Did the Tathagata (i.e. Buddha) cheat?
Yes and No.
He observed that all phenomena, both inside and outside a human being, ‘emerge’ (or happen) due to causes. That’s true. When he claimed to know what they emerged from, namely the unspecified ‘unborn’, ‘unconditioned’, ‘deathless’, ‘nibbana’, and which he suggested is ‘atta’ (possibly, but unlikely the Sanskrit atman referred to in the Upanishads), the term atta never defined or described by him in detail, he waffled abject nonsense.
When he claimed to have achieved perfect awakening (Pali: samma sambodhi) in regard to the causes of emergence, namely the 12 factors of ‘dependent co-origination’, he spoke the truth.* When he claimed perfect understanding of the causes of emergence, he lied. Even today, no one knows the origin of life, nor what drives life. Obviously, there are plenty of guesses.
* Note: There is no doubt that the Tathagata attained perfect awakening. Perfection, however, is a function (or the outcome) of one-pointed (hence on-end, hence wholly de-relativised) concentration. Perfection (i.e. its experience) is not related to content. In other words, any content (for instance, a human, or a philosophical or mathematical speculation) can become, or cab be experienced as perfect if and when absolute (i.e. de-relativised) concentration (hence contact in a relativity vacuum) is brought to bear on it, i.e. if it is condensed to a point (i.e. if the human acts in a fully focussed manner or the philosophical or mathematical speculation (read; fixed set) is cut off from reference, specifically from random interaction). It was the momentary experience of absolute perfection (of his problem solution, and which was true for the dedicated dropout but false for those not intending to drop out) that deluded Guatama (so that he believed he had achieved absolute, i.e. final understanding of the causes of emergent phenomena) and turned him into a ruthless fanatic prepared to exterminate himself and urge self-termination on everyone he met.
See: The perfection gear
When the Tathagata claimed, ‘Because there is A, there is (or, as he put it, ‘there must have been or must be’) not-A, he begabn to fall into a logic (and observational, indeed representational) fallacy. Obviously, since A exists, there must have been a time/space when A did not exist. However, no (positive) statement (therefore no statement at all) can be made about ‘not A’ (or pre- or un- A). In short, what he should have said was ‘A exists (or is); prior to A is a complete mystery’, and about which, had been a fair-minded he should have remained silent.
No statement can be made about ‘not’ (despite the theoretical value of negative numbers in maths, maths, since Goedel, not actually having any (independent) meaning).
When the Tathagata suggested, first vaguely and indirectly, later (possibly several centuries later) directly and with absolute certainty that ‘not’ (or ‘pre’- or ‘un’) had (or has, i.e. as un-emerged, hence unconditioned essence = atta) positive (and joyful) content, he cheated. For instance, no statement can be made about a ‘not-horse’ or a ‘not-universe’ or a ‘not-reality’.
The Tathagata suggested that by eliminating life (i.e. primarily the emerged phenomena that ‘make up’ (i.e. generate as conditioned after-affect) the human persona, i.e. the khandas), and which produces death, death could be eliminated and the deathless (Pali: amata) achieved, whereby he appears to suggest (later Mahayana actually claims) that the deathless (initially suggested as = atta, Mahayana (and Vedanta) = atman, later still, the Buddhadhatu) has positive (i.e. referential) content (initially he appears to suggest no dukkha, later plenty of sukhha). Suggesting that the deathless has (positive) content was serious cheating, though good for business, as it still is today (i.e. for both Mahayana Buddhists and Vedantins).
The Tathagata’s much repeated opinion that the sole purpose of the noble life, i.e. of the life of the itinerant beggar, for instance, the bhikkhu, is to eliminate life (i.e. which he claimed was the false (because not atta) self, because painful and disgusting) and prevent rebirth, was dangerous nonsense. Luckily, only a few dropouts followed his lead to personal self-destruction.
Sadly to say, the Tathagata’s perfect view during awakening (i.e. his personal solution as to how to avoid dukkha, to wit, ‘Dump the baby, the bathwater and the whole world (of ‘caused = conditioned = formed’ phenomena’) turned him into a single-minded paranoid schizophrenic, judging by the string of superlatives with which he initiated his self-deification and the callous acts that marked his initial recruitment drive (see: The story of Yasa’s conversion, the unconscionable and irresponsible conversion of his 50 friends + the story of the 30 friends in the forest of Uruvela who having been converted (and become arahants!), immediately dumped their wives and parents (i.e. their social responsibilities). Such was the outcry against the Tathagata’s ruthless conversions that he was forced to soften and disguise his conversion tactics.)
With the invention of the Bodhisattva ideal (i.e. as permanent meal ticket), the Bodhisattva’s job being to help end all life (hence death), not just human life, Buddhism universalised what had once been the personal quest of a few psychopathic itinerant beggars.