Question: How do we tell if those who claim to be manifestations of the enlightened are truly so?
Answer: This can be done by asking about what enlightened beings should perfectly know. For instance, the most popularly abused name of a Bodhisattva is that of Guānyīn Bodhisattva. As she is the most well known and beloved Bodhisattva, many false teachers and false mediums cannot resist not associating with her to attract devotees. They might not claim to be her directly, out of false modesty, while letting their devotees promote the idea. This is to ride upon a powerful time-tested ‘brand’ to brand oneself for the current spiritual ‘marketplace’.
That to ask should be complex questions on profound aspects of the Dharma, such as the Heart Sūtra. If a claimant is supposed to be Guānyīn Bodhisattva, and since the sūtra was taught by her, he or she should be able to give direct and clear answers ‘live’! Of course, these persons will not give proper answers, for if they do, they would be proper Buddhists who had learnt the Dharma well in the first place, and would never impersonate the enlightened for fame and fortune. If they are enlightened, they should be holding sophisticated full house sermons daily!
Even with availability of this ‘simple’ test, it tends to never be used, not even by their devotees, who are their devotees exactly because they too have yet to study the Dharma properly, which is not taught by their teachers. If they did learn, they would never believe their enlightened claims. Why? First, due to their inability to answer. Second, due to having learnt that the Buddha forbade self-disclosure of the enlightened in this Dharma-Ending Age, which is when false teachers proliferate to confuse with false claims, instead of attracting with pure Dharma and conduct.
The simpler way to answer the opening question is that once anyone is known to ride upon the name of the enlightened, that person should be boycotted instantly. There is not even any need to observe, or to test him or her as suggested. Again, this is so as the Buddha unequivocally instructed the enlightened to never leak their true identities. Anyone who does so, he said firmly, is on the side of Māra, not the Buddhas. Even if false teachers do offer some ‘feasible’ advice once in a while, why forgo the pure Dharma, to miss out authentic teachings for liberation?
The Buddha’s Admonition Against Making False Spiritual Claims
Does Buddhism Promote Medium Practice?
Are There Mediums & Manifestations Of Buddhas & Bodhisattvas Around?