down master to master, yet the earliest texts are the south indian pali texts and they weren't even written during the buddha's lifetime. the abhidharma has the formalized word of the buddha but what that means i'm not quite sure. the real quotes are the ones that are used skillfully.

Anonymous said...

The picture is a "Buddha" ectasy pill, is it intentional?