On the Internet, you can often see this quote: “There is no path to happiness: happiness is the path.” It is attributed to Buddha. But I have not seen it in any of the Buddhist literature I have read. Some people think that it is one of the many “fake Buddha quote.”
Frankly, I don’t particularly care if something is a fake Buddha quote so long as it is an interesting and thought-provoking in itself. Scholars often question whether Buddha, Jesus or Lao Tzu is a historical person. Authors in ancient times were more interested in telling interesting stories than reporting historical facts. In the Buddhist world, the Theravadins used to call the Mahayana sutras “not the true teachings of Buddha.” As a matter of fact, the source of the Mahayana sutra has remained unknown and mysterious.
But this does not really matter. For Buddha said, “Follow the teaching, not the speaker.” Buddha was not arrogant enough to assert that he has a monopoly on Truth. Buddhism also recognizes that there are numerous buddhas (or enlightened ones) before Gautama. For this reason, the distinction of what is an “authentic” Buddha quote and what is a “fake” one is a reflection of a small mind. Let us learn from the “fake Buddha quotes.” Let us celebrate them, so long as we can see truth in them.
There are multiple interpretations of this saying that “there is no path to happiness; happiness is the path.” What does it mean? Jiddu Krishnamurti once utter this astounding statement:
I maintain that truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or to coerce people along any particular path. If you first understand that, then you will see how impossible it is to organize a belief. A belief is purely an individual matter, and you cannot and must not organize it. If you do, it becomes dead, crystallized; it becomes a creed, a sect, a religion, to be imposed on others.
I see this statement as a caution against narrow-mindedness and religious tribalism. It warns against division and bigotry. It is so easy for the ego to claim a monopoly on Truth. Perhaps this is why Buddha compared his own teaching to a raft. A raft is not an end to itself. There is no absoluteness or finality. It is to be discarded after use.
Yes, when it comes to the search for Truth, it is an individual matter. No two people have the same needs. No two people have the same circumstances in their lives. When we try to fix, formalize and externalize Truth, it will become something rigid and sterile. It will lose its personal meaning and vitality. Jesus compared Truth to living water. The essence of living water is that it is not stagnant; it flows. Here is the relevant passage:
Now (Jesus) had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water. (John 4: 4–14)
Several things are remarkable in this passage. First, Jesus asked a Samaritan woman for a drink. Jews and Samaritans are from different ethnic groups. They dislike each other. Hence, the Samaritan woman was surprised by Jesus’s request. The fact that Jesus crossed the ethnic boundary seems to warn us against bigotry and small mindedness. Second, Jesus did not say that he is the living water. Rather, he said that the woman could obtain the living water through him. We should also note that “water” is used to mean two different things — physical water and something which is spiritual. That is why the Samaritan woman was confused. She asked, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?” Jesus did not really answer her question. Instead, he switched to the spiritual meaning of water. Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The meaning is clear. Jesus, the teacher, is a catalyst. Once the student is spiritually awakened, she will have within herself a spring of such spiritual water which will not be exhausted.
The Gospel of John is very different from the other three gospels in the Christian canon. While the other three gospels are synoptic, John’s gospel is Gnostic. Bible scholar, Elaine Pagels, wondered why a Gnostic gospel is included in the Christian Bible. She is an expert of the Gnostic gospels who has written two books on the subject. The bulk of the Gnostic gospels were not known to our world until they were discovered by a local farmer in the town of Nag Hammadi in 1945. These Gnostic gospels were hidden away in a sealed jar and buried, for fear of persecution. Thus, the Gospel of Thomas was excluded from the canon. So was the Dialogue of the Savior. What makes the Gospel of John so special that the church authorities decided to include it in the canon? Dr. Pagels believes that the acceptance of the Gospel of John has to do with its political value. In this gospel, Jesus is quoted as saying, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” Dr. Pagels believes that this statement lends legitimacy to the church. She said in her book, The Gnostic Gospels, “By indicating that one finds God only through Jesus, the saying, in its contemporary context, implies that one finds Jesus only through the church.”
But how shall we interpret this statement? Does it really mean that Christianity or the church holds a monopoly to Truth? Elaine Pagels observed that the Gnostic gospels typically have two levels of meaning — one intended for the general public, the other intended for a small group of disciples in the know. So, what could be the hidden meaning of this statement?
The key to decoding this cryptic message lies in something I discovered when I was writing my first book, The Zen Teachings of Jesus. My position has been that Jesus never claimed special divinity. He was not that vain or arrogant. Whatever he said about himself can equally be applied to you and I. When Jesus said, “The Father and I are one,” this does not mean that you and I cannot say the same. In fact, many mystics, from various cultures and religious traditions, have said similar things. Chuang Tze, for example, said, “Heaven and I are born together; the ten thousand things and I are one.” Today, I read a quote from OSHO which sheds light on this statement. He said:
You are the goal. You are the way. You are the light. You are the whole. That is the meaning when we say: ‘You are holy.’
In light of this, when Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me,” it can be interpreted to mean that you and I have to each find our own paths. We cannot rely on a teacher, a guru or even a buddha. Time over time, Buddha emphasized self-reliance. He said, “You yourself must strive. The Buddhas only point the way.”
“I am the way,” in this context, means that I have to take responsibility for my own enlightenment and liberation. No one else can do it for me. Similarly, we can interpret the statement, “There is no path to happiness; happiness is the path” — there is not set path for happiness. Just like Krishnamurti said, “Truth is a pathless land.” Each of us has to take responsibility for our own spiritual well-being and enlightenment. There is no room for spiritual laziness.