Maitreya Bodhisattva (Sanskrit), Metteyya Bodhisatta (Pāli), or Miroku Bosatsu (Japanese, kanji) is the future Buddha in Buddhist eschatology. Maitreya is a Bodhisattva who some Buddhists believe will eventually appear on earth, achieve complete enlightenment, and teach the pure dharma.
Maitreya Bodhisattva will be the successor of the historic Śākyamuni Buddha. He is predicted to be a "world-ruler", uniting those over whom he rules. The prophecy of the arrival of Maitreya is found in the canonical literature of all Buddhist sects (Theravāda, Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna) and is accepted by most Buddhists as a statement about an actual event that will take place in the distant future.
One of the earliest mention of Maitreya is a Sanskrit text, the Maitreyavyākaraṇa (The Prophecy of Maitreya), stating that gods, men and other beings will worship Maitreya and : "will lose their doubts, and the torrents of their cravings will be cut off : free from all misery they will manage to cross the ocean of becoming; and, as a result of Maitreya's teachings, they will lead a holy life. No longer will they regard anything as their own, they will have no possession, no gold or silver, no home, no relatives! But they will lead the holy life of chastity under Maitreya's guidance. They will have torn the net of the passions, they will manage to enter into trances, and theirs will be an abundance of joy and happiness, for they will lead a holy life under Maitreya's guidance." (Trans. in Conze 1959:241)
Maitreya is typically pictured seated, with both feet on the ground, indicating that he has not yet completed ascending his throne, which is believed to be a style of western throne, not Indian as previously believed. He is dressed in the clothes of either a Bhiksu or Indian royalty. As a Bodhisattva, he would usually be standing, and dressed in jewels. Usually he wears a small stupa in his headdress, and could be holding a chakra wheel resting a lotus. A scarf is always tied around his waist.
In the Greco-Buddhist art of Gandhara, in the first centuries AD in northern India, Maitreya is represented as a Central Asian or northern Indian nobleman, holding a water phial in his left hand.
He is flanked by his two acolytes, Asanga and his brother, Vasubandhu.
Maitreya's Tusita Heaven
Maitreya resides in the Tusita Heaven (Pāli : Tusita), said to be reachable through meditation. Śākyamuni Buddha also lived here before he was born into the world.
Some Bodhisattvas live in the Tusita Heaven before they descend to the human realm to become Buddhas. A bodhisattva may be thought of as an individual near to becoming Buddha.
The arrival of Maitreya
Maitreya's coming will occur after the teachings of the current Buddha Gautama, the Dharma, are no longer taught and are completely forgotten. Maitreya is predicted to attain Bodhi in seven days (which is the minimum period), by virtue of his many lives of preparation for Buddha-hood (similar to those reported in the Jataka stories of Shakyamuni Buddha).
Maitreya's coming is characterized by a number of physical events. The oceans are predicted to decrease in size, allowing Maitreya to traverse them freely. The event will also allow the unveiling of the “true” dharma to the people, in turn allowing the construction of a new world. The coming also signifies the end of the middle time in which humans currently reside (characterized as a low point of human existence between the Gautama Buddha and Maitreya).
Some of the events foretold at the coming of the 5th Buddha (29th Buddha according to Theravada) include an end to death, warfare, famine, and disease, as well as the ushering in of a new society of tolerance and love.
The name Maitreya or Metteyya is derived from the word maitrī (Sanskrit) or mettā (Pāli) meaning "loving-kindness", which is in turn derived from the noun mitra (Pāli : mitta) in the sense of "friend".
Maitreya, who is sometimes represented seated on a throne Western-style, and venerated both in Mahāyāna and non-Mahāyāna Buddhism, is sometimes considered to have been influenced by the Zoroastrian Mithra, a god of contracts, associated with the Sun. The primary resemblance between the two characters appears to be the chance similarity of their names.
Paul Williams claims that some Zoroastrian ideas influenced the cult of Maitreya, such as "expectations of a heavenly helper, the need to opt for positive righteousness, the future millennium, and universal salvation". Possible objections are that these characteristics are not unique to Zoroastrianism, nor are they necessarily characteristic of the belief in Maitreya.
It is also possible that Maitreya Buddha originated with the Hindu Kalki, and that its similarities with the Iranian Mithra have to do with their common Indo-Iranian origin.
In the Greco-Buddhist art of Gandhara, in the first centuries CE in northern India, Maitreya was the most popular figure to be represented, together with the Buddha Śākyamuni. In China, the cult of Maitreya seems to have developed around the same time of that of Amitābha, as early as the 3rd century AD.
Since his death, the Chinese monk Budai has been popularly regarded as an incarnation of the bodhisattva Maitreya. His depiction as the Laughing Buddha continues to be very popular in East Asian culture.
While a number of persons have proclaimed themselves to be Maitreya over the years following the Sakyamuni Buddha's death, none have been officially recognized by the sangha and the Buddhist people. A particular difficulty faced by any would-be claimant to Maitreya's title is the fact that the Buddha is considered to have made a number of fairly specific predictions regarding the circumstances that would occur prior to Maitreya's coming- such as that the teachings of the Buddha would be completely forgotten, and all of the remaining relics of Sakyamuni Buddha would be gathered in Bodh Gaya and cremated.
Bahá'ís believe that Bahá'u'lláh is the fullfillment of the prophecy of appearance of Maitreya. Bahá'ís believe that the prophecy that Maitreya will usher in a new society of tolerance and love has been fulfilled by Bahá'u'lláh's teachings on world peace.
Since the growth of the theosophist movement in the 19th Century, non-Buddhist religious and spiritual movements have adopted the name and selected characteristics of Maitreya for teachers in their traditions. One of the best known of these movements is Share International, which equates Maitreya with the prophesied figures of multiple religious traditions, and claims that he is already present in the world.
More self-proclaimed Maitreyas
The following people listed are just a small portion of the several people who claimed themselves to be Maitreya. Many have either used the Maitreya incarnation claim to form a new Buddhist sect or have used the name of Maitreya to form a new religious movement or cult.
- Gung Ye, a Korean warlord and king of short-lived state of Taebong during the 10th century, claimed himself as living incarnation of Maitreya and ordered his subjects to worship him. His claim was widely rejected by most Buddhist monks and later he was dethroned and killed by his own servants.
- In 613 the monk Xiang Haiming claimed himself Maitreya and adopted imperial title.
- In 690 Empress Wu inaugurated the Second Zhou dynasty, proclaimed herself an incarnation of the future Buddha Maitreya, and made Luoyang the "holy capital." In 693 she replaced the compulsory Dao De Jing in the curriculum temporarily with her own Rules for Officials.
- Lu Zhong Yi, the 17th patriarch of I-Kuan Tao, proclaimed himself to be an incarnation of Maitreya.
- L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Dianetics and Scientology, suggested he was "Metteya" (Maitreya) in the 1955 poem Hymn of Asia. His editors indicated, in the book's preface, specific physical characteristics said to be outlined -- in unnamed sanskrit sources -- as properties of the coming Maitreya; properties which Hubbard's appearance reportedly aligned with.
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