Anger Is Like Grasping a Hot Coal To Strike Another; You Are the One Who Is Burned

Gautama Buddha? Buddhaghosa? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Feelings and actions driven by anger and resentment are self-destructive. This notion can be metaphorically illustrated by a red-hot coal which one grabs with the goal of striking another person. The poorly conceived plan causes one’s hand to suffer burns and pain. This figurative framework has been attributed to the Buddha? What do you think?

Quote Investigator: The Visuddhimagga (The Path of Purification) is an important treatise of Theravada Buddhist thought written by the scholar Buddhaghoṣa during the 5th Century (approximately) in Sri Lanka. Pe Maung Tin who was a Professor of Oriental Studies at University of Rangoon created a translation into English that was published by 1931.

The second part titled “Of Concentration” included a section on “The Developing of Love”. The text argued against performing deeds inspired by anger: 1

And he should ponder thus concerning himself: “Man, what wilt thou do getting angry with another man? Will not this angry deed which is the origin of hate lead to thy harm?”

Two vivid and complementary metaphors highlighted the unintended consequences of such anger. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:

Thou who dost such deeds art like a man who seizes with both hands glowing live coals or dung in order to strike another man therewith, but who first burns and befouls himself.”

Gautama Buddha did not deliver the words above; instead, they were written many years later by Buddhaghoṣa who was presenting his interpretation of Buddhist thought.

The Quote Investigator has explored an analogous expression, and the article can be read by clicking the following statement: “Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die”.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Anger Is Like Grasping a Hot Coal To Strike Another; You Are the One Who Is Burned


  1. 1931 (Part III was published in 1931 and Part II was completed before this), The Path of Purity: A Translation of Buddhaghosa’s Visuddhimagga by Pe Maung Tin (Professor of Oriental Studies, University of Rangoon), Part II: Of Concentration, Translation Series Number 17, Chapter 9: Exposition of Divine States: Section 1: The Developing of Love, Quote Page 346 and 347, Published for The Pali Text Society by Oxford University Press, London. (Verified with scans)

Resolve To Be Tender with the Young and Compassionate with the Aged

Gautama Buddha? Walter Scott? Lloyd Shearer? George Washington Carver? Dale Turner? Ann Landers? Bob Goddard? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The end of the year is fast approaching and some of your readers may be thinking about formulating New Year’s resolutions. I have heard a heartfelt resolution that encouraged one to be “compassionate with the aged”, “sympathetic with the striving”, and “tolerant of the weak”. The words were attributed to the Buddha, but the phrasing sounded modern. Would you please explore this statement?

Quote Investigator: “Parade Magazine” is a mass-circulation supplement that is packaged with Sunday newspapers in the U.S. On December 30, 1973 the front page of the magazine presented a set of ten resolutions which included the following four. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Avoid zealots. They are generally humorless.

Resolve to listen more and to talk less. No one ever learns anything by talking.

Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the wrong. Sometime in life you will have been all of these.

Resolve to love next year someone you didn’t love this year. Love is the most enriching ingredient of life.

The copyright notice at the bottom of the page listed “Walter Scott” which was a pen name of the long-time gossip columnist Lloyd Shearer. QI believes Shearer assembled the resolutions and should be credited with crafting the full expression listed in bold. QI also notes that some sub-phrases have been employed by other writers in the past.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Resolve To Be Tender with the Young and Compassionate with the Aged


  1. 1973 December 30, The Sun-Telegram: Serving the Inland Empire (The San Bernardino County Sun), Section: Parade Magazine (Sunday newspaper supplement from Parade Publications, Inc., New York), (Ten resolutions were printed on the cover of Parade Magazine; the copyright notice named “Walter Scott”, the pen name of Lloyd Shearer), Quote Page 1, San Bernardino, California. (Newspapers_com)

Watch Your Thoughts, They Become Words; Watch Your Words, They Become Actions

Ralph Waldo Emerson? Lao Tzu? Frank Outlaw? Gautama Buddha? Bishop Beckwaith? Father of Margaret Thatcher?

Dear Quote Investigator: What do the following people have in common: Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson, Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, supermarket magnate Frank Outlaw, spiritual teacher Gautama Buddha, and the father of Margaret Thatcher? Each one of these individuals has been credited with versions of the following quote:

Watch your thoughts. They become words. Watch your words. They become deeds. Watch your deeds. They become habits. Watch your habits. They become character. Character is everything.

Can you sort out this confusing situation?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence of a closely matching expression located by QI was published in a Texas newspaper feature called “What They’re Saying” in May 1977. The saying was ascribed to the creator of a successful U.S. supermarket chain called Bi-Lo: 1

“Watch your thoughts, they become words;
watch your words, they become actions;
watch your actions, they become habits;
watch your habits, they become character;
watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

Late President of the Bi-Lo Stores

QI believes that this saying evolved over many decades. One interesting property that is shared between the modern expression and several precursor sayings involves wordplay. Consider five of the key words in the saying: words, actions, thoughts, character, and habits. The initial letters can be arranged to spell the repeated focal term: w, a, t, c, h. This type of wordplay will be discussed further below.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order Continue reading Watch Your Thoughts, They Become Words; Watch Your Words, They Become Actions


  1. 1977 May 18, San Antonio Light, What They’re Saying, Quote Page 7-B (NArch Page 28), Column 4, San Antonio, Texas. (NewspaperArchive)