The Great Buddhist Conspiracy Theory: My Last Word on Ken Wheeler (Let Us Hope)

     This is the story of the murder of the Buddha as told in the oldest Buddhist scripture on earth dating back some 2400 years as recorded in the suttas. I shall lay forth every detail in scripture as to the murder, the motive, and the resultant downfall of the Buddha’s doctrine upon the devious demise of the Buddha. What transpires is no less than cold-blooded treachery of the highest order among the Buddhist monks themselves who sought death upon the Blessed One, and to take strong arm control of his followers.  —the first paragraph of Wheeler’s essay

     Well, this is how it all started. I have been encountering, to my mild astonishment, relatively intelligent western Buddhists who actually believe, in spite of the evidence of the oldest Buddhist texts, that the historical Gotama Buddha taught the existence of an intrinsically real human self or soul. So, I wrote a blog post about this. I happened to mention a person named Ken Wheeler, who is an outspoken advocate of the Buddhist soul theory…resulting in Mr. Wheeler sending me a private email overflowing with hostile sneering, not to mention amateurish (mis)translations of Pali. So, because a self-proclaimed authority on Dhamma behaving so badly (in addition to interpreting Pali so badly) was such a remarkable phenomenon, to me anyway, I wrote remarks about THAT. This resulted in a member of the Discord server associated with my SubscribeStar page posting the link to a rather interesting website: “Ken Wheeler is Wrong,” or

     The website is apparently written by someone much more offended by Ken Wheeler than I ever was; possibly he is a disgruntled ex-supporter out for revenge for being so misled, or maybe he is someone who was crudely insulted for simply daring to disagree with the self-proclaimed authority (on not only Buddhism but also physics). Or maybe he is just a stickler for factuality and is scandalized by Mr. Wheeler’s outrageous assertions. At any rate, I looked through what the extensive website had to offer, skipping over most of the science stuff…and landed on an article with the title, “Buddha’s Death—Why Ken’s Wrong.”

     This article attempts to debunk an astonishing conspiracy theory concocted by Ken Wheeler concerning Gotama Buddha’s death at the age of eighty. According to orthodox Theravada Buddhist tradition, as expounded in the Pali texts, and in particular the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta (D.16), which describes the final weeks of the Buddha’s life, the Buddha died of severe intestinal problems after eating some presumably tainted pork served to him by a devotee called Cunda the Metalworker. In the text the clear implication is that the tainted food was served to the Buddha in good faith, Cunda not knowing that it was tainted, much less that it would be the Buddha’s last meal. But Mr. Wheeler, for reasons of his own that are not difficult to figure out, twists the entire narrative into something wildly different. He does this in part by his all too typical practice of distorting the Pali language.

     Before moving on to the conspiracy itself, allow me to give a typical example of his method of procedure with Pali—his translation of the well-known Pali term Sammāsambuddha, which I usually render “the Truly, Fully Enlightened One,” Sammā usually being rendered as “Right,” as in Right View, Right Thought, etc. Wheeler translates Sammāsambuddha as “Samma-Perfection dwelling Buddha,” with Sammā interpreted by him as “the abode after passing across parinibbana,” apparently meaning some kind of perennialist heaven. He interprets the modifier sammā as a noun, which is typical of this fellow: torturing the Pali language to make it say what he wants it to say. And the fact that no one who understands Pali grammar would assume such a thing is a matter of indifference to him.

     But moving onto Wheeler’s great conspiracy: The person who served the Buddha his final meal was Cunda Kammāraputta, which name Wheeler interprets to mean “The Betrayer Who Is the Son of Māra.” He disdains the plain fact that Cunda was a relatively common name, with even the Buddha’s chief disciple having a brother named Cunda, and also the fact that kammāra simply means “metalsmith,” with the meaning of the word going at least as far back as the Vedic Sanskrit word karmāra, meaning “metalsmith.” The word putta means “son,” and it is common in Pali to describe a member of a class or profession as a son of that class or profession. Wheeler apparently ignores the clear meaning of the term and dismisses the initial kam- in order to interpret the term as “the son of Māra,” the Buddhist devil. Also the food served to the Buddha which resulted in severe abdominal pains and mortal agony, sukaramaddava, Wheeler translates as “pig’s demise,” and asserts, based on nothing more than his own imagination, that this was a well-known poisonous plant or fungus that was deliberately fed to the Buddha for the purpose of murdering him. But though sukara does mean “pig” in Pali, maddava generally means “soft,” “tender,” or “tenderized.” Thus the usual interpretation of sukaramaddava among Pali scholars is “tender pork.” (The Mahayana Buddhists, who would prefer that the Buddha be a vegetarian, interpreted the Sanskrit version of the term to mean “something tender that pigs like”—like truffles, and had the Buddha die from eating a poison mushroom. But even the Mahayanists don’t go so far as to presume that the giving of toxic food to the Buddha was intentional, and the texts themselves appear to bear out this lack of presumption.) Wheeler renders maddava as “death,” basing it on the fact that the word is ultimately derived from the verb maddati, to crush, to trample, to beat, to tenderize.

     It should be pointed out before getting any farther with this that Mr. Wheeler freely admits that his interpretation of the case is based entirely on his reading of the Pali texts, with no additional inside knowledge that might actually justify breaking with a more than 2000-year-old interpretation of the narrative. Somehow he sees as obvious and irrefutable something that many generations of Buddhists and Pali scholars have failed to see while seriously studying the very same texts. He doesn’t just put forth his interpretation as hypothetical or merely plausible, mind you, but he asserts it as fact, and bashes and denigrates anyone who says otherwise…as is his customary practice in such matters. Also I may as well mention as an aside that Ken Wheeler’s writing style is very amateurish, consisting of a strange mix of affected pomposity and substandard English. At the very least he failed to proofread his own article, which abounds in bad grammar and such strange mistakes as mention of Cunda’s “mangrove forest,” assuming that Cunda didn’t let renunciants stay in his mango orchard but somehow had mangroves living hundreds of miles away from salt water.

     But Wheeler’s conspiracy theory gets much, much worse than simply stating that a layman named Cunda deliberately poisoned the Buddha. This fellow goes so far as to accuse the Buddha’s senior disciple at the time, Mahā Kassapa, Kassapa the Great, of instigating the murder in order to destroy Buddhism. Not only does he make Mahā Kassapa responsible for the death of the Buddha, but he accuses him of being responsible for the deaths of Sāriputta and Moggallāna, the Buddha’s two chief disciples, as well.

     According to Theravada Buddhist tradition as found in the Pali texts, Mahā Kassapa was the most senior and highest ranking monk in the Sangha at the time of the Buddha’s disappearance from this world, since the two chief disciples aforementioned died before the Buddha did. Also Mahā Kassapa is considered to have been an arahant, a fully enlightened being, and a Great Disciple of the Buddha whose outstanding quality was his mastery of dhutanga, or the optional ascetic practices allowed to monks. It is said that only he was able to master all of them. Also Mahā Kassapa, being senior monk in the Sangha, presided over the First Council.

     According to Mahayana tradition Mahā Kassapa, or Kashyapa in Sanskrit, was even more illustrious. The Mahayanists downplay the importance of Sāriputta and Moggallāna as the Buddha’s two chief disciples and place more emphasis on the wisdom of Ānanda, the Buddha’s cousin and attendant, and of Kashyapa. In an apocryphal story not found in the Pali Tipitaka, on one occasion the Buddha, instead of delivering a sermon at the customary time, merely held up a flower and twirled it between his fingers. Kashyapa was the only monk who understood this subtle teaching beyond words, and smiled…receiving in effect the first Zen transmission and becoming the First Patriarch of Mahayana after the Buddha himself.

     But Wheeler distorts the accounts of Mahā Kassapa in the texts in order to portray him as a shameless heretic, a liar, a misogynist, an inept buffoon, and a murderer of his own enlightened teacher. Consider this quote from Wheeler’s article:

Hater of women, despiser of Ananda, unable to give talks to new adapts [sic] on the Dhamma, and disobeyer of the requests of the Buddha himself, Kashyapa is the true destroyer of the message of the Buddha who himself finds Kashyapa to be a fool of the highest magnitude. He himself takes strong-arm leverage after plotting the murder of the Blessed one by Cunda. Rather than placing Kashyapa on a pedestal, which most of Mahayana has done, we should see Kashyapa for who he is, the spawn of Mara himself and revile him just in the same manner as the Christians revile Judas. We know that Cunda is indeed “the son of the evil one” who actually poisoned the Buddha, but only by request of Kashyapa, or Kashyapa and Mara through his son Cunda’s evil deeds.

     Much of Wheeler’s accusations, the ones that he didn’t simply imagine (like Kashyapa talking Cunda into killing the Buddha), are based on the same sort of negative spin that propagandists employ for political purposes. Remember how anything President Trump did or said was twisted into something vile by the leftist/globalist mainstream media? Well, Ken Wheeler does something very similar against venerable Mahā Kassapa in his (mis)reading of Pali texts. One major source of information used against Kassapa is a scene in which the nuns are biased in favor of Ānanda, who always had a soft spot for women in his heart, and against the stern and stoic Kassapa. Wheeler interprets the biased nuns as objective observers, totally ignoring the point that Ānanda was continually portrayed as being at fault for favoring women too much to be appropriate for a prudent monk. Also he takes Kassapa’s stern admonishments to Ānanda, in which he (Kassapa) indulges in some pretty grandiose claims about himself—which nevertheless are obviously intended to be true—as verbatim Kassapa’s own words, and a fit of rage, while much more boasting attributed to the Buddha himself about himself, including quite a bit of it in D.16, are ignored. Personally I am of the opinion that plenty of dialogue found in the suttas consists not of verbatim quotes but rather was invented for narrative purposes, but Wheeler has implicit faith in the accuracy of Pali texts—despite accusing Mahā Kassapa of destroying the tradition by monkeying with them. In fact much of Wheeler’s interpretation of Pali texts is similar to “matrixing,” a term used in paranormal studies and meaning the use of predetermined biases to see things (like faces in a blurry picture) that aren’t necessarily there.

     Wheeler even uses Mahā Kassapa’s verses in the Theragātha, a collection of verses attributed to many of the Buddha’s arahant disciples, as evidence that Kassapa was foolish and bad. In the verses Kassapa (or whoever composed the verses) describes an occasion in which a leprous beggar offers alms into Kassapa’s bowl…and when he offers the food one of his fingertips breaks off and falls in with the food. Kassapa doesn’t raise an eyebrow, and when the time comes for eating his meal he simply moves the leprous fingertip aside and eats around it! (I was instructed to reflect upon these verses as a very junior monk, for the purpose of edification and accepting Kassapa as a role model.) The purpose is obviously to demonstrate his detachment from sensual pleasures and his desire not to shame the fellow with leprosy (who had followed him and was watching him eat). But Wheeler uses this text—in a collection of verses obviously glorifying arahant disciples—as a weapon, and falsely claims that Kassapa even ate the finger. He considers Kassapa’s austerity, and even his strict following of rules that the Buddha presumably enacted, as evidence of his perverse heresy.

     Mind you, Wheeler is not even hypothesizing, but rather is flat-out ACCUSING a man considered for millennia by Buddhist tradition, wise teachers, and millions of intelligent and sincere Buddhists to be a great saint and sage, even a fully enlightened being, of being foolish and evil, even a serial killer. Even if the praise of Mahā Kassapa in Buddhist tradition is exaggerated, still it is really vicious to accuse him of successfully plotting the murder of his own teacher the Buddha and the Buddha’s two chief disciples. Wheeler makes him out as worse than Devadatta, the one generally considered to be the Buddhist version of Judas Iscariot. In a case like this, “innocent until proven guilty” is by far the best path to follow; and Wheeler has no proof other than texts that virtually everyone else interprets differently, including non-Buddhist professional philologists specializing in Iron Age Indic languages, let alone many generations of scholar monks of various Buddhist traditions.

     I could go on and on with this, as there is so much remarkable absurdity and perversity in Wheeler’s article. For example he asserts that Cunda “the son of the evil one,” i.e. the metalsmith, wanted to poison the Buddha’s entire retinue, probably amounting to several hundreds, but the Buddha tells him, “As to the pig’s demise [sukaramaddava] Cunda, you may serve that to me only, but you may serve the sweet rice and cakes to the rest of my Order.” This implies that the Buddha knew full well that he had poison served to him, announced it, and ate it anyway, which would make it a case of suicide. Also in D.16 the Buddha blesses Cunda afterwards and says he will go to heaven for offering a Buddha’s last meal, which Wheeler really can’t fit into his narrative of evil. (The same text states that the Buddha had a similar gastrointestinal attack a short time previously, causing some modern readers to hypothesize that he in fact died of mesenteric infarction, or a kind of gangrene of the digestive tract that can occur in the elderly and is very dangerous.) He claims that the Buddha was wrong when he said he wouldn’t die until the Dhamma had been well established in his disciples—because, of course, Kassapa lives. The purported fact that the Buddha’s funeral pyre wouldn’t light until Kassapa arrived on the scene is grotesquely twisted into evidence that Kassapa did in fact murder him. He also makes bizarre statements about Mahavira, purported founder of the Jain religion, claiming that he too was murdered (probably by Cunda), and that on his deathbed he realized that Jainism was false and encouraged his followers to convert to Buddhism. They then flocked to Mahā Kassapa and became a sub-sect of violent heretics, despite Jainism being more radically nonviolent than Buddhism, and despite the fact that all of this was simply invented by Wheeler with no actual evidence. As I say, I could go on and on, but I suspect I have already presented a case sufficient to educated, literate Buddhists that Wheeler is pulling his ideas about Dhamma out of some secret orifice. And I really don’t recommend that anyone read the whole mess of his article, as it is more pisunāvāca and toxic waste than anything else…though if you, dear reader, are skeptical of my observations you can see for yourself, as the link is posted above, and again here

     An obvious question to ask is why Ken Wheeler would write such a vicious attack on the Buddha’s senior disciple at his death, Mahā Kassapa, Kassapa the Great. The accusations are an arbitrary and rather unlikely interpretation of the Pali texts to say the very least, despite the fact that, as is his usual way, he asserts them as a gospel truth that he in his extraordinary wisdom can see when millions of others cannot. But the answer to the obvious question evidently has only one real possible answer: Ken Wheeler vehemently hates certain teachings of Buddhism, especially anattā or No Self, and needs some evil conspiracy to account for the fact that Buddhism teaches something other than Ken Wheeler wants to believe. Rather than simply admitting that Buddhism doesn’t fit his preferred perennialist interpretation of reality, he cooks up a conspiracy theory to explain how probably the most illustrious disciple of the Buddha after Sāriputta and Moggallāna murdered the Buddha at age eighty when his health was already failing and then, with heretical Jain henchmen, perverted Buddha’s teachings to deny the soul…even though the Jains explicitly believe in an individual immortal soul, unlike the overwhelming majority of educated Buddhists. Wheeler simply can’t bring himself to believe that an enlightened being would disagree with him, Ken Wheeler. And anyone who disagrees with him is evil.

     Not long ago I considered this fellow to be a charlatan (and I called him such in a previous post), a snake oil salesman, a relatively harmless crank. But after reading this nightmarish mess of an essay I consider him to be much worse than a mere crank. The issue is NOT his attaditthi, or self-view, as he has the right to believe whatever he likes. Also, it’s not his sneering arrogance and foolish hostility (despite advertising himself repeatedly as an absolute authority on spirituality). If Buddhist texts like the Kokālika Sutta are to be trusted, then the Dhamma and Vinaya show that one fate and one fate only is to be expected for a shameless fool who slanders a fully enlightened being, a true saint, and that fate is hell. And to the extent that his pisunāvāca persuades others to consider Mahā Kassapa a corrupt fraud and even a serial killer, then to that extent he is luring gullible people onto the road to hell—assuming of course that Buddhist tradition is not extremely mistaken about the Great Disciple. I am not writing all this as some personal vendetta because Wheeler sneered at me; I’m a big boy and have been insulted by better men than him. This is a matter of helping others to see that this guy’s views on Buddhism are not only shamelessly foolish but dangerously toxic. He is not only an insult to educated Buddhists but a real danger to uneducated ones.

     My sweetheart has advised me to go easy on Mr. Wheeler because he was probably picked on a lot as a kid and has some desperate need for validation. The Why Ken Is Wrong website’s hypothesis is that he has a certain mental disorder called Delusional Disorder, Grandiose Type, in which a person harbors “the conviction of having some great talent or insight or of having made some important discovery.” And he claims not only to understand Buddhism better than all Buddhists, but he also claims to have figured out a Grand Unified Theory in physics and to understand science better than all physicists. But despite any mental disorders or childhood traumas resulting in this fellow’s reckless arrogance, I feel a kind of duty to call out this snake oil salesman one more time, I hope the last time, for such abysmal shameless foolishness and conceit that he can cook up such a narrative, and not simply point out that it is possible, maybe, but for him to baldly assert it as though it were proven fact—accusing a Great Disciple of the Buddha and very possibly an enlightened being of being, well, in Wheeler’s words, “Hater of women, praiser of self-mortification, disobeyer of the Buddha’s requests, hated by nuns and monks alike, a former heretic ascetic of radical austerity Brahmanism, the man who plotted the Buddha’s murder and succeeded by Cunda’s hand, unable to give discourse on the Dhamma, ridiculer of Ananda who inherited the robe and bowl of the Buddha and not Kashyapa himself.” At least I can forgive Wheeler for being ignorant of the Vinaya rule that says a dying monk’s robes and bowl automatically go to the monk who tended him in his final days, not to any favorite or chosen successor.

     Some may think that I’m taking this too seriously; but seriously, the culturally conditioned arrogance of westerners, combined with our lukewarmness, extraversion, superficiality, and skepticism, have turned western Buddhism and western spirituality in general into a cesspit, and it’s not entirely the fault of leftists—though I admit it is mostly. In all honesty I can’t accuse Wheeler of being a leftist, although he is certainly contributing to the cesspit.


  1. Boom!..... Again, well-written based on facts. May these people also listen and be told something.

  2. Hey! It's David Morton Rintoul from Ken Wheeler is Wrong. Thanks for the shoutout! I've linked back to you from my website. A lot of bloggers have debunked Ken's science, but you're the first Buddhist scholar I've noticed doing the same thing. Keep up the good work!

    1. I don't know if scientists are as scandalized by Wheeler's butchery of physics as a Buddhist is when Wheeler accuses a person glorified in Buddhist tradition as a perfected saint of being a shameless serial killer. But that article of his was just too outrageous to pass over in silence.

      And I must say that your website is very interesting.


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