Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Some time in 2003 a website from Thailand appeared on the internet with an article making an extraordinary claim – that in the 5th century BC the Buddha prophesized the coming of Jesus Christ, and that this prophesy can be found in the Buddhist scriptures, the Tipitaka. This article was quickly picked up by other websites and blogs and since then has appeared in numerous others, as well as in several publications. Now (2009) there are at least four different versions of the supposed prophesy and yet more claims about it. Below is reproduced the most common version of this prophesy.

‘When Buddha was traveling and living in this world, there was an old Brahman priest who wore white robes who asked the Buddha, “How will all men and all Brahmins continue in their merit-making so as to escape the results of sin?” The Buddha answered, “Even though all of you give alms according to the 5 precepts, the 8 precepts, the 10 precepts, or the 227 precepts for 9 trillion years and you raise your hands and offer yourselves as a burnt offering, or you pray 5 times a day, you will still not escape the results of your sins. If you do this every day, your merit gained will only be equal to the smallest strand of hair of an unborn infant which is extremely small. You shall not enter heaven’s doors.” The old Brahman priest asked further, “What are we all to do to be saved?” The Buddha answered the old Brahman priest, “The results of sin and karma are very great, heavier than the sky, thicker than the earth, and so high that it would be like an angel dusting the corner-posts of the temple compound with a cloth post that are 18 inches high - dusting them one time per year - until the posts were worn down to the ground. When the posts are worn down, that’s how long it would take to end your sins.”

The Buddha said further, “I have given up my high position and entered the priesthood. I considered that even though I am good, I would have only a very small amount of merit at the end of the year. If I was given this same amount of merit for 100,000 epochs and live 10 more lifetimes, I would not be saved from sin’s results even once.

The old Brahman priest asked further, “So what should we all do?” The Buddha answered, “Keep on making merit and look for another Holy One who will come and help the world and all of you in the future.”

Then the old Brahman priest asked, “What will the characteristics of the Holy One be like?” The Buddha answered him, “The Holy One who will keep ??? the world in the future will be like this: in the palms of his hands and in the flat of his feet will be the design of a disc, in the side will be a stab wound; and his forehead will have many marks like scars. This Holy One will be the golden boat who will carry you over the cycle of rebirths all the way to the highest heaven (Nirvana). Do not look for salvation the old way; there is no salvation in it for sure. Quit the old way. And there will be a new spirit like the light of a lightning bug in all of your hearts and you will be victorious over all your enemies. Nobody will be able to destroy you. If you die, you will not come back to be born in this world again. You will go to the highest heaven (Nirvana).” ’

What are we to make of the claim that the Buddha spoke these words and that they are recorded as such in the Buddhist scriptures? The first thing one notices about this passage is that its style, structure, language, the similes used, etc. are markedly different from those found in the Buddhist scriptures. For example, the Buddha is rarely referred to in the Tipitaka as ‘the Buddha’, he is almost always called and/or addressed as ‘Tathagata’ or ‘Bhagava’ (Lord). Anyone familiar with that particular labored and repetitious style characteristic of the Buddhist scriptures will notice that it is absent in this passage. The term ‘burnt offering’ has no Pali equivalent (Pali being the language of the Tipitaka) because making burnt offerings was not a practice done in ancient India. Making burnt offerings is of course mentioned in the Bible. The word sin does not really have an equivalent in Pali, although it is a well-known Christian term. The practice of praying five times a day was not a Brahmin or a Buddhist ritual either. Nowhere in the Buddhist scriptures in Nirvana thought of as a kind of heaven, although those with little or no knowledge of Buddhism often mistakenly think they are the same. But perhaps the strangest thing about this passage is that it has the Buddha implying that one is saved (again more a Christian concept than a Buddhist one, Buddhists usually speak of being ‘liberated’) by making and accumulating merit, and that it is impossible to ever accumulate enough merit to be ‘saved’. Anyone familiar with even basic Buddhism will know that this is the antithesis of what the Buddha taught. In the Sutta Nipata (Chapter 3, Discourse 2), to give but one example, Mara, the Evil One, approaches the Buddha and tempts him to stop meditating and ‘accumulate merit’ instead. The Buddha rejects this suggestion saying ‘I have not the slightest need of merit’. In Buddhism, enlightenment is not attained by accumulating merit but by developing wisdom and understanding. In another discourse, the Buddha says that making merit for the next life is ‘not worth even a sixteenth part of having a heart of love.’ (Numerical Sayings, The Eights, Discourse 1). Here and in many other places in the Tipitaka, merit is considered of very little importance in the religious life. In short, the claim that this passage comes from the Tipitaka does not seem credible.

So does it come from the Buddhist scriptures and if so from where? Just as the Bible is divided into books, chapters and verses, the Buddhist scriptures are divided into books, chapters, discourses and sometimes into verses too. Not one of the websites or publications which reproduce this supposed prophesy ever give a reference to where it comes from in the Tipitaka - not the name of the book it is supposed to be in, not the chapter, not the discourse or the verse numbers. This should make one even more suspicious about the authenticity of this passage.

I have studies Pali for 20 years and can read the Tipitaka in that language. Despite my wide knowledge of the Tipitaka I know of nowhere where this passage or anything like it occurs. In order to double check, I sent copies of the passage to eight Buddhist academic institutions in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand asking if they could identify it as being from the Buddhist scriptures or even from any post-canonical writings. I received replies from seven of these institutions which confirmed my findings. All of them said that the passage is spurious. So the conclusion is clear. The claim that the Buddha prophesized the coming of Jesus Christ and that this prophesy is in the Buddhist scriptures is fraudulent and false.

But who would commit such a fraud? Who would knowingly and deliberately lie and for what purpose? As noted above, the passage in question contains several Christian terms and biblical notions. It’s content claims that the Buddha was asking people to await the advent of someone greater than him, i.e. Jesus Christ. Further, having surfed the net I have found that this supposed prophesy only appears on Christian websites. Considering all this, the conclusion seems inescapable. Either a Christian or a group of Christians have perpetrated this fraud. But why would disciples of Christ, a teacher who insisted on the highest ethical standards, be involved in lies, deception, chicanery and fraud? Only the person or persons involved can answer that question. But as a Buddhist, I find it strange that some people are so determined to spread what they believe to be the truth, that they are even prepared to tell lies.

About a year after this hoax began circulating, two scholar monks, one in Sri Lanka and another in Cambodia, wrote refutations of it and exposed it as fraudulent. Since the publication of these refutations, more details about the supposed prophesy have appeared. One of these additions goes like this. Just before the Sixth Buddhist Council in 1956, a Thai monk received permission to copy out the whole of the Tipitaka and while doing this he discovered the prophecy. After he had finished, the authenticity and accuracy of his copy was certified by his local village headman. Later, when the Sixth Council Edition of the Tipitaka was published, the monk discovered that the Buddha’s prophecy had been deleted, and he converted to Christianity. To give this tale an air of authenticity, names, dates and places are included in it, none of which can be authenticated or refuted, which is, of course, probably their purpose. When you can’t prove a fabrication, it’s hard to disprove it also. But once again, this story does not ring true.

A monk would not need ‘permission’ to copy out the Tipitaka any more than you or I would need it to copy out the Bible. If the monk was learned - and he would have to be to copy out the whole of the Tipitaka – why had he not read or at least heard about this prophesy before? The Buddhist clergy have been studying their scriptures for 2000 years. Surely at some point in this monk’s education someone must have mentioned this prophecy if it had really been in the Tipitaka! That a village headman in northern Thailand in the 1950’s would know Pali, let alone known it well enough to vouch for the accuracy of a copy of the Tipitaka, stretches credibility to breaking point. Further, the Tipitaka is a huge book, 45 large volumes in the Royal Thai Edition. It would take one person several decades to accurately copy it out, check it and re-check it. Then it would take the village headman just long to check and compare, word by word, one copy with the other. And another point! Why would a monk in the 1950’s want to or need to make a copy of the Tipitaka? The Royal Thai Edition was published in the 1920s, and has been widely available ever since!

The purpose of this addition to the hoax is obvious. After it was demonstrated that the fake prophecy was not and never has been in the Tipitaka, the fraudsters, or others with the same agenda, began claiming that the prophecy was there but that it was quietly removed during the Sixth Council. It is very easy to disprove this preposterous claim. The whole of the Fifth Council Edition (1871) was engraved on marble slabs and is still available for anyone to check – and the prophecy is not there! Besides that, there are numerous ancient copies of the Tipitaka, dating from hundreds of years before the Sixth Council Edition, and none of them have the supposed prophecy in them. Not one of the many ancient manuscripts of the Tipitaka in the libraries of the Pali Text Society in the UK, and the University of Copenhagen, all of them deposited in those libraries in the 19th century, have the prophecy in them either. And one last point. In the 19th century the famous Christian missionary Reverend Spence Hardy (1813-1900) learned Pali, studied the Tipitaka in detail and wrote numerous books trying to demonstrate the superiority of Christianity over Buddhism. If this prophecy had really been in the Tipitaka before the 1956 Council, Hardy would have surely found it and highlighted it in his numerous writings and sermons. But he never mentioned it or even alluded to it. This is evidence from a Christian source that this prophecy is not and never has been in the Buddhist scriptures. So like the prophecy itself, the claim that it was removed from the Tipitaka is an impudent lie.

So what is the purpose of all this clumsy, transparent fraud? Some evangelical Christians are determined to make as many Buddhist converts as they can. To this end they are prepared to do almost anything, including using trickery, lies and deceit. The fictitious Buddha’s prophecy about Christ is but one example of this.

John Johnson