Maitreya - the Future Buddha


Maitreya – the Future Buddha

Maitreya is the Bodhisattva anticipated by all Buddhists traditions to become the Next Buddha of this world, Jambudvīpa.

Currently dwelling in the Tuṣita heaven, Maitreya awaits rebirth at that time in the distant future when Śākyamuni Buddha’s dispensation will have been completely forgotten.

Depicted as  both - Bodhisattva and Future Buddha, Maitreya is frequently portrayed sitting Western-style with legs pendant, sometimes with ankles crossed.

Another distinctive iconic attribute is a miniature Stūpa or funerary mound placed at the front of his head, recalling the legend

that Śākyamuni Buddha’s disciple Mahākāśyapa remains suspended in meditation beneath a Stūpa, awaiting Maitreya, to whom he will present Śākyamuni’s robe and alms bowl, thus establishing the transmission of authority from one Buddha to the next.

East Asian Buddhists also recognize Maitreya in a particularly graceful form as the Bodhisattva appearing in the lovely “pensive prince” pose and also as the “laughing Buddha” ubiquitously encountered in the entryway of Chinese monasteries (and restaurants),

the latter form based on a Chinese folkloric deity Budai, usually identified with or seen as an incarnation of Maitreya:

Some identify Budai with a semi-historic eccentric Chan monk who lived in China in 10th century and was especially loved for his kindness to children:

His identification with the Maitreya is attributed to a Buddhist hymn he uttered before his death:

Maitreya, the true Maitreya
has billions of incarnations.
Often he is shown to people at the time;
other times they do not recognize him.

A devotional cult focusing on Maitreya developed very early in India, later becoming especially prominent in Central Asia and China during the 5-6th centuries:

Devotees sought to secure rebirth in Tuṣita, first to benefit from Maitreya’s teaching there, and later to join him during his tenure as the next Buddha.

Although eventually eclipsed in East Asia by the more popular Amitābha cult,

anticipation of Maitreya’s golden age continued to erupt periodically in millenarian movements that were intensely devotional and occasionally political as well.