In Mathew 17:15, Jesus said: “Beware of false prophets.” But how?

Not all prophecies can be trusted, much less believed. It is necessary to read prophecies carefully—and critically.

For instance, there are a number of apocalyptic texts that base “last events” on “past events.” In other words, such prophecies appear to “foretell” what are actually past occurrences (usually in the fairly recent past) as though these events were going to happen in the future! In these not-very-prophetic “prophecies,” recent history gets “replayed”—but with a different outcome in the future scenario.

Some prophecies are even borrowed, as we’ve seen in the case of the Kalki prophecies, which, surprisingly, are found in both Hindu and Buddhist texts!

In previous articles, we looked at some Hindu texts regarding the adventures, exploits and conquests of Kalki, as told in the Kalki Purāṇa. We have seen how Baha’u’llah has been proclaimed as “Kalki Viṣṇuyaśas,” the future avatar, by Baha’is from a predominantly Hindu background. “Kalki” means the “Destroyer” (of what is foul, i.e. sin). “Viṣṇuyaśas” translates as the “fame of Viṣṇu”—similar to “Baha’u’llah” whose name, in Arabic, means the “Glory of God”.

But a word of caution here: the public claim that “Baha’u’llah is Kalki” should be qualified. Here’s why:

We have previously shown how the Kalki Purāṇa depicts Kalki Viṣṇuyaśas as leading a fierce military campaign against Buddhists, as well as Jains and other mlecchas (“barbarians” or “foreigners”). Baha’u’llah, of course, did not do that. Quite the opposite: Baha’u’llah proclaimed that Hindus and Buddhists—as well as the followers of all other religions—should strive to do the following:

… O people! Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 22.

Now here’s a new problem: there are actually Tibetan Buddhist prophecies that predict that Kalki will militarily fight and defeat Muslims (but without killing them)! According to Alexander Berzin, a renowned scholar of Tibetan Buddhism: “With Kalachakra, the Buddhists responded to the general fear of an invasion by asserting its own messiah prediction.”

Here’s one such prophecy:

The cavalry of the Tāyin [Arab Muslims], engaged in war, will entirely destroy shrines that display buddhas, bhairavas, men, women, and snakes. They belong to a single caste, and do not take [each] other’s property; they speak the truth and practice hygiene. Their youths avoid others’ wives, and upholding the precepts of asceticism, they resort to their own wives. On earth and in heaven the lord of darkness [Allāh, i.e. God] only protects those Tāyin and tīrthikas [i.e. Arab Muslims and other “heretics”] who, having washed, prostrate to the worshipped Rahu [Raḥmān, i.e. God] five times each day at noon, afternoon, evening, night, and sunrise. In fierce battles [he] protects [them] like a father [protecting his] sons and servants. Since the kshatriyas [warrior caste] will not fight, [the Tāyin] king, having worshipped the terrifying [deity] with the flesh of birds and beasts, will cut off [the kshatriya] lineages by harming various sentient beings and pillaging others’ wealth. …

In the future, the descendants, relatives, and men of the lord of the barbarians, Muḥammad, will destroy sixty-eight temples of the sacred sites and pilgrimage places on earth. In eighteen hundred [?] years, in Makka [Mecca], etc., [and in India,] the land of the Aryans, I [Kalkin Yaśas, having reincarnated as Kalkin Raudra Cakrin], will annihilate the barbarians and the god of darkness [Allah] whom they imagine to be the sun.

O Surya, I will place living beings in happiness by establishing them in [the Dharma] through the rite of the three refuges in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Then I will go from Kalapa [in Sambhala] to Tusita, the supreme abode of the gods.Śrī-Kālacakra-tantrottara-Tantrahṛdaya-nāma II.4 and II.6, translated by John Newman, “Islam in the Kālacakra Tantra,” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 21.2 (1998): pp. 311–371 (above quotes on pp. 344–345, emphasis added).

Obviously this prophecy was written after the fact. According to Alexander Berzin, this is what happened:

The singular Buddhist textual tradition that mentions any Islamic customs or beliefs is the Sanskrit Kālacakra Tantra literature, which emerged in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries CE. … Buddhist masters saw a threat to their society posed by a certain Muslim political faction. Consequently, they seem to have felt it necessary to inform their followers about the beliefs of the possible “invaders.” …

From 876 to 976 CE, the entire region was under Hindu Shāhi rule. The Sunni Muslim Ghaznavids, vassals of the ‘Abbāsids, conquered the Afghan side in 976 CE and finally overthrew the Hindu Shāhi rulers of the remaining Pakistani side in 1010 CE. The Ghaznavids were tolerant of Buddhism and Hinduism within the former Hindu Shāhi realm. – Alexander Berzin, “Historical Survey of the Buddhist and Muslim Worlds’ Knowledge of Each Other’s Customs and Teaching,” The Muslim World, Vol. 100 (April/July 2010): pp. 187–203 (p. 191).

Dr. Berzin elsewhere states that these Tibetan Buddhist prophecies of Kalki are cyclic in nature and are intended to be meditated upon. But that doesn’t change the fact that these Buddhist prophecies of Kalki—borrowed and adapted from prior Hindu prophecies—were written as a response to Arab invasions. In other words, these prophecies were a form of “crisis literature” at the time that they were written.

In previous articles, we have seen how the Zoroastrian prophecies of “Shāh Bahrām Varjāvand” were written after the Arab conquest of Persia in the seventh century CE. The take-away from all this is that such prophecies, which appear to “foretell” Arab invasions, were actually written after these events took place. Scholars refer to future predictions of past events as “vaticinia ex eventu” (Latin for “vaticinations (predictions) from (past) events”). That would definitely qualify as a false prophecy.

So: “Beware of false prophecies.” If they are “too good to be true,” then they may, in fact, not be true!

When all is said and done, prophecies, at times, can be problematic. To be sure, Baha’u’llah fulfills the spirit—but sometimes not the exact letter—of these prophecies. Not only that, but the manner in which Baha’u’llah fulfills prophecies is often far better than what the prophecies themselves promise.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BahaiTeachings.org or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.

13 Comments

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  • Bill Carsley
    5 days ago
    Yes, thank you, Dr. Buck. This is one of the poorly researched, spurious citations one often finds in popular Baha'i presentations intended to provide "proofs" for Baha'u'llah. I appreciate the fact that your approach at least avoids this kind of blatant "false advertising".
  • Christopher Buck
    5 days ago
    Mr. Carsley: Sounds like you're thinking of this putative prophecy:
    “When a thousand two hundred and some years have passed from the inception of the religion of the Arabian and the overthrow of the Kingdom of Irán and the degradation of the followers of My religion, a descendant of the Iranian kings will be raised up as a prophet.” – “Dínkird”
    This is quoted in John Ferraby, All Things Made New: A Comprehensive Outline of the Bahá’í Faith, 2nd revised edition (London: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1987), p. 174.
    The source of this spurious prophecy may have been Muhammad ...Nátiq’s Al-Munázarátu’d-Díníyyah (Cairo: Faraju’lláh Dhakí al Kurdí, 1342 AH), p. 37. (See Research Department, Baha’i World Centre, Memorandum (March 27, 1999).)
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  • Christopher Buck
    6 days ago
    Mr. Carsley: You say “some Buddhists” believe “L. Ron Hubbard (founder of the Church of Scientology) was the latest reincarnation of the Buddha.”
    Yet I’ve seen no evidence that “some Buddhists” see Hubbard as Maitreya.
    That said, in 1956, Hubbard wrote “The Hymn of Asia,” a poem published in 1974, in which he claims to be “Metteya”—fulfilling prophecies that Maitreya will appear in the West and have golden or red hair.
    No such prophecies exist!
    Then, in 1963, Hubbard denounced Buddhist Nirvana:
    “And we won’t join Nirvana. We have meters and a map. … Nirvana is choked with ...the overwhelmed.”
    See: Stephen A. Kent, “Scientology’s relationship with Eastern religious traditions.”Journal of Contemporary Religion, 11.1 (Jan. 1996): 21–36.
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    • Bill Carsley
      5 days ago
      Dr. Buck: You are probably right that Hubbard appealed to non-existent prophecies. I believe you know that Baha'is have been guilty of similar things - such as citing Buddhist or Zoroastrian "time prophecies" which allegedly point to the time of Baha'u'llah's appearing. I have seen no credible evidence that any such time prophecies actually exist. If they do, please enlighten me. If factual, I would grant this kind of specific data (which could conceivably have some plausible linkage to Baha'u'llah) to have legitimate persuasive value in support of his claims. Unfortunately I have found all such ...specific claims to be misinformation promoted by zealous (probably mostly well-meaning) Baha'is.
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  • Bill Carsley
    6 days ago
    Which brings us back to my original point. Such an approach could easily be applied to any religious figure one wishes to exalt. A good example of this is the belief among some Buddhists that L. Ron Hubbard (founder of the Church of Scientology) was the latest reincarnation of the Buddha. By using "radical reinterpretation" it is possible to stretch prophecies, both authentic and false ones, to mean anything one wishes for them to mean. You have sought to clarify your intentions by stating that these prophetic clues are "pointers, not "benchmarks". Unfortunately they can be made ...to point to anything. Sorry to be such a pest, but I do sincerely care about truth, and the role of rational thought in pursuing it. No malice intended.
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  • Christopher Buck
    6 days ago
    Mr. Carlsberg: No problem. Happy to clarify.
    The title of this article, “How to Beware of False Prophecies,” speaks for itself.
    False prophecies are not true. They can only be “fulfilled” if radically reinterpreted. Their fulfillment—spiritually—is tantamount to their negation—literally.
    Taking Kalki as one example, Baha’u’llah is Kalki in a more general sense, understanding the future Avatar as representing a Hindu longing for a better world.
    This series shows how “eschatological bridges” to Baha’u’llah are constructed in interesting ways.
    One way is to see how Baha’is eschatologically “realize” Baha’u’llah as the World-Messiah despite “false prophecies” and ...by understanding “true prophecies” as symbolic and spiritual in nature.
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  • Bill Carsley
    6 days ago
    Dr. Buck: I am specifically referring to the method of selecting data which you believe may support the prophetic bridge to Baha'u'llah, without regard to whether this data originates from false ("vaticinia ex eventu") prophecies. This should be clear from my previous comments, and so far you have chosen not to address that question. If I have misunderstood you, I apologize. I have read your articles, and my impression is that your primary burden is to justify the Baha'i claim that Baha'u'llah can be shown to be the ultimate messianic figure fulfilling the prophecies of all religions. If ...you are allowing admittedly false prophecies to make up part of your "eschatological bridge" then I believe you have a problem.
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  • Christopher Buck
    Feb 09, 2018
    Mr. Carsley: Please read my articles more carefully! The fact that I have titled this article, “How to Beware of False Prophecies,” implies that there are, in fact, “true prophecies.” And, no, all prophecies are not created equal. So your comment mischaracterizes what I’ve been saying.
    I’m not sure what “method” you’re talking about. The “method” discussed in this article is how to recognize those prophecies that are written after the historical facts they describe, and then project into the future. Simple as that!
    Genuine prophecies are discussed in other articles in this series. So, rather than posting your ...critique in serial comments, please take the time to read my articles more closely, as there are several issues under discussion.
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  • Bill Carsley
    Feb 09, 2018
    Dr. Buck: Is it not true that you fail to distinguish between genuine and false prophecies (as measured by the methods of scientific criticism) when you select the preferred data bolstering your desired conclusion? Are all prophecies, both false and genuine, equally "imperfect visions of the future" which may be profitably cited whenever it's convenient to one's purpose? If so, then I repeat: this method could be readily applied to almost any religious figure one might wish to elevate to a messianic status.
  • Christopher Buck
    Feb 09, 2018
    Mr. Carsley: “Tidbits” trivializes. Let’s keep a tone of respect. As to your “foundational” critique, this “Figuring About Prophecy” series approaches Baha’u’llah’s proclamation as the “Promised One” of all religions from several vantages. Baha’u’llah’s fulfillment of messianic prophecies is not to be measured by the prophecies themselves. They are pointers, not benchmarks. They are imperfect visions of the future, which Baha’u’llah then perfects via his cosmopolitan principles for social salvation. As a comparative phenomenologist of religions, I coined the term “eschatological bridge” in my first book, Symbol & Secret (1995), as a conceptual metaphor to show how Baha’u’llah’s symbolic interpretations ...reconfigure popular expectations.
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  • Bill Carsley
    Feb 09, 2018
    Dr. Buck: The few tidbits you have gleaned in support of Baha'u'llah from Hindu, Buddhist and Zoroastrian materials (the name "Fame of Visnu" for example) were found in the context of these dubious "vaticinia ex eventu" prophecies, were they not? Yet you seem to imply that they are significant pointers to Baha'u'llah. If these prophecies are not to be regarded as genuine then why do Baha'is insist that they find fulfilment in Baha'u'llah? My critique is directed at the "eschatalogical bridge" proposal that is foundational in this series of articles. It seems to posit that any ...prophecy having messianic overtones can be deemed a legitimate bridge to faith in Baha'ullah regardless of its actual details or its origins.
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