Maitreya

From Buddha World


Maitreya (Sanskrit) or Metteyya (Pāli) is a future Buddha of this world in Buddhist eschatology. In some Buddhist literature, such as the Amitabha Sutra and the Lotus Sutra, he is referred to as Ajita Bodhisattva. Maitreya is a bodhisattva who in the Buddhist tradition is to appear on Earth, achieve complete enlightenment, and teach the pure dharma. According to scriptures, Maitreya will be a successor of the historic Śākyamuni Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. The prophecy of the arrival of Maitreya is found in the canonical literature of all Buddhist sects (Theravāda, Mahāyāna, Vajrayāna) and is accepted by most Buddhists as a statement about an actual event that will take place in the distant future.

Characteristics

One mention of the prophecy of Maitreya is prophesied in the Sanskrit text, the Maitreyavyākaraṇa (The Prophecy of Maitreya), stating that gods, men, and other beings will worship Maitreya; it implies that he is a teacher of trance sadhana: "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)

General description

Maitreya is typically pictured seated, with either both feet on the ground or crossed at the ankles, on a throne, waiting for his time. 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 that represents the stupa of the Buddha Sakyamuni's relics to help him identify it when his turn comes to lay claim to his succession, and can be holding a dharmachakra resting on a lotus. A khata is always tied around his waist as a girdle. In the Greco-Buddhist art of Gandhara, in the first centuries CE in northern India, Maitreya is represented as a Central Asian or northern Indian nobleman, holding a 'water phial' (Sanskrit: Kumbha) in his left hand. Sometimes this is a 'wisdom urn' (Sanskrit: Bumpa). He is flanked by his two acolytes, the brothers Asanga and Vasubandhu.

Maitreya's Tuṣita Heaven

The future Buddha Maitreya, Gandhara, 3rd century CE. Maitreya currently resides in the Tuṣita Heaven (Pāli: Tusita), said to be reachable through meditation. Śākyamuni Buddha also lived here before he was born into the world as all bodhisattvas live in the Tuṣita Heaven before they descend to the human realm to become Buddhas. Although all bodhisattvas are destined to become Buddhas, the concept of a bodhisattva differs slightly in Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism. In Theravada Buddhism, a bodhisattva is one who is only destined to one day become a Buddha, whereas in Mahayana Buddhism, a bodhisattva is one who has already reached a very advanced state of grace or enlightenment but holds back from entering nirvana so that he may help others. Once Maitreya becomes a Buddha, he will rule over the Ketumati Pure Land, an earthly paradise sometimes associated with the Indian city of Varanasi (also known as Benares) in Uttar Pradesh. (All Buddhas preside over a Pure Land; the Buddha Amitabha presides over the Sukhavati Pure Land, more popularly known as the Western Paradise.)

Activity of Maitreya in the current age

In Mahayana schools, Maitreya is traditionally said to have revealed the Five Treatises of Maitreya through Asanga. These important texts are the basis of the Yogachara tradition and constitute the majority of the Third Turning of the Wheel of Dharma.

The future coming of Maitreya

Maitreya's coming will occur after the teachings of the current Gautama Buddha, 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.)

Origins

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". The earliest mention of Metteyya is in the Cakavatti (Sihanada) Sutta in the Digha Nikaya 26 of the Pali Canon. He occurs in no other sutta, and this casts doubt as to the sutta's authenticity. Most of the Buddha's sermons are presented as preached in answer to a question, or in some other appropriate context, but this one has a beginning and an ending in which the Buddha is talking to monks about something totally different. This leads Gombrich to conclude that either whole sutta is apocryphal, or it has at least been tampered with. Maitreya is sometimes represented seated on a throne Western-style, and venerated both in Mahāyāna and non-Mahāyāna Buddhism. Some have speculated that inspiration for Maitreya may have come from the ancient Indo-Iranian deity Mithra. The primary comparison between the two characters appears to be the similarity of their names. According to a book entitled The Religion of the Iranian Peoples, "No one who has studied the Zoroastrian doctrine of the Saoshyants or the coming saviour-prophets can fail to see their resemblance to the future Maitreya. Paul Williams claims that some Zoroastrian ideas like Saoshyant 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, in the 4th-6th Centuries "[Buddhist artisans] used the names Shakyamuni and Maitreya interchangeably... indicating both that the distinction between the two had not yet been drawn and that their respective iconographies had not yet been firmly set". An example is the stone sculpture found in the Qingzhou cache dedicated to Maitreya in 529 CE as recorded in the inscription (currently in the Qingzhou Museum, Shandong). The cult of Maitreya seems to have developed around the same time of that of Amitābha, as early as the 3rd century CE.

Maitreya claimants

Close-up of a statue depicting Maitreya at the Thikse monastery in Ladakh, India. Depictions of Maitreya vary among Buddhist sects. Since his death, the Chinese monk Budai (Hotei) 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.[dubious – discuss] While a number of persons have proclaimed themselves to be Maitreya over the years following the Buddha’s parinirvana, none have been officially recognized by the sangha and Buddhists. 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.

Non-Buddhist views

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. Share International, which equates Maitreya with the prophesied figures of multiple religious traditions, claims that he is already present in the world, but is preparing to make an open declaration of his presence in the near future. They claim that he is here to inspire mankind to create a new era based on sharing and justice. Since the beginning of the 1930s, the Ascended Master Teachings have placed Maitreya in the "Office" of "World Teacher" until 1956, when he was described as moving on to the "Office" of "Planetary Buddha" and "Cosmic Christ" in their concept of a Spiritual Hierarchy. Some muslim scholars who studied buddhist texts believe that Maitreya is "Rahmatu lil-'alameen" (Mercy for The Worlds), which is the name for prophet Muhammad as it is said in Qur'an. According to the research on the book Antim Buddha - Maitreya scholars have summarized that Maitreya Buddha is Muhammad. After examining the Buddhist texts researchers concluded that Muhammad had been the last and final awakened Buddha to come into existence long after the current teachings. The 19th Century religious reformer, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, is believed in by the members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community (the faith he brought) as fulfilling expectations regarding the Maitreya Buddha. Bahá'ís believe that Bahá'u'lláh is the fulfillment 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. This view has been of some effect, for example in Vietnam Bahá'u'lláh was identified with the Maitreya. Before the Communist government, the Bahá'í Faith grew in part with the coversion of a number of Buddhist monks. see Bahá'í Faith in Vietnam. The Bahá'í Faith has recently been able to re-register as a religion and there are some signs of large scale growth from the 50's-60's resuming.

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, claimed 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 supposedly aligned with. Raël's Maitreya claims center on the content of the Agama Sutra (Japanese: Agon Sutra), supposedly a very ancient text written by Buddha himself, but which has been deemphasized or forgotten by the majority of Buddhist cultures. Raël has claimed directly to people attending Asia Raëlian Church seminars, that someone born in France, a country which is often symbolized by the cock (or rooster), west of the Orient, meets the criteria of the Maitreya. Rael himself claims to be this individual.

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