Aug 22, 2020
Martin Goodson


Maitreya is the Buddha who is to come prophesied by Shakyamuni Buddha to be the one who follows on from himself. He reminds us that in time all beings will attain Buddhahood!

Close-up of a statue depicting Maitreya Bodhisattva at the Thikse Monastery in Ladakh, India



According to Buddhist cosmology each aeon (kalpa) gives rise to 1,000 Buddhas. Shakyamuni Buddha was the fourth and Maitreya (Skt.), also known as Mettaya (Pali), will be the fifth of our aeon.

A statue of the bodhisattva Maitreya, at Kōryū-ji



His name derives from maitri which means ‘goodwill’, the first of the Four Divine Abodes and the fruit of selflessness. At present he resides in the Tushita heaven which is the highest heaven and the abode of the next Buddha-in-waiting. Shakyamuni Buddha foretold of his coming in the Digha Nikaya, in a sutta that the Buddha gives to show that quality and duration of life is extended by wholesome activities by kings and rulers and reduced by their omission. When Maitreya appears, the length of life of the ordinary human will be 80,000 years and Maitreya will attain to Complete and Perfect Enlightenment after just 7 days training.

Sitting Maitreya (holding kumbha), Gandhara, 3rd century CE



Although resting in the Tushita heaven, he is still available to teach others. The monk Asanga visited him there and received the teachings of the Yogacara school. Thus both Asanga and Maitreya are seen as being co-founders of this school. This is why in murals depicting Maitreya he is often flanked by Asanga and his brother Vasubandhu.

In early Mahayana Maitreya became the subject of his own sect; he was venerated and perhaps from this arose the notion that all beings would eventually attain to Buddhahood . Indian Mahayana posited that each being has within them the ‘Buddha-womb’ or ‘seed’ that, when the time is right, will attain to full fruition. This too was prophesied by the Buddha Shakyamuni.

White Lotus Society, c. Ming–Qing



Because Maitreya conforms to the promise of a future ideal manifesting on earth, he has often been co-opted into political struggles in China, usually resulting in copious bloodshed. A warning, perhaps, of what can happen when a metaphor is wrongly applied. The notion of a future heroic return appears in many religions and in myth, from the Second Coming of Christ to the return of ‘Once and Future King’ in the Arthurian cycle of stories.

Maitreya and disciples in budai form, as depicted at the Feilai Feng grottos near Lingyin Temple in Hangzhou, China



Maitreya and his appearance, however, does not herald an ‘end-time’ or apocalypse; quite the opposite, he is a continuation of the Buddhas who appear within the Wheel of Life and who bring a light to the world showing those whose hearts so incline a way out of the world of delusion and its suffering to peace of heart. He sets the example of a fruit of the Bodhisattva Path that extends a helping hand to all beings.

His mantra is:

oṃ maitri mahāmaitri maitriye svāhā


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