The people described below have:

  • claimed to have attained enlightenment and become buddhas
  • claimed to be manifestations of bodhisattvas
  • identified themselves as Buddha (though most schools of Buddhism believe that the Buddha entered nirvana and extinguished rebirth), or
  • been honored as buddhas or bodhisattvas due to: being identified as the reincarnation of one such (e.g., the Dalai Lama, the Panchen Lama); popularity; evidence in the form of auspicious signs.

Many people in recent times have also claimed to be Maitreya, the successor of Gautama Buddha, the historical founder of Buddhism. Many have used the Maitreya incarnation claim to form a new Buddhist sect or a new religious movement or cult.


  • Guan Yu - legendary warrior during the late Eastern Han Dynasty and Three Kingdoms period in ancient China. Today, many people, including both police and mafia, consider him to be a divine object of reverence. In certain schools of Taoism and Chinese Buddhism he has been deemed divine or semi-divine. Reverence for him may date back to the Sui dynasty. Many Buddhists accept him as a bodhisattva that guards the Buddhist faith and temples. He is known as Sangharama in Sanskrit.
  • Wu Zetian - the only ruling female emperor in the history of China, and founder of her own dynasty, the Second Zhou dynasty. Ruled under the name Emperor Shengshen. Gained popular support by advocating Buddhism but ruthlessly persecuted her opponents within the royal family and the nobility. Proclaimed herself an incarnation of Maitreya and made Luoyang the "holy capital".
  • Gung Ye - Korean warlord and king of the short-lived state of Taebong during the 10th century. Claimed to be the living incarnation of Maitreya and ordered his subjects to worship him. His claim was rejected by most Buddhist monks and later he was dethroned and killed by his own servants.
  • The Dalai Lamas - in Tibetan Buddhism, the successive Dalai Lamas form a tulku lineage of Gelugpa leaders that began in 1391. Tibetan Buddhists believe the Dalai Lama to be one of innumerable incarnations of Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion. Between the 17th century and 1959, the Dalai Lama was the head of the Tibetan government, administering a large portion of the country from the capital Lhasa. The Dalai Lama is the supreme head of Tibetan Buddhism, and the leaders of all four schools consider the Dalai Lama to be the highest lama of the Tibetan traditions. The current Dalai Lama is Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th of the lineage.
  • Nurhaci - also known as Emperor Tai Zu. Founder and leader of the Qing Dynasty. Believed he was a manifestation of Manjushri Bodhisattva.
  • Lu Zhongyi - the 17th patriarch of the I-Kuan Tao. I-Kuan Tao followers believe that he is the first leader of the "White Sun" Era, the era of the apocalypse, thus he is the incarnation of Maitreya.
  • Peter Deunov - also known as Master Beinsa Douno. Spiritual teacher, founder of a teaching and school of Esoteric Christianity. Some students of Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher, have identified Master Beinsa Douno as a manifestation of Maitreya in the late 20th century.
  • Samael Aun Weor - stated in The Aquarian Message that "the Maitreya Buddha Samael is the Kalki Avatar of the New Age." The Kalkian Avatar and Maitreya Buddha, he claimed, are the same "White Rider" of the book of Revelation.
  • Jim Jones - leader of the Peoples Temple cult. Possibly as a way to gather followers to his religious movement, he claimed to be a living incarnation the Buddha, as well as Jesus Christ, Pharaoh Akhenaten, Father Divine and Vladimir Lenin.
  • Ruth Norman (Uriel) - founder of the Unarius Academy of Science. Claims to have had fifty-five past lives, some included were reincarnations of the Buddha, Socrates, King Arthur, Confucius and a king of Atlantis.
  • Lu Sheng-yen - founder and spiritual teacher of the newly created Buddhist lineage called the True Buddha School. Claims that, in the late 80s, Lu had reached enlightenment while training under a formless teacher. Lu claims to be an incarnation of Padmakumara, a deity in the Western Pure Land kingdom. He has since then called himself "Living Buddha Lian Sheng".
  • Claude Vorilhon (Raël) - claims that, in 1973, he was visited by extraterrestrial beings who informed him that he was to found a movement which would bring the world to a new enlightenment. Published his first book in 1973, concerning the alleged encounter. The International Raelian Movement currently has approximately 60,000 followers in 86 countries worldwide. Claims to be Maitreya, based on evidence such as the traditional year of Maitreya's arrival, the Buddhist year 3000. There are two calendars in Buddhism, corresponding to the Northern branch (1973 CE = "Northern" Buddhist year 3000) and Southern branch (1973 CE = "Southern" Buddhist year 2417). Other support for Raël's claim includes ancient Buddhist wall carvings allegedly depicting drawings of the arrival of UFOs in the mountains. According to the Raelian Movement, Rael's encounters with extraterrestrials took place in an inactive volcano which he had previously frequented.
  • Ching Hai - a meditation master who professes to be an incarnation of God, the Buddha, and the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. Popularly known as Guan Yin, for whom her meditation method is named.
  • Li Hongzhi - founder of Falun Gong. Said to have proclaimed himself a buddha, though he has denied this. However, many pictures of Li Hongzhi show him wearing a kasaya, or a monk's robe, posing like a Buddha.
  • Ram Bahadur Bomjon - a 19-year old Nepalese ascetic whom many have hailed as a new Buddha. According to his brother Gangajit, a "very clear and white" light "different from sunlight" emanated from his head. On November 8, 2005 Dorje arose and said to the public, "Tell the people not to call me a Buddha. I don't have the Buddha's energy. I am at the level of rinpoche." Despite his protestations of not having attained enlightenment, many continue to insist he is a buddha.
  • L. Ron Hubbard - Founder of Scientology, claimed in his book Hymn of Asia he was an incarnation of Buddha.

See also


  • Hogue, John Messiahs: The Visions and Prophecies for the Second Coming (1999) Elements Books ISBN 1-86204-549-6

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