Buddha’s death gives Ken Wheeler the chance to concoct a conspiracy theory. Find out what he imagined out of thin air and why it’s poor history and even worse doctrine.
Ken Wheeler seems to be obsessed with the circumstances surrounding the Buddha’s passing. Since the Buddha died about 2,500 years ago, this may seem odd, but the Angry Photographer has very clear motives to raise this issue.
Buddha died after a forty-five-year career as an itinerant teacher at age 80. His health had been failing for some time with sudden, intense pains that nearly killed him on an earlier occasion.
Buddha visited the home of Cunda the metalworker, who served a meal of Sukaramaddava (tender pork). While eating, Buddha became gravely ill from abdominal pain and intestinal bleeding.
Buddha Became Gravely Ill from Abdominal Pain
Medical experts agree that the best explanation for Buddha’s death is mesenteric infarction. It’s common among the elderly, and quite fatal. The condition causes severe abdominal pain, and acute loss of blood through the rectum, which can be terminal.
The Buddha was gracious. He was more concerned that Cunda would blame himself than about his own condition. He gave his right hand man Ananda a message for Cunda. “It is a gain to you, friend Cunda, a blessing that the Tathagata (Buddha) took his last alms meal from you, and then came to his end.”
Buddha passed away promptly and peacefully surrounded by his monks. As end of life stories go, this one is pretty uneventful. That is, until Ken Wheeler gets ahold of it.
Passed Away Peacefully Surrounded by His Monks
The Angry Photographer needs an explanation for why Buddhist scripture and traditional teaching don’t jibe with his idiosyncratic version of metaphysics, particularly about the soul and immortality. Of course, he could just accept that his beliefs aren’t consistent with original Buddhist doctrine.
For example, Aldous Huxley was a key voice for the perennialist philosophy from which Ken Wheeler derives his ideas. On the subject of “anatta,” the Buddhist concept of “no soul,” Huxley wrote:
“To give a plausible answer to these questions in terms of anatta is so difficult that we are forced to abandon the doctrine.” As we explain in more detail under Buddhist Souls – Why Ken’s Wrong, the Theoria Apophasis creator doesn’t understand perennialism which, in any case, is now a largely discredited philosophical view.
Claims that Buddha Taught What Ken Tells His Viewers
That irritates Ken Wheeler, so instead he claims the Buddha taught his monks precisely what the YouTuber tells his viewers. The trouble with that is that Buddha’s teachings weren’t written down until at least 500 years after his death.
When the sutras finally were committed to paper, it was in Pali, a language the Buddha didn’t speak. So nobody, including the Angry Photographer, can claim to know his exact words.
The Theoria Apophasis host derives his odd claims in part from the work of discredited scholar Caroline Rhys-Davids’ grief-tainted misinterpretations of the no-soul doctrine. After the tragic deaths of both her son and her husband, Rhys-Davids fell into the spiritualist fad that was spreading across the UK, believing in things like mediums, seances, and out-of-body experiences.
Invents a Conspiracy Theory
To justify his claim, Ken Wheeler invents a conspiracy theory concerning the Buddha’s passing. According to the Angry Photographer, Cunda deliberately poisoned the Buddha as part of a murder plot among the monks. This is discussed in more detail at the blog The Outsider.
Their motive, according to the creator of Theoria Apophasis, was to take control of the early Buddhist movement. That enabled them to change Buddhist teaching from something conforming to Ken Wheeler’s peculiar views to what we recognize as Buddhism today.
The Angry Photographer pulls off this slight of hand through mistranslation. Cunda the metalworker (kammaraputta) now becomes “Cunda, son of the great Evil One.” Ken Wheeler transforms him into a kind of Judas figure by replacing a single word in the sutta.
Imagines a Fantastical Poisonous Plant
The Theoria Apophasis creator does something even more fanciful in translating the word for the entree of the Buddha’s last meal. Tender pork (sukaramaddava) now becomes “pig’s demise,” a fantastical poisonous plant that Ken imagines out of whole cloth.
Kentucky Ken justifies this bowdlerization of the text by claiming that Cunda couldn’t have served pork to the Buddha. He claims that the Buddha, his followers, and all Buddhists down through the ages were vegetarians.
This isn’t true, and it’s never been true. Most Buddhists eat meat, and most Buddhists always have eaten meat. It wouldn’t have been remotely unusual or inappropriate for Cunda to serve tender pork to the Buddha at a dinner gathering, provided that he didn’t slaughter a pig in honour of his guest.
Claims that Pigs Will Eat Deadly Poison
Ken Wheeler, who clearly hasn’t raised any pigs, claims that pigs will eat anything, even deadly poison. Pigs are omnivores, but they’re actually quite intelligent and finicky about which specific plants they’ll consume.
Even so, according to the Angry Photographer, his imaginary plant was a toxic threat to the local hogs. His hypothetical deadly herb allegedly got its name because swineherds had to pull it up to protect their herds from certain death. He offers no evidence for any of this conjecture.
Why would Cunda feed his guiding light pig poison? The YouTuber behind Theoria Apophasis concocts the notion that he fell under the evil influence of a monk named Kashyapa.
Kashyapa and the Flower Sermon
Readers may not recognize the name Kashyapa, but they’ve probably heard this sutta about him. In the famous story of the “Flower Sermon,” rather than saying anything, the Buddha simply held up a beautiful flower in his hand.
Kashyapa was the first monk to “get the message” that meaning can’t always be expressed in words. Because of that, Buddha informally looked to Kashyapa as his successor although he never officially announced any succession plan.
Shortly after Buddha’s death, Kashyapa chaired a meeting with Buddha’s trusty aide Ananda as reciter and recorder, to agree on what Buddhism should teach going forward. Ken Wheeler believes that it was Kashyapa who changed Buddhist teachings from ideas consistent with the thoughts of Ken Wheeler to his own nefarious agenda.
Claims They Murdered Buddha After Waiting 45 Years
Long story short, according to the Angry Photographer, Kashyapa convinced Cunda to feed poison pig mushrooms to the Buddha. That way, Kushyapa could compose and preach a twisted doctrine of Buddhism. Mind you, they did this after waiting around for 45 years to do the Buddha in.
Now that the Buddha was 80 and having near fatal attacks of dysentery, one wonders why they’d bother. At that point they could have simply bided their time for another few months.
One also has to wonder why the Buddha gave his blessing to both Cunda and Kashyapa if they were both such diabolical traitors. It also seems strange that Buddha would be fooled into eating infamously poisonous plants.
Why Would Ananda Tolerate Changing Buddha’s Teachings?
How would someone get their hands on a noxious scourge that all the local farmers were determined to wipe out? Why would Buddha’s long-suffering assistant Ananda tolerate a perversion of Buddha’s teachings, most of which Ananda had memorized, by taking part in such a corrupt meeting?
The Angry Photographer appears to be confusing (deliberately it seems) Kashyapa with Devadatta, who was another monk at the time. Devadatta was the Buddha’s cousin and thought he should take over the Buddha’s movement. Buddha rejected him harshly.
This rival monk then made three unsuccessful attempts on the Buddha’s life. The first involved hired assassins.
Rival Monk Made Three Attempts on Buddha’s Life
The assassins refused to carry out the murder, which makes one wonder why Cunda would go through with a similar plan. Devadatta also tried to drop a boulder on the Buddha but missed, and reportedly unleashed a drugged elephant on him, which caused no harm. These stories make Devadatta seem like an ancient version of Wile E. Coyote.
Devadatta believed in harsher ascetic practices, just as the Theoria Apophasis creator claims Kashyapa did. One of Devadatta’s draconian measures was mandatory vegetarianism, which the Buddha rejected.
Devadatta died before the Buddha, Apparently, this led Ken Wheeler to feel he had to shoehorn parts of Devadatta’s tales into the Buddha’s death story through mistranslation.
Poor History and Even Worse Doctrine
Nothing in Ken Wheeler’s conspiracy theory makes any sense, and things that don’t make sense aren’t true. The Angry Photographer’s treacherous tale of intrigue may make good click bait, but it’s very poor history and even worse doctrine.
Again, one has to feel sorry for Ken Wheeler. He’s written a lengthy, verbose, and convoluted treatise on this topic. Imagine all the useful things he might have accomplished instead.