Dec 10, 2017

Buddha epigraph misattribution

Chapter 6 of Sharon Salzberg's Lovingkindness opens with a lovely saying by the Buddha:

The thought manifests as the word;
The word manifests as the deed;
The deed develops into habit;
And habit hardens into character.
So watch the thought and its ways with care,
And let it spring from love
Born out of concern for all beings.
—The Buddha

But wait a minute... this quote is too pat for the Middle-length Discourses of the Buddha (a), but not metaphoric enough for the Dhammapada (a).

Enter to straighten us out (a):

I haven’t yet found a definitive origin for the formulation that starts: “The thought manifests as the word…” The earliest citation of this in a book seems to be from 1984’s Staying Alive: The Psychology of Human Survival, by Roger N. Walsh, who ascribes it to that prolific author, “Anonymous.” So I don’t know exactly where this quote originates. The best I can say at present is that it emerged from many minds that were engaged in a mid- to late-19th century Christian exploration of character building — arguably an attempt to create a Christian equivalent of karma.

And then at some point before 1984 it acquired a coda about “concern for all beings” that sounds distinctly Buddhist. But the quote as a whole is not from the Buddhist scriptures. We can be fairly sure the Buddha never said this, although we can be equally sure that he said things like this.

So, Salzberg loses a couple points on the "historical scholarship" scoreboard, Bodhipaksa gains a couple points on the same, and I learn to always google things that seem eyebrow-raising.

[rereads: 1, edits: 0]

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