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Did this person say this, as reported by Awaken.com?

"When the iron bird flies and horses run on wheels, the Tibetan people will be scattered like ants across the earth." — Guru Padmasambhava of Tibet, 8th Century

They made a movie out of it.

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  • Do you mean the historical Padmasambhava or the literature character?
    – enkryptor
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 9:17
  • Historical real-life Padmasambhava. It wouldn't be as surprising if a fictional character said it.
    – Chloe
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 5:07
  • 1
    There is very little information about real-life Padmasambhava. I'm pretty sure there are no writings remain.
    – enkryptor
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 7:27

1 Answer 1

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The earliest citation I can find for this prophecy is a 1976 letter to the editor of the New York Times, where it is grouped with two others.

Buddha predicted the spread of Buddhism to the West with the words “Two thousand five hundred years after my Parinirvana the Holy Dharma will spread to the Land of the Red‐Faced People.“ Padma Sambhava, who brought Buddhism to Tibet from India in the eighth century, predicted “When the Iron Bird flies and horses run on wheels, the Tibetan people will be scattered like ants across the world, and the Dharma will come to the Land of the Red‐Faced Man.”

In turn, there are American Indian prophecies foretelling the coming of red‐robed wisemen from the East who would be their spiritual brothers.

At first glance this seems to be three ludicrous fabrications which the New York Times considered newsworthy. But wait! This version of the prophecy is based in real Tibetan manuscripts! A biography of the Tibetan saint Tsongkhapa explains:

Later biographies [of Tsongkhapa] report that during the digging for the laying of the foundation [for a temple], two notable objects were discovered. The first was a large conch. The second was a mask... The discovery of the two objects, especially the large conch, would evolve into a legend that purported to trace them to the time of none other than the Buddha himself. One version cites a passage said to exist in a Chinese translation of the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, which relates the following story. Once the Buddha and his monks were sitting on the shore of Lake Manasarovar, observing their rainy-season retreat. At that time, the nāga king Anavatapa offered a large conch to the Buddha, who, in turn, gave it to Maudgalyāyana and instructed him to bury it in Tibet, the “land of the red-faced people.” He then prophesied that in the future a monk “bearing the demeanor of a lotus” would spread his teachings there and use the conch to summon his congregation. “So,” the Buddha concluded, “bury this and let it be guarded by a stone shaped like a monkey.”

Thupten Jinpa, Tsongkhapa: A Buddha in the Land of Snows (Shambhala, 2019), pp.251-2

The citation for this gives two medieval manuscripts which are useless to non-experts, being in Tibetan. However, I see from Google Books that there is an older manuscript with the legend of the "land of the red-faced people": the 12th century Testament of dBa, which was first translated into a Western language in 1961. According to the 2020 book Historical Dictionary of Tibet, "land of the red-faced people" was originally used in the Testament of dBa to refer to China, then was turned around in medieval biographies of Tsongkhapa and used for Tibet. (A scholar's blog confirms this.) And, it seems, after the 1970s it was again changed, now to refer to America.

This is the likely origin of the "saying of the Buddha" in the letter, and this letter's version of the Padmasambhava quote also has the phrase "Red‐Faced Man," which suggests to me the same origin for both.

The "American Indian prophecies" [sic] is even more suspicious. It seems to be associated with a 1974 visit by Chogyam Trungpa to the Hopi, and is later described as a "Hopi prophecy." In the 1960s and 70s there was a cottage industry of Hopi prophecies, most conspicuously the story of the "Rainbow Tribe".

This quotation is almost certainly false but based on the real legend of "Buddhism coming to the red-faced people" which appears in various Tibetan manuscripts to refer to China or Tibet.

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