BUDDHA … HAPPINESS IS THE PATH … OR IS IT ?
You really never know what is going to happen when you awake to a new day. It is truly amazing that we have the opportunity to experience a new episode of life. It is never the Tomorrow that we seek. It remains Today, and yet it is still a joy. While doing some research the other day, I came across a quote that I had seen many times before. I am not so sure exactly where but I can certainly remember what it was. Those side trips I talk about while making my way along the Path? Another one was there before me. And I must admit, I never saw it coming, but then again I never do. It made me think, and how can that ever be a bad thing?
So all of a sudden there is this quote before me and, as I mentioned, I have seen it at least a hundred times before. Not this particular image, and definitely not with the red FAKE stamped over the quote. But it caught my eye and I was somewhat intrigued so I followed the link to see a bit more. What I found was someone who is obviously involved with trying to bring clarity to the veracity of quotes attributable to the Buddha, or Gautama, otherwise known as the ‘enlightened one’. His research was rather extensive, tracking down numerous comments by people over time, most quite similar to the quote itself, with his final declaration that this quote never came from the Buddha himself. I had no reason to doubt, one way or the other, the possible truth of what he said. Maybe a little disappointed at it probably being a false quote, and a little confused at someone deliberately doing such a thing, not particularly understanding why they would knowingly do so. In any case, I decided to make a short comment about the whole issue and said:
” If it makes you think, if it touches your soul, and if it allows you to grow, does who said something really matter? Does Buddha care about attribution? I think not. “
And I left it at that. I often make comments when I come across something that interests me, and in most cases never receive any feedback from them. Not this time. Within hours I received a response:
” To rephrase your question, “Does passing on inaccurate information matter? Does misrepresenting what someone said matter? Does not crediting an author with their creation and attributing it to somebody else matter?”
Did the Buddha care about attribution? It seems so, as evidenced by this, this, this, this, this, and this.”
My first reaction was to think this is just another angry person that resides in that non-reality we call the ‘web’, but upon reflection I have reconsidered and adjusted my views. He really seems to have an honest interest in thinking about, and resolving these kinds of issues, and I respect him for that. The six ‘this’s’ are a lot of information to read, much less digest, so I decided to take a little time to think about all he had offered and craft a reply. Since it was a lot to cover, and I would like to share my thoughts with others besides just him, I decided to put my words down in a post, to both develop and clarify my own positions on a number of his comments. But before I do I wanted to make a few things as clear as possible. I wish to preface with the following:
There is no one that believes in truth more than yours truly. I believe in the concept and search for it wherever and whenever I can find it. Anytime. Anyplace. It is an absolute, or at least I would like to think that it is an absolute, but with each passing day I become less sure. I recognize many truths, and eagerly attempt to incorporate them into my own personal philosophy, and yet many of those ‘truths’ are denounced and decried as false truths. In my own reality I am of course the final arbiter, but in the end my truth is little more than an opinion. Finding truth today, in our lives and especially in our politics and our society and our interaction with other individuals, can be an extremely frustrating and complex quest. Having said that, I move on to my friends comments.
” Does passing on inaccurate information matter? ” Of course it does, but there are degrees, and as already mentioned, fact and truth can be difficult and elusive. As with the Christian Jesus, and as well with the Gautama Buddha, there is basically no factual information about either, except maybe that they existed at all. There is no fact as to what either person ever voiced, except through myth and verbal history, as well as ‘scriptures’. It seems the earliest Buddhist scriptures, the Gandhãran Buddhist Texts, are estimated to have been written anywhere from 300 to 500 years AFTER his reaching Parinirvana, or the final deathless state, and abandoning his earthly body. Three hundred years is a very long time to hold on to concepts, much less specifics of the man, or his teachings. Whatever ‘Truth’ may in fact exist, will remain within the mists of time. And so too will remain immune to verification.
” Does misrepresenting what someone said matter? Does not crediting an author with their creation and attributing it to somebody else matter?” And again, of course it does. But there is a lot of grey area here. In a perfect world, everything would be ….. well …. perfect. Even with his research, he did not ever find exactly who uttered that exact quote. And the examples he presented are all basically saying the same thing, with the substitution of a word or the rearrangement of content. Isn’t that what we do with language? Are they not all plagiarizing the original quote, wherever it initially came from? Even when someone crafts a quote, is it not the culmination of their life experience from which he draws his words and his ideas? Is it not possible that he heard it from another, or is simply paraphrasing? And if someone truly never heard a specific quote, and a hundred years later pens it himself, is that not a unique and independent event? Does he not deserve the same attribution as the original? A quote is vastly different from a monologue or a novel. And there is also the whole idea of intent. The reality of misrepresentation can come by way of benign ignorance or through premeditated malice, which I fail to see with this instance. I think I see your perspective and yet I still cannot help but question the concept.
And finally we have to address your “Did the Buddha care about attribution? It seems so, as evidenced by this, this, this, this, this, and this.” That’s a lot of ‘this’ there. And I am pleased to say I like it! I appreciate your efforts and respect your passion. All too often when I attempt to speak with someone I am confronted with none of ‘THIS’. Mostly it is just a lot of ‘THAT’, with that being nothing more than derision, and confrontation, and ultimately of little value. Most people meet disagreement of any kind with anger and criticism, without thought or substance. They do not really even know why they think their own thoughts and react badly, simply making it personal, using the weapons of intimidation and derogatory comments to make or seemingly ‘win’ an argument or prevail in a conversation. Another quote leaps to mind, and I do NOT attribute this to the Buddha: ” As we battle on the field of ideas, there can be no outcome but victory. When we lose we learn, and when we win, we teach “. I always truly appreciate the opportunity to have a conversation. Having said that, I have not seen anything that dissuades me from my original comment. Everything you say about bringing veracity to these quotes is admirable and I agree in theory, but as already stated, this is all an exercise in futility since fact and truth can never be realized, at least in this instance.
Even giving credibility to these scriptures, there seems to be some obvious points to take away from their comments. These scriptures are meant for the initial level of acolytes that are in ‘training’ to learn and study the teachings of the Buddha. They are being instructed to look ONLY at the ‘utterances’ of the enlightened one, precluding all else, no matter if ‘well said’. It is an instruction manual for becoming a disciple and teacher and regurgitating the true words of their god. And it is also fairly evident that these writings are deifying him, but my limited research quotes him, from these very same sources, as denying omniscience or godhead. Again, this leaves me to only question once again the whole veracity of the scriptures and the men who recorded this information, likely with their own goals and agendas, and if history is a guide, simply flawed human individuals, and infinitely fallible in their intent and philosophies.
As you mention people who think that Buddha wouldn’t care about being misquoted. You ask ” How they know this, of course, is a mystery. Perhaps they have psychic powers that allow them to communicate with the dead. They certainly don’t seem to get their knowledge from the Buddhist scriptures “. Is this not exactly what you are doing by using scriptures to prove your own point? Are you not communing with the dead through simple pieces of birch-bark manuscripts? And how can we use interpretations from individuals of whom we know little if anything, that transcribed the scriptures, or even the musings of his disciple Uttara as confirmation of the very same words that they transcribe? Where is independent verification? Unfortunately there is none. There can be none. I do not deny the POSSIBILITY of truth here, but we know even less of these men than we know of Gautama himself. This is a slippery slope indeed. While you do not proclaim to use ‘psychic powers’, you do display a classic ‘faith’ in those scriptures and those translations. I am not looking for religion, nor dogma. I am always looking for God, but he has yet to reveal himself to me. Faith, basically by definition, does not reside in fact. It may be truth, but in reality comes back to opinion.
You mention false Dhamma as well as false gold in #5 and I have no alternative but to say that this really does not sound like Buddha whatsoever. I am not a Buddhist. I do not claim to have any special knowledge except that which I have gathered along the way. I follow no religion, but follow anyone and anything that catches my eye or my ear, and says something that my mind, and my heart, and my soul, as well as my intellect and of course my own brand of philosophy, tells me has value, and can help me in my quest for knowledge and improvement. Enlightenment, if you will. I then adopt these things into my world view and my philosophy, and attempt to incorporate them into the whole, and ultimately they become mine and mine alone. I give attribution, in the sense I readily acknowledge where some aspects have come from, when I even know or remember, if someone so asks. But otherwise, it becomes me and ceases to be of the source. My journey to understanding can never be that of another, and that includes even Siddhartha. Be that as it may be, I question these items because of, for me, the fundamental fact is that Dhamma cannot be diminished by false Dhamma and false gold cannot ever hope to replace true gold. Both Dhamma and gold have intrinsic attributes, and if the false cannot achieve the same results, then they are of no threat to the original, except to the ignorant and the charlatan, the ‘senseless people’ as you quote the Buddha. And if they are an equal to the original? Then they also have tremendous value, and in many ways are they not the same thing? I still find it hard to accept that Buddha would not find ‘happiness’ in the knowing that someone has progressed in a positive direction whether from a quote that came from within himself, or from someone inspired by him. The end result is the same.
Your efforts, while applaudable, have done little to bring clarity and truth, and unfortunately can only diminish this man, Gautama, in my eyes. Your portrayal, based on those scriptures you cite, offer an example of just a man, maybe searching for something more in his life, but no better than anyone else, and maybe that is a good thing, and a lesson to be absorbed. A bit full of himself, caring about attribution, and rather petty, worrying about noisy monks. Where does he exhibit this ‘nothingness’ or ‘ emptiness ‘ of which you speak if he is involved with these things that declare him a man of ego? And his comments on ‘senseless people’ seems to come from a place far from enlightened. No, I think I may attempt to leave him where he was in my minds-eye, as a person to try and emulate, as far as the search for improvement and fulfillment. We all need to look to those that can inspire us to greater things, and if a misrepresented quote gets thrown into the mix, then so be it. I don’t specifically look to Buddha for any of this, but like to think that there is someone who had the discipline and strength of character to achieve a higher state of understanding. It gives me hope that I, too, may someday achieve some semblance of success in my own search for the truth and the way.
There are many paths to the top of a mountain.
I will find my own way there.