A Real Buddha Quote (with commentary)

Said this, though (or something pretty close):

“Pay no attention to the faults of others, things said or left unsaid by others, things done or left undone by others. Consider only what is by oneself said or left unsaid, done or left undone.”
~ Shakyamuni Buddha

Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha, died in approximately 483 BCE (B.C.). For about 454 years his teachings were transmitted orally from one generation to another, much as were the books of the Old Testament. They were codified for the first time by the 4th Buddhist Council in 29 BCE. Several portions of the early documents have survived in Pali, Sanskrit and various other dialects. While it’s quite unlikely that the teachings were passed down with no changes at all (given the four-and-a-half centuries of being passed from teacher to student and so forth), we’re pretty sure that the basic ideas came through with reasonable accuracy.

Siddhartha spoke of serious things, not religious dogma but practical matters. His teaching tended toward repetition, as do most oral transmissions, in order for one thought to flow into the next so that they were more easily memorized. This is true even today in the few cultures that still pass on histories orally. Some of Siddhartha’s were far more repetitious than the example above. Generally speaking, the teachings are notable for precision and dealing with issues of the mind and human behavior in a serious way.

“Quotes” attributed to The Buddha that sound like catchy ideas and fit nicely on memes are not usually actual quotes. Many people over the years have apparently decided that their own thoughts don’t carry enough weight, so they attributed them to well-known thinkers to give them them substance — an issue with some historical documents as well. This is true not only of The Buddha, Lao Tse and other historical figures, but also people as diverse as the current Dalai Lama, Albert Einstein and George Carlin.

Bottom line: when it comes to quotes from Siddhartha and his disciples, if they sound cute and catchy or particularly saccharine the chances are they’re bogus.

There. I said it and I’m glad!

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