Maitreya Buddhism


Maitreya (Sanskrit word meaning "friendly, " "benevolent "), called in Pali: Metteya, in Chinese: 彌勒菩薩; pinyin: Mílè púsà or 彌勒佛, Mílèfó; pronounced in Japanese: Miroku, Vietnamese: Di-lặc and Tibetan (THL): Jetsun Jampa Gonpo.

He is known as a mahâsattva who would become the Buddha to come when the Dharma, the teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha, disappears, that is, during or after the period described as the End of Shakyamuni Buddhism (Mappō).

His role as a "master" or "protector" of Buddhism also made him known as Maitreyanatha, especially in the creation of the Cittamātra school with Vasubandhu and the latter's half-brother, Asanga. He is said to have been born between 270 and 350.

The belief in the advent of Maitreya is shared by the Theravāda and Mahāyāna streams of Buddhism.

Origins of the name

In some texts such as the Lotus Sūtra, the Buddha calls Maitreya "Ajita," invincible. Maitreya is often considered to be his surname and Ajita his given name. He should not be confused with another Ajita mentioned in the Sūtra of the Parinirvāņa, a great repentant criminal accepted as a disciple by the Buddha.

A connection has been made between the name Maitreya and that of Mithra, mitra meaning friend in Sanskrit. This link is rather difficult to substantiate because of the diversity of roles assigned to this god by the different Indo-Iranian and Persian religious currents.

The Tuṣita (Tushita) paradise

This is the heavenly realm where bodhisattvas, destined to attain full enlightenment in their next life, reside prior to their rebirth as a buddha.

According to tradition, Maitreya currently reigns in the paradise "Tuṣita," the Joyous One, as a bodhisattva of the "tenth land" called the "Dharma Clouds," where he works to dispel his last veils to omniscience.

He will, however, attain the "unsurpassable perfect enlightenment" (the anuttara-samyak-sambodhi) only through his passage into Akaniṣṭha (en), the highest sphere of existence in the form world (rūpaloka).

Absorbing himself there in "samādhi-like-diamond ", he can then become a samyaksambuddha and return to the human sphere, as well as all other realms where the wheel of the Law is to be put into action.

The Advent of Maitreya

Maitreya is the subject of the Maitreya Prophecy (Maitreyavyākaraņa). It says that he will appear in Ketumati, "the Resplendent," another name for Varanasi (Benares), that he will be born there into a Brahmin family, while Shākyamuni was of the military caste of kshatriyas.

Like the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, recognized as a compassionate Buddha (karuņā) who arose in an age of suffering, Maitreya, will be known as a Buddha of loving-kindness: as a perfect Buddha, he will have developed the four immeasurable virtues to move towards an age of harmony by enhancing the well-being of the world by directing it towards Enlightenment.

In Varanasi, he is expected to manifest full enlightenment so that he too can turn the "Wheel of Dharma", the Dharmacakra.

His advent is not expected to occur until long after Shākyamuni's death: "the Mahâsattva Bôdhisattva Mâitrêya, who has just learned from the mouth of the Blessed Çâkyamuni that he is to attain after him the supreme state of a perfectly fulfilled Buddha, has asked the Blessed Tathâgatha Çâkyamuni, venerable, etc., the cause of what has befallen you. "

His role in the Mahāyāna

Asanga, one of the founders of the Yogācāra, dissatisfied with the teachings of the Hīnayāna, and unable to understand the meaning of the Prajñāpāramitās, the sutras dealing with emptiness, meditated for more than twelve years on Maitreya, his meditation deity, until he met him in vision.

Maitreya taught him what would become the Five Treatises of Maitreya on the Real Nature of Phenomena. A more prosaic version sees them as the teachings of his guru, Maitreyanātha (270-350), which would ultimately make the latter the real originator of the Yogācāra school.

The Prophecy of Maitreya has been interpreted in China at certain times in a distinctly millenarian way, and has inspired the writing of numerous apocryphal versions.

It offers hope to people who feel that they are living in the final period of the Dharma, where the social and religious order is deteriorating and disasters and catastrophes are multiplying, and who are waiting for a savior to inaugurate a new era.

This belief is responsible for the birth of the Maitreya movement and the popularity of Maitreya among syncretistic sects (Buddhism - Manichaeism - Taoism), many of whom were involved in rebellions, such as the Red Turbans, which put an end to the Mongol dynasty. Maitreya is also expected by new Chinese religious movements.

The (historically evident) extension of the time frame provided by the short estimate that seems to have prevailed in early Buddhism (Maitreya's advent 500-1500 years after parinirvana) is sometimes explained by the fact that the bodhisattva would have chosen the slowest of the three paths to perfect enlightenment: wisdom, faith, and effort, in descending order of rapidity.

To accelerate his coming, it is advised to redouble piety and multiply offerings to monks and visits to temples. Some schools of thought outside of orthodox Buddhism believe that Maitreya has already attained the state of Buddha but is delaying his coming, or that he is already in this world incognito.

Estimates of the length of the "five periods of five hundred years " vary according to theories and the version chosen for the calculation of the three eras of Shakyamuni Buddhism, however Nichiren, in the Collection of Oral Teachings or Ongi kuden (en), sees the bodhisattva Maitreya, promised to succeed Shakyamuni, as a metaphor for all the bodhisattvas who will guard and practice the Lotus Sūtra, so that the realization of Kosen-rufu becomes the means of guiding the world toward enlightenment.

According to him, "The name Maitreya means The Compassionate One and refers to the devotees of the Lotus Sūtra. "

Milefo, his Chinese name

Maitreya was known in China as early as the second century. He found a historical incarnation there, a common phenomenon in the Chinese religious context, which helped to give him a physical appearance and a role other than the one Buddhism had previously attributed to him.

During the Liang Dynasty there lived a wandering monk Chan, with the religious name Qici (契此, qìcǐ), from Mingzhou Prefecture in Zhejiang. Carrying all his necessities in a canvas pouch, he was distinguished by his stout build and zany, unpredictable but benevolent demeanor; he was also said to have exceptional clairvoyant gifts.

He is said to have died in meditation at the Yuelin temple (岳林寺 / 嶽林寺, yuèlín sì), in his home province, in 916, uttering these words: "This Maitreya is the true Maitreya, he is present in billions of forms; he shows himself constantly, but no one recognizes him."

A legend had it that he was the incarnation of Maitreya: people claimed to have seen him after his death, and pious images of him began to circulate.

The smiling, paunchy monk has become the most common and popular representation of Maitreya in China, where he is generally referred to as Milefo (弥勒佛 / 彌勒佛, mílèfó, "Mile Buddha (arousing filling)," Budai (Chinese: 布袋; pinyin: bùdài; lit. "cloth bag") or also nicknamed Luohan (罗汉, luóhàn, "Arhat"), as he would have reached that stage.

The more formal appellation Mile pusa (弥勒菩萨 / 彌勒菩薩, mílè púsà, "Mile bodhisattva (arousing filling)". His full belly and smile are guarantees of happiness and prosperity, as well as his bag which is said to be inexhaustible.

These characteristics did not make a favorable impression on nineteenth-century French travelers, who found Milefo (Chinese for Buddha maitreya) to be a fat man with an unattractive physique. The monk Qici became in Japan Hotei (translation of Chinese Bùdài 布袋 "cloth bag"), one of the Seven Gods of Happiness. In traditional Chinese religion, Milefo is one of the Gods of fortune.


Maitreya is usually depicted as a holy man or prince. When he is seated, his two feet rest on the ground, which can be interpreted in two ways: he is not yet "seated" as a Buddha, or he is preparing to rise and descend to earth. He can also have his head slightly lowered, meaning that he is looking at the world.

He sometimes wears a small stupa in his headdress. His right hand often holds a wheel on a lotus, and his left hand holds a vial containing the nectar of Dharma. As the next one to set the wheel of the Law in motion, he sometimes makes the gesture (dharmacakra mudra).

The great bodhisattva is sometimes depicted with the two most famous thinkers of the Yogācāra school, Asanga and his brother Vasubandhu, at his side.

There are illustrations in Tibetan Buddhism showing the Buddha with Mañjuśrī and the philosophers representing detached wisdom on his left, and Maitreya on his right, followed by Asanga and Vasubandhu before their successors representing compassionate wisdom.

Milefo is a bald, pot-bellied monk with a cheerful face, often called the Laughing Buddha. Like all exceptional beings, his earlobes are very long. In addition to his bag, he may carry a gourd, a Taoist symbol of longevity.

Pretenders and new interpretations

The Indian context to which the prophecy of Maitreya naturally refers has not prevented many people from claiming to be his incarnation, even in the early centuries. Bodawpaya, ruler of the kingdom of Ava (Burma) in the late eighteenth century, and Lu Zhongyi, the seventeenth master of Ikuan Tao, are two examples.

Maitreya has also been adopted by new Buddhist or syncretistic religious movements, some of which originated outside of Asia. There are Buddhist movements for whom the central personality is Maitreya the savior; they consider that he attained enlightenment before Gautama Buddha, but took him as his teacher out of respect and temporarily renounced nirvana.

Maitreya is one of the forms of the supreme deity of the new Chinese syncretistic religions born of the Xiantiandao movement.

Share International, founded in the 1970s by Benjamin Creme and influenced by the writings of theosophist Helena Blavatsky and New Age pioneer Alice Ann Bailey, claims that Maitreya is the messiah expected by all religions under different names, and that he has already made numerous public and private appearances.

When Creme announced that Maitreya had arrived in London on July 19, 1977 and finally appeared on American television on January 14, 2010, unwittingly implicating economics writer Raj Patel, he created a media buzz that brought the figure of Maitreya to the attention of the world.

Rudolf Steiner, founder of anthroposophy, indicates that the Maitreya Buddha will come 5,000 years after Gautama Buddha, which is about the year 4400. He also points to the imminent incarnation of Ahriman at the beginning of the third millennium in the West, which could mean that Ahriman will impersonate Maitreya.

The name Maitraya (sic) is used in the Raelian movement by Rael.

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