Articles in the LOOKOUT section of this website span a number of decades and are re-published on behalf of Adrian van Leen for research purposes. Original dates are being added to articles so as to place them in their correct historical setting(s). Adrian has endeavoured to be as fair and accurate as possible at the time of the original writing, but please note that the original article information may no longer reflect the subsequent or current actions, values, beliefs, positions, opinions, teachings or policies held by individuals, groups and/or organisations referred to in the original published article at the time of writing. As people change and move on, the same often applies to related Internet links; some links referred to in articles may have been changed or may no longer be available online.
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The tale of the resurrected monk
A SPECIAL Lookout Ministries Report:
THE TALE OF THE RESURRECTED MONK
Since at least early 2000, emails have been circulating on the Internet passing on the dramatic story: ’BACK FROM THE DEAD The Remarkable Testimony of a Buddhist monk in Myanmar (Burma) who came back to life a changed man!’
With CCG Ministries’ involvement in Asia, including Myanmar, we have been very interested in this story and its authenticity.
It appears that it gained ’life’ on the Internet through the promotion of a Christian missionary organisation, Asian Minorities Outreach, now apparently called: Asia Harvest, headquartered in Texas, USA. This group has a website hosted in Singapore.
[Please read the concluding statement regarding Asia Harvest’s position as a result of receiving a copy of this report. The statement is at the end of this page.]
For quite some time this story appeared on the front page of the organisation’s website. Then the actual story was removed from their website, but a remaining reference to it encouraged people to request a copy of the story by email. The following explanation was given by the group for the change:
’A Quick Note: We have been asked by many people why this testimony is no longer available on our website. We were ordered to remove the story by the government of Singapore, who had apparently received complaints from Buddhists. As our website is housed in Singapore at the moment, we didn’t have much choice.’
AMO/Asia Harvest introduced the story with the following introduction:
’The story that follows is simply a translation of a taped testimony from a man with a life-changing story. It is not an interview or a biography, but simply the words from the man himself. Different people react in different ways when they hear this story. Some are inspired, some skeptical, a few will mock and ridicule, while some others have even been filled with rage and anger, convinced these words are the ravings of a mad man or an elaborate deception. Some Christians have opposed the story simply because the radical and miraculous events described herein do not fit their feeble image of an Almighty God.’
It is interesting to note the approach they take in the introduction. Anyone who questions the story is immediately labelled as a sceptic, a mocker or ridiculer, someone filled with rage and anger, or worse a Christian whose concept of God is feeble and who does not believe that an Almighty God can be radical and perform miracles.
This could be seen by some as a form of bullying and intimidation to dismiss any form of thought and questioning of the story. It is not a healthy or biblical approach to dealing with questions about such a dramatic story, nor does it encourage people to use their minds.
Interestingly, when we asked AMO/Asia Harvest to send us a copy (one of several copies we have, but this one directly from them) we also asked some questions: ’How did you first get to hear of the story; how have you checked it out for authenticity; what effect has this story had on Christians/churches in Burma and also on the Buddhist community and government there etc. What sort of response has there been to this account from Christians and Christian leaders around the world?’
We received no direct or specific answers to these, and other, questions. In the introduction to the story we are told:
’We were first made aware of this story from several Burmese church leaders who shared it with us. These leaders had looked into the story and had not found any suggestion of it being a hoax. It was with this in mind that we decided to step out and circulate the story. We do not do so for any monetary gain, or with a motivation of self-promotion. We just want to let the story speak for itself, and invite Christian believers to judge it according to Scripture. If God wants any part of it to be intended for His glory or to encourage His people, then we pray His Spirit will work in the hearts of the readers in those ways.
Some people have told us they think the monk in this story never actually died, but that he just lapsed into unconsciousness, and the things he saw and heard were part of a fever-driven hallucination. Whatever you think, the simple fact remains that the events of this story so radically transformed this man that his life took on a complete 180-degree shift after the events described below. He has fearlessly and boldly told his story at great personal cost, including imprisonment. He has been scorned by his relatives, friends and colleagues, and faced death threats for his unwillingness to compromise his message. What motivated this man to be willing to risk everything? Whether we believe him or not, his story is surely worth listening to and considering. In the cynical West many people demand hard evidence of such things, evidence that would stand up in a court of law. Can we absolutely guarantee, beyond doubt, that all of these things happened? No, we cannot. But we feel it is worth repeating this man’s story in his own words so that readers can judge for themselves.’
The teller of the tale on the tape stated:
’…My name is Athet Pyan Shinthaw Paulu. I am from the country of Myanmar…I was born in 1958 in the town of Bogale, on the Irrawaddy Delta area of southern Myanmar [formerly Burma]. My parents, who were devout Buddhists like most people in Myanmar, named me Thitpin [which means ’tree’ in English]… At the age of 18 I was sent to a Buddhist monastery to be a novice monk…When I turned 19 years and 3 months old (in 1977), I became a normal monk. The senior monk at my monastery gave me a new Buddhist name, which is the custom in our country. I was now called U Nata Pannita Ashinthuriya…The name of the monastery I lived at is called Mandalay Kyaikasan Kyaing. The senior monk’s name was called U Zadila Kyar Ni Kan Sayadaw [U Zadila is his title]. He was the most famous Buddhist monk in all of Myanmar at the time. Everyone knew who he was. He was widely honored by the people and respected as a great teacher. I say he "was" because in 1983 he suddenly died when he was involved in a fatal car accident. His death shocked everyone. At the time I had been a monk for six years.’
’My life proceeded as a monk until I got very, very sick. I was in Mandalay at the time and had to be taken to the hospital for treatment. The doctors did some tests on me and told me I had both Yellow Fever and malaria at the same time! After about one month in the hospital I was getting worse. The doctors told me there was no chance for me to recover and discharged me to make arrangements to die…After I was discharged from the hospital I went back to the monastery where other monks cared for me. I grew weaker and weaker and was lapsing into unconsciousness. I learned later that I actually died for three days. My body decayed and stunk of death, and my heart stopped beating. My body was prepared for cremation and was put through traditional Buddhist purification rites.’
Paul then claimed to have entered hell where he saw ’a terrible, terrible lake of fire’ after having crossed a flat plain and a river. He wasn’t sure it was hell ’until I saw Yama, the king of hell [Yama is the name ascribed to the King of Hell in numerous cultures throughout Asia]. His face looked like the face of a lion, his body was like a lion, but his legs were like a naga [serpent spirit]. He had a number of horns on his head. His face was very fierce, and I was extremely afraid. Trembling, I asked him his name. He replied, "I am the king of hell, the Destroyer."’
He claims that the king of hell told him to look into the lake of fire. There he saw the senior Buddhist monk, U Zadila Kyar Ni Kan Sayadaw, who had died in a car accident in 1983. Yama told him that the monk was in hell because he did not believe Jesus Christ. He also saw Guatama the Buddha in hell, there because he did not believe in the Eternal God.
He also claimed he saw Aung San, the revolutionary leader of Myanmar (father of current opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi). The Myanmar hero was there ’because he persecuted and killed Christians, but mostly because he didn’t believe in Jesus Christ.’
After claiming to see the Old Testament Goliath, many rich and poor people, the stoker of hell’s fires to keep things hot there, Paul was apparently told his name wasn’t listed for staying, he had been to hell just as an observer, and was told to go back over the river and along the plain. He eventually turned off and walked along a small, narrow road, which was for believers in Jesus Christ. After walking along this road for about an hour its surface turned to gold and he saw a man in white robes in front of him. This man identified himself as ’the one who holds the key to heaven… The man’s name was Peter.’
Peter showed him God’s creation of Adam and then told him: ’"Now get up and go back to where you came from. Speak to the people who worship Buddha and who worship idols. Tell them they must go to hell if they don’t change. Those who build temples and idols will also have to go to hell. Those who give offerings to the monks to earn merit for themselves will go to hell. All those who pray to the monks and call them ’Pra’ [respectful title for monks] will go to hell. Those who chant and ’give life’ to idols will go to hell. All those who don’t believe in Jesus Christ will go to hell." Peter told me to go back to the earth and testify about the things I had seen. He also said, "You must speak in your new name. From now on you are to be called Athet Pyan Shinthaw Paulu ["Paul who Came Back to Life."].’
After Peter led him back to earth he became aware of ’the sound of weeping. I heard my own mother cry out, "My son, why did you leave us now?" I also heard many other people weeping. I realized I was lying in a box. I started to move. My mother and father started shouting, "He is alive! He is alive!" Other people who were farther away did not believe my parents. I then placed my hands on the sides of the box and sat upright. Many people were struck with terror. They cried out, "It is a ghost!" and ran away as fast as their legs could carry them.
Those who remained were speechless and trembling. I noticed I was sitting in smelly liquid and body fluids, enough to fill about three and a half cups. This was liquid that had come out of my stomach and my insides while my body was lying in the coffin. This is why people knew I had indeed been dead. Inside the coffin there was a type of plastic sheet fixed to the wood. This sheet is placed there to retain a corpse’s liquids, because many dead bodies release much fluid like mine did.
I learned later that I was just moments away from being cremated in the flames.
I immediately started to explain the things I had seen and heard. People were astonished. I told them about the men I had seen in the lake of fire, and told them that only the Christians know the truth, that our forefathers and us have been deceived for thousands of years! I told them everything we believe is a lie. The people were astonished because they knew what kind of a monk I had been and how zealous I had been for the teachings of Buddha.
In Myanmar when a person dies their name and age is written on the side of the coffin. When a monk dies, the monk’s name, age and the number of years he has served as a monk are written on the side of the coffin. I had already been recorded as dead but as you can see, now I am alive!
Asia Harvest added an epilogue to this story in which they stated:
’Since ’Paul who came back to life’ experienced the above story he has remained a faithful witness to the Lord Jesus Christ. Burmese pastors have told us that he had led hundreds of other monks to faith in Christ. His testimony is obviously very uncompromising. Because of that, his message has offended many people who cannot accept there is only one Way to Heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ. Despite great opposition, his experiences were so real to him that he has not wavered. After many years in the Buddhist monkhood, as a strict follower of Buddhist teachings, he immediately proclaimed the Gospel of Christ following his resurrection and exhorted other monks to forsake all false gods and follow Jesus Christ with all their hearts. Before the time of his sickness and death he had no exposure to Christianity at all. Everything he learned during those three days in the grave was new to his mind.
In a bid to get his message out to as many people as possible, this modern-day Lazarus began distributing audio and video cassette tapes with his story on them. The police and Buddhist authorities in Myanmar have done their utmost to gather these tapes up and destroy them. The testimony you have just read has been translated from one of those cassette tapes. We are told it is now quite dangerous for citizens of Myanmar to be in possession of these tapes.
His fearless testimony has landed him in prison at least once, where the authorities failed in their bid to silence him. Upon his release he continued to testify of the things he saw and heard. His current whereabouts are uncertain. One Burmese informant told us he is prison and may have been killed, while another informant was told he is now released from prison and is continuing his ministry.’
This is quite a dramatic tale and it has impressed many people. It was even reported in the well-known Christian Singaporean magazine: IMPACT (June/July 2000, p.45). It has continued to be circulated and passed on through emails.
But is it true? If it is, it SHOULD be circulated - whatever the consequences. But what if it is NOT true. Should it them continue to be circulated never-the-less? We believe not!
It should be noted that there are several versions of the story circulating. One version, which was circulating in March and April of 2000, begins with an ’Extract’:
’Myanmar: Buddhist monk raised from the dead - 300 monks turn to Jesus. "In 1998, a Buddhist monk died. A few days later, his funeral was held, at which he was to be cremated. From the smell, it was obvious that his body had started to decompose - he was very clearly dead!" according to the report from missions agency Asian Minorities Outreach. "We have attempted to verify this report which reached us from a number of sources, and are now convinced that it is accurate," they write.
Hundreds of monks and relatives of the dead man attended the funeral. Just as the body was about to be burned, the dead monk suddenly sat up, shouting ’It’s a lie! I saw our ancestors burning and being tortured in some sort of fire. I also saw Buddha and many other Buddhist holy men. They were all in a sea of fire!’ ’We must listen to the Christians,’ he continued emphatically, ’they’re the only ones who know the truth!’
The events shocked the whole region. Over 300 monks became Christians and started to study the Bible. The resurrected man continued to warn everyone to believe in Jesus, because he is the only true God. Tapes of the monk’s report were distributed throughout Myanmar. The Buddhist hierarchy and the government were soon alarmed, and they arrested the monk. He has not been seen since and it is feared that he was killed to keep him silent. It is now a serious crime to listen to the tapes, because the government wants to dampen the sensation.’
On Sunday 19th November 2000, CCG Ministries’ Director, Adrian van Leen, interviewed and spoke with the ’resurrected’ Paul in a hotel function room in Yangon in the company of four Myanmar Christian leaders.
That interview raised serious questions as to the authenticity of the story under consideration.
As our Director wanted to ensure accuracy and fairness, and also because he had to work through translators (three of the Christian leaders understood and spoke English), questions and answers were double checked and confirmed before being noted.
One of the four Christian leaders, a Karen Baptist pastor, accompanied Paul and was there as a friend to be a support to him. That pastor explained, later in the evening, that he believed Paul had not died, but had been unconscious, perhaps even in a coma, for a few days, and probably did have some strange experiences or visions. He had been trying to help Paul since he came out of prison, and so had come to know him fairly well and for quite some time.
Paul gave us his name (and later wrote it down, Martura Paul, along with his address in one of Yangon’s village suburbs). He told us (clearly and confirmed it again) that he was born in Yangon on Christmas Day, December 25th 1966, and that he died in Mandalay at the age of 19 in May or June 1993! He was asked about this several times because there are some obvious contradictions here. His taped story states he was born in 1958 - while he reiterated to us that he was born in 1966! He stated several times that he died at the age of 19 in mid-1993. If he had been born in 1958 and died aged 19 it would have been 1977 (when, according to the tape’s transcript Paul become a ’normal monk’); if he had been born in 1966 and died 19 years later it would have been 1985. This also contradicted the claim that he had died in 1998 (see ’Extract’), stating that such a claim was a lie and not part of his original tape! He was adamant about his age and that he had died in 1993!
One of the translators at our interview/discussion, was a senior Pastor and Christian community leader. While he was senior Pastor in a large Baptist Church in Mandalay, he recalled Paul visiting and wanting to tell his story in the Pastor’s church. This occurred in 1992 or 1993!
Paul told us that he first told his story on tape in 1996. He only made one tape/copy - on a small domestic tape recorder. This tape was then sent off to a recording studio in Yangon for duplication.
Both the visit to the Pastor in Mandalay (before 1995) and his claim of recording of his testimony on tape in 1996 clearly show he could not have died in 1998!
He clearly contradicted himself during the interview/discussion, and contradicted his taped statement, regarding his age and dates for birth and death.
He told us that he had been dead or in a coma for three days, and then had a further three days in his coffin - making it a total of six days in which he was apparently dead. He affirmed that he had spoken to the Apostle Peter, who ordered him back to earth.
Paul told us that he had been in prison once, from January 1997 to October 1999.
When told that there had been several versions of his tape (with different people in Myanmar recounting different versions/details) he at first said there could not be other versions of his story because he had made only one tape. Then he admitted there were some differences on some tapes circulating around Myanmar - but explained it away. He made one taped account and gave the tape to others to have duplicated professionally. It was during the duplication process that variations and alterations apparently occurred - so he believed!
He stated (and repeated) that through his testimony some 7,000 Buddhist monks had converted to Christianity! This is considerably more than stated in the IMPACT Magazine and the ’Extract’ with one of the Asian Minorities Outreach/Asia Harvest transcripts (300).
When asked if it was possible to talk to any of the (300 or 7,000) converted Buddhist monks Paul declared he didn’t know any and had no contact with any! He could not put us in touch with any one converted as a result of his story.
He acknowledged that his father and mother had been present at his funeral and cremation preparation - and at his dramatic ’resurrection’. When asked if they would be willing to talk to us and confirm any parts of his story, he told us that they probably would - BUT he didn’t know where his father lived, and wasn’t sure about where his mother was either (though he knew they were not together). Their uncertain whereabouts had nothing to do with any government or Buddhist persecution. Paul was just rather vague as to where they were living. They could not help us confirm any of his claims.
When asked if there were any Christian church leaders who could confirm his story or put us in contact with any Buddhist monks who had converted because of Paul’s story, we were again told that he knew of no one.
He told us that he did not attend any church, have fellowship or hold membership in any church (something more important for Christians in Myanmar than in Western society at present). Paul told us that almost all the churches in Myanmar had rejected his story - especially the mainline (non-charismatic, non-Pentecostal) churches. He told us that Pentecostal churches had accepted his story, but when asked which ones he admitted there were only three or four - and said he could only name one: the Full Gospel Church. He also admitted that he had only spoken once at those three or four churches and had never been asked back. In fact, none of the churches - including any Pentecostal churches, wanted to have anything to do with him - according to Paul himself!
After telling us that he had given his ’testimony’ in about three or four churches, and some private homes, Paul told us that he no longer told his story anywhere, and had not done so since coming out of prison, because it would bring trouble and opposition (presumably from the government - though he did not exactly make that clear). He did not want any more trouble for himself, nor did he want to cause trouble for any one else.
When asked what work he did, he acknowledged that he was unemployed and had no work. When then asked how he made or earned a living, he stated that he gave his testimony at home groups and was given donations for doing so - and apparently made more than enough to get by on! This, of course, completely contradicted claims made just before this statement, that he had only spoken at a few places and no longer spoke anywhere because he did not want to cause trouble!
Throughout the dinner, interview and discussion on Sunday evening November 19, 2000, Paul was open with our Director and the other Christian leaders present. He wrote down his name and address and allowed a photo to be taken (and to be published). All present tried to make him feel accepted and questions were presented in a non-threatening manner. His friend who accompanied him that evening tried to help Paul and often interrupted and gave advice or tried to make helpful comments for him.
Paul constantly contradicted himself during the evening with statements he had made moments before, as well as statements made on the taped version of his story. Again and again he was asked for confirmation and clarification - only to confirm the contradictions. His friend even stopped him several times and told he could not say what he had just said, because it contradicted earlier statements - but it made no difference - he would continue with the contradictions.
Apart from the contradictions made by Paul in front of witnesses, there are still serious questions about the content of his supposed visions or visit to hell and heaven, as well as questions about editorial comments made by Asian Minorities Outreach/Asia Harvest.
AMO/Asia Harvest has made statements about Paul being radically transformed and having a 180-degree shift in his life, and him continuing to be a fearless witness for Christ, of him being persecuted, scorned by family, friends and colleagues, and facing death for his unwillingness to compromise. But some Myanmar Christian leaders have asked (as we do also) on what do they base this, apart from his say so? What evidence do they have?
Statements that Paul had been arrested and imprisoned - probably several times, not seen since, and that it was feared that he had been killed to keep him silent - are all highly emotive. The only accurate thing (as far as we can tell, but it has not been confirmed with the authorities) is, it seems, that Paul DID go to prison for a couple of years. The reasons for this, however, are NOT absolutely certain. The rest of the comments are untrue. After coming out of prison he did not go into hiding or disappear mysteriously. He moved into a small suburban village on the outskirts of Yangon, and became openly known to neighbours in the area. There was no effort to hide his identity or anything else.
Those who have lived near Paul and known him over the 12 or more months have seen no apparent evidence of him being persecuted, scorned or forsaken.
AMO/Asia Harvest has stated that the story was first told them by several Burmese church leaders, and that since being initially told they ’have attempted to verify this report which reached us from a number of sources, and are now convinced that it is accurate.’ IMPACT Magazine reported that a spokesman for AMO/Asia Harvest stated: ’We believe it to be true as there are many witnesses to these events.’
CCG Ministries’ Director, Adrian van Leen, before, especially during, and after his visit to Myanmar in November 2000, has spoken to a number of Myanmar Christian leaders - including a number who are involved in inter-church/inter-denominational work, as well as leaders of several denominations (and had the interview/discussion with the central character in this story, Paul, himself). He spoke with leaders from Yangon and across Myanmar who attended a conference in Bago, and also Christian leaders in Mandalay and a regional township. Many of these leaders from across varying denominations had contact with other Christian leaders across the country.
No one was able to give ANY form of authentication to the story. A number of leaders, including those who had been in Christian leadership in Mandalay, knew of no evidence to confirm any part of the story. Some of the Myanmar Christian leaders would very much like to know who the ’several Burmese church leaders’ are that AMO/Asia Harvest refers to as their sources for this story.
In fact, it was pointed out very clearly that, had the story been true, especially had there been a number of Buddhist monks converted to Christianity - especially as many as 300 and very much so if there were as many as 7,000 - the news would have spread rapidly. While the government controlled media might have tried to suppress such news - the Christians and churches (particularly in the Mandalay area) would not have been able - nor have wanted to - suppress such news. It would have spread rapidly and widely through the churches. The Buddhist community would also have spread the story - though for different reasons.
The claim that ’there are many witnesses to these events’ is also disputed by Myanmar Christian leaders, who have stated that they had never met anyone who had been a direct primary witness - nor anyone who had personally met a direct witness to these events. And when asked, Paul himself was totally unable to produce any witnesses whatever, not even his father or mother. The Christian leaders present at the interview would have gladly talked to any converted monks (or asked friends in different parts of the country to do so) who may have been witnesses, but not one name was given as a possible witness. The reality is that in Myanmar itself no one has been able to find any witnesses or any evidence whatever, to support the story of the resurrected Paul. It is even questionable that there is evidence that Paul was actually a Buddhist monk.
It was also pointed out that Paul’s claim to have seen Aung San, the revolutionary leader of Myanmar (father of current opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi) in hell ’because he persecuted and killed Christians, but mostly because he didn’t believe in Jesus Christ’ was completely without foundation. He is a well known figure in Burmese/Myanmar thinking and history - and there is no evidence at all that he persecuted any Christians, let alone killed any.
AMO/Asia Harvest has invited ’Christian believers to judge it [Paul’s resurrection story] according to Scripture.’
As one senior Myanmar pastor pointed out, the story and description of hell given by Paul, is itself contrary to Scripture. Paul’s story is also in conflict with the story Jesus told in the account of the rich man and the beggar, Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). When carefully examined it is also in conflict with the comments of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 - in particular where that Paul was able to name eye witnesses to the resurrection of Christ - and acknowledged at the time that some were still living - in other words, he was able to produce witnesses who could testify to the authenticity of his claims. Myanmar’s Paul was totally unable to name, point to, or produce ANY witnesses at all to his claimed resurrection, or who had been converted by his story.
The story of the ’resurrected Paul’ is known throughout much of Myanmar - and his tape has circulated (in several versions). Hardly anyone in Myanmar - especially amongst Christian leaders - has accepted or believed the story. There is just nothing to back it up. Paul is known of in Myanmar, and regarded by most - as a troublesome and troubled person. He has caused problems and difficulty for Myanmar Christians, and has even been responsible for bringing fear into parts of the Christian community. A number of people in Myanmar who personally know him, or have met him, believe he is in need of medical help and counselling. Sadly, in Myanmar, he is certainly not known as a fearless and faithful witness to Jesus Christ, whose testimony is converting Buddhists, strengthening the church or bringing glory to God’s name.
Further complications have arisen with this whole saga. According to the beliefs of some people in Myanmar (or some with friends and/or relatives in Myanmar), several different people supposedly, or apparently, are claiming to be the resurrected Buddhist monk - at least an older man and a not-so-balanced younger man.
Whatever the truth behind this sad saga, most Christians, and most pastors and church leaders in Myanmar, are not taking this story seriously and see little value in it for the growth of the Christian community in that country.
We believe that if this story had been adequately examined and checked out in Myanmar before transcripts were made of his tape, it would probably never have been published.
[After Asia Harvest received a copy of this report they removed all references to the story from their website and stopped sending out email transcripts of the claimed resurrection account. They will be making some statement regarding their initial endorsement of the story. When this is available we will gladly append it to this report.]