Schist Greco-Buddhist statue of Maitreya, Gandhara, ca. 3rd century
(Pinyin: Mílè Púsa)
EnglishBuddha Mitry
(romaji: Miroku Bosatsu)
Karenမဲၣ်တယါ ဘူးဒး
(Mehtuhyah Boodah)
Khmerសិអារ្យមេត្រី, អរិយមេត្តយ្យ
(RR: Mireuk Bosal)
Sinhalaමෛත්‍රී බුදුන්
(Maithri Budun)
(RTGSPhra Si Ariya Mettrai)
(Wylie: byams pa)
(THL: Jampa)

(Wylie: byams pa'i mgon po)
(THL: Jampé Gönpo)
(Di lặc Bồ Tát)
Venerated byMahayana, Theravada, Vajrayana
AttributesCompassion and Kindness
Preceded by
Gautama Buddha
Succeeded by
Rama Buddha[1]
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Maitreya (Sanskrit) or Metteyya (Pali), is a bodhisattva who is regarded as the future Buddha of this world in all schools of Buddhism, prophesied to become Maitreya Buddha or Metteyya Buddha.[2][3] In some Buddhist literature, such as the Amitabha Sutra and the Lotus Sutra, he is also referred to as Ajitā (Invincible, Unconquerable). In Tibetan Buddhism he is known as the "Lord of Love" or the "Noble Loving One" (Pakpa Jampa).[4] The root of his name is the Sanskrit word maitrī (Pali: metta; meaning friendliness, loving-kindness). The name Maitreya is also related to the Indo-Iranian name Mitra.[5]

In all branches of Buddhism, Maitreya is viewed as the direct successor of Gautama Buddha. As the fifth and final Buddha of the current kalpa (eon), Maitreya's teachings will be focused around re-establishing the Buddha's Dharma on Earth. According to scriptures, Maitreya's teachings will be similar to those of Gautama (Śākyamuni).[6][7] The arrival of Maitreya is prophesied to occur during an era of decline when the teachings of Gautama Buddha have been disregarded or largely forgotten.

Despite many religious figures and spiritual leaders claiming to be Maitreya throughout history, diverse Buddhist sects insist that these are false claims, while underscoring that Maitreya has yet to appear as a Buddha (since the Buddha's teachings have not been forgotten yet). Traditional Buddhists believe that Maitreya currently resides in Tushita heaven.[8] However, Maitreya is not inaccessible, and various Buddhists throughout history have also claimed to have been visited by Maitreya, to have had visions of him, and to have received teachings by him. As such, Mahayana Buddhists traditionally consider Maitreya to be the founder of the Yogacara tradition through his revelation of various scriptures like the Mahāyānasūtrālamkārakā, and the Madhyāntavibhāga.[9][10][11]

Maitreya has also been employed in a millenarian role by many non-Buddhist philosophies and religions, such as Theosophy, New Age, the White Lotus, as well as by modern new religious movements, such as Yiguandao and Falun Gong.[citation needed]


The name Maitreya is derived from the Sanskrit word maitrī "friendship", which is in turn derived from the noun mitra, signifying "friend". The Pali form Metteyya is mentioned in the Cakkavatti-Sīhanāda Sutta (Digha Nikaya 26) of the Pāli Canon, and also in chapter 28 of the Buddhavamsa.[6][7] Some modern scholars like Richard Gombrich argue that the sutra is a later addition to the Pali Canon or that it has been edited at a later date.[12]

Maitreya's prophecy also appears in other texts like the Māhavastu, Lalitavistara, the Mūlasarvāstivāda-vinaya and the Divyāvadāna.[2][13]

Due to their similar names, some modern scholars like Przyluski, Lamotte and Levi have speculated that inspiration for Maitreya may have come from ancient Indo-Iranian deities like Mithra and the future Zoroastrian savior figure of the Saoshyant.[14][13] However, David Alan Scott points out numerous differences in their artistic portrayals (even in the same geographic region) and discrepancies which make this direct link unlikely. He specifically points out the very ancient Buddhist roots of Maitreya in the earliest Buddhist texts.[13] Scott does point out that both deities are personifications of the virtue of friendship, so they do have that in common (maitrī).[13]

Mahayana sutras

There are many Mahāyāna sūtras which describe and discuss the bodhisattva Maitreya. He appears as a supporting character in several important Mahāyāna sūtras such as the Lotus Sutra, Vimalakirti Sutra, the Golden Light, the King of Samadhis Sutra, and the Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines.[2]

In the Gaṇḍavyūha Sutra meanwhile, Maitreya has an entire chapter in which he preaches the Dharma to the pilgrim Sudhana in one hundred and twenty one verses.[15] Then Sudhana is allowed to enter Maitreya's palace (Vairocanakutalamkara-garbha), where he has a grand vision of the entirety of Maitreya's bodhisattva career.[15]

In addition, there are also several Mahāyāna sūtras which focus specifically on Maitreya, his teachings and future activity. Some key Maitreya sutras in the Chinese canon are the following:

The Tibetan Buddhist canon meanwhile contains the following Maitreya sutras:

Other literature

Maitreya also appears in other literary works. The Maitreyasamitināṭaka was an extensive Buddhist play in pre-Islamic Central Asia (c. 8th century).[16][17] The Maitreyavyakarana (a poem in śatakam form) in Central Asia and the Anagatavamsa of South India also mention him.[citation needed]

Archeology and art

Bodhisattva Maitreya, Gandhara, 2nd-3rd cents., National Museum of Korea, Seoul

In the Greco-Buddhist art of Gandhara, in the first centuries CE in northern India, Maitreya was the most popular figure to be represented along with Gautama Buddha. Numerous sculptures of Maitreya have been found in Greater Gandhara from the Kushan Empire period (30–375 CE). He also appears in Mathura to a lesser extent.[18] Maitreya is already depicted at Sanchi before the Kushan period. But art depicting him becomes much more numerous during the Kushan era, when his cult seems to have grown in popularity.[18]

In 4th- to 6th-century China, Buddhist artisans saw Shakyamuni and Maitreya as interchangeable, which indicates that the iconography of the two figures were not fully established at an early date.[19]

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 religious belief of Maitreya apparently developed around the same time as that of Amitābha, as early as the 3rd century CE.[20]

Artistic depictions

Greco-Buddhist standing Maitreya

Maitreya is often depicted standing or sitting on a throne. He is often represented as a northern Indian nobleman or prince with a full head of hair, fine flowing robes and jewels.[21] Gandharan style images present him with a distinctive long hair loop folded at the top of the head.[22]

Maitreya is often depicted carrying a vase or bottle (kamaṇḍalu), an element which goes back to the Gandharan sculptures and which he shares with depictions of the deity Brahma (along with the hair loop).[21][22] Because of this, some scholars argue that the water bottle and hair loop are symbols of his brahminical origins, and indeed, some stories depict Maitreya as being born to a Human family during his last life.[22] Maitreya is also often shown in a heaven realm, indicating his current location (Tushita).[22]

In Indian symbolism, the kamaṇḍalu pot symbolizes immortality (amrita), fertility, life and wealth.[23][24] In Buddhism, the similar pūrṇa-kumbha (full bottle) also symbolizes "auspicious abundance", wisdom, health, longevity, wealth, prosperity, and the Buddha's infinite quality of teaching the Dharma.[25] In Tibetan Buddhism, it is termed a bumpa (wisdom urn, ritual vase).

Buddhist Maitreya beliefs

Nepalese Maitreya sculpture, c. 11th century

Types of Maitreya myths

According to Jan Nattier, there are four main types of the Maitreya myth which we find throughout the history of Buddhism. The typology is based around when and how a devotee expected to encounter the figure of Maitreya:[26]

  1. Here/now: In this version, a devotee expected to meet Maitreya on earth, during their present lifetime.
  2. Here/later: A devotee expected to meet Maitreya on earth at some point after their death, during a future lifetime, perhaps when Maitreya attains Buddhahood and founds a new community. This is the most common and standard myth in which Maitreya's enlightenment is a future event devotees hope to be present for.
  3. There/now: In visionary forms of the Maitreya myth, devotees attempted to encounter Maitreya in a vision of his court in Tushita heaven, or to literally travel there by some means (e.g. the story of Asanga's encounter).
  4. There/later: A common wish among Maitreya devotees was to be reborn in Maitreya's Tushita palace or "inner court", which is his current Pure land.

Future coming of Maitreya

11th century Maitreya, Bihar, India
Sitting gilded bronze Maitreya, c. late 6th-early 7th century, National Museum of Korea
Head of a Thai four armed Maitreya, Northeastern Thailand, second quarter of the 8th century

In all Buddhist traditions, Maitreya is prophesied to be the next Buddha who will arise in this world. He will attain Buddhahood far in the future (proximally 2000 years from now - 5000 years after Sakyamuni's Parinirvana).[27][28] Since attaining enlightenment is thought to be much more likely while studying under a living Buddha, many Buddhists have hoped to meet Maitreya and train under him. As Buddhist studies scholar Alan Spongberg writes, Maitreya "came to represent a hope for the future, a time when all human beings could once again enjoy the spiritual and physical environment most favorable to enlightenment and the release from worldly suffering."[29] The Maitreya legend has provided a positive view of the future for all Buddhist cultures, who have adapted and expressed the prophetic myth in different ways.[30]

According to Buddhist tradition, each kalpa (a cosmic period lasting millions of years) has several Buddhas.[31] The previous kalpa was the vyuhakalpa (glorious aeon), and the present kalpa is called the bhadrakalpa (auspicious aeon).[32] The Seven Buddhas of Antiquity (saptatathāgata) are seven Buddhas which bridge the last kalpa and the present kalpa, they begin with Vipassī and end (so far) with Gautama (Shakyamuni). Maitreya is thus the eighth Buddha in this line.[33]

According to traditional Buddhist sources Maitreya's advent is not imminent and instead will happen millions of years in the future. In spite of this, Buddhist believers can hope to accumulate good karma so that when the time comes, they will be reborn to meet the future Buddha Maitreya and reach enlightenment under him.[34] Scriptures which describe the future coming of Maitreya also describe the paradise like conditions of the world during Maitreya's time. His coming is said to usher in a "golden age" of religion and civilization.[34] Buddhist scriptures do not exhort believers to work to bring about this golden age (what Nattier calls "active apocalypticism"). This might be due to the Buddhist view of the cyclical nature of time and history.[34]

The cyclical nature of history is thus part of the Maitreya myth. Buddhists believe that there will come a time of Dharma decline in which social order and morality will decline and the human lifespan will also decline. There will be war, sickness and famine.[35] The Buddha's Dharma will then be lost. After some time, the world will begin to improve again, and human lifespans will begin to increase. It is at the peak of this rise in goodness in the far future that Maitreya will arrive. As such, in the traditional Buddhist view, first there will be a period of decline, followed by a period of moral and social betterment. It is only then that Maitreya is expected to come.[35] To be able to take part in this golden age, Buddhist devotees hoped to make enough good merit (through good deeds like giving and compassionate acts) which would condition their future rebirth.[36]

Maitreya, 13th century, Kamakura period, Tokyo National Museum, Important Cultural Property of Japan

One mention of the prophecy in the Maitreyavyākaraṇa states that gods, men and other beings:

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 oneness 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.[37]

Thus, many Buddhists throughout history have sought to develop the necessary merit to meet Maitreya on Earth during the life of his final Buddhahood.[3][38] This includes many Theravada Buddhists. One famous Theravadin who expressed this wish was the Sinhalese king Duṭṭhagāmaṇī.[38]

In Mahayana Buddhism, Buddhas preside over pure lands, such as Sukhavati. Once Maitreya becomes a Buddha, he will rule over the Ketumati pure land, an earthly paradise sometimes associated with the city of Varanasi (also known as Benares) in Uttar Pradesh, India,[39] and in other descriptions, the kingdom of Shambhala.[40][41]

Foretold biography

Various Buddhist sources give details about Maitreya's birth, family and country. According to the Cakkavatti Sutta: The Wheel-turning Emperor (Digha Nikaya 26), Maitreya Buddha will be born in a time when humans will live to an age of eighty thousand years, in the city of Ketumatī (present Varanasi), whose king will be the Cakkavattī (wheel-turning emperor) Sankha. Sankha will live in the palace where once dwelt King Mahāpanadā, but later he will give the palace away and will himself become a follower of Maitreya Buddha.[42]

Maitreya will be born to the chief priest of Sankha, Brahmayu, and his wife Brahmavati. In some sources his family name is Maitreya and his first name is Ajita.[43] Maitreya will live as a householder, have a son, and then renounce the world and achieve Buddhahood like Shakyamuni.[43] In some accounts, Maitreya will meet Mahakasyapa, who has been in samadhi on top of mount Kukkutapada since the passing of Shakyamuni. According to some accounts, Mahakasyapa will then hand Shayamuni's robe to Maitreya.[44]

Buddhist texts from several traditions say that beings in Maitreya's time will be much bigger than during the time of Sakyamuni. To these gigantic beings, Buddha's robe barely covers two fingers and a modern human appears insect sized.[45] Some sources state that Maitreya will be 88 cubits (132 feet, 40 meters) tall and will live for 88,000 years. Like Maṅgala Buddha, his rays will make people hard to distinguish between day and night. His teachings will preserve for the next 180,000 years. According to the commentary of Anāgatavamsa, his teaching will last for 360,000 years.[46]

In Tushita heaven

Maitreya depicted as the founder of the Hosso (Japanese Yogacara) school, c. 16th century

Buddhists believe that Maitreya is currently a spiritually advanced bodhisattva (a being who is practicing the path towards full Buddhahood) in Tuṣita heaven where he will remain until it is the right time for him to descend to earth to attain Buddhahood.[3][36]

Maitreya currently resides in a palace at the center of Tuṣita Heaven (Pāli: Tusita).[47] Gautama 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. Though the concept of the bodhisattva is different in Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism, both traditions of Buddhism share a belief in Maitreya bodhisattva as the current regent of the Buddha's Dharma in Tusita.[3]

Many Buddhists throughout history have cultivated merit through good deeds in order to be reborn in Tusita and meet Maitreya bodhisattva there in their next life.[36] This may be combined with the wish to descend back down to earth as part of Maitreya's future entourage. Mahayana Buddhists such as Dao'an, Xuanzang, Yjing, and other masters of East Asian Yogacara, have expressed devotion for Maitreya and have sought to be reborn in his pure land, the palace at the center of Tuṣita.[48] One Theravada example is the legend of the monk Malaya-Mahadeva, who is said to have traveled to Tushita and met Maitreya according to the 11th century Rasavāhinī.[49]

Modern figures like Xuyun, and Taixu have also expressed the wish to meet Maitreya in Tushita.[47]

Revelations and manifestations

Maitreya is also believed by Buddhists to manifest "emanation bodies" (nirmanakayas) on earth in order to aid living beings and teach the Dharma.[50] Chinese Buddhists consider the rotund monk Budai as an emanation of Maitreya in China. Buddhist yogis and scholars, like Dao'an, have also sought to receive visions, teachings, or guidance from Maitreya in this present life.[51] Various stories are recorded of individuals ascending to meet Maitreya (through meditation and samadhi) or of Maitreya descending to meet them here on earth.[51]

11th century Maitreya, West Bengal

The most famous of these revelations in Mahayana Buddhism are five scriptures Maitreya is traditionally said to have revealed to the 4th century Indian Buddhist master Asanga.[9][10] These texts are important in the Yogacara tradition and are considered to be part of the third turning within the Three Turnings of the Wheel of Dharma. They teach the "consciousness-only" idealist philosophy of Yogacara Buddhism.[9][10]

Buddhist tradition associates Asanga (c. 4th century), one of the founders of the Yogacara school, with the bodhisattva Maitreya. According to traditional accounts, after twelve years of retreat and meditation, Asanga encountered a dying dog and treated his wounds by removing the maggots from them to a piece of Asanga's own flesh. It was only after his act of love and compassion that Asanga had a vision of Maitreya, who turned out to be that very dying dog. Maitreya then took Asanga to the celestial realm of Tushita and transmitted to him several Buddhist scriptures (the so called "five dharmas of Maitreya").[52]

The Chinese and Tibetan traditions disagree on which scriptures are included in the "Five Dharmas of Maitreya". In the Tibetan tradition, the five texts are: Mahāyānasūtrālamkārakārikā, ("The Adornment of Mahayana sutras"), Dharmadharmatāvibhāga ("Distinguishing Phenomena and Pure Being"), Madhyāntavibhāgakārikā ("Distinguishing the Middle and the Extremes"), Abhisamayalankara ( "Ornament for clear realization"), and the Ratnagotravibhaga (Exposition of the Jeweled lineage).[9][53]

The Chinese tradition meanwhile maintains that the five revealed scriptures are: the Yogācārabhūmi, *Yogavibhāga [now lost], Mahāyānasūtrālamkārakā, Madhyāntavibhāga and the Vajracchedikākāvyākhyā.[10]

Mantras and dharanis

Maitreya in a leaf from a Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra Manuscript, Bengal, early 12th century
Close-up of a statue depicting Maitreya Bodhisattva at the Thikse Monastery in Ladakh, India
Maitreya centered altar, Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum, Chinatown, Singapore.

Mahayana sources contain various mantras and dharanis of Maitreya.

His common name mantra (as taught in Shingon Buddhism) is:[54]

oṃ maitreya svāhā

Another Maitreya mantra taught in the Tibetan tradition is:[55]

oṃ āḥ maitrī sarva siddhi hūṃ

Two other mantras from the Chinese canon (in a text translated by Kūkai) include:[56]

Namaḥ samanta-buddhānāṃ aparājite jayanti svāhā

Namaḥ samanta-buddhānāṃ ajitaṃjaya sarva-sattva-āśaya-anugata svāhā


A popular dharani taught in Tibetan Buddhism is the Incantation of Noble Maitreya's Promise (Ārya-maitri-pratijñā-nāma-dhāraṇī):[57][58]

Namo ratnatrayāya namo bhagavate śākyamunaye tathāgatāyārhate samyaksaṃbuddhāya.

Tadyathā: oṃ ajite ajite aparājite ajitañjaya hara hara maitri avalokite kara kara mahāsamayasiddhe bhara bhara mahābodhimaṇḍabīje smara smara asmākaṃ samaya bodhi bodhi mahābodhi svāhā

oṃ mohi mohi mahāmohi svāhā

oṃ muni muni smara svāhā

English translation:[57]

[Homage] Homage to the Three Jewels. Homage to the Lord Shakyamuni, Tathagata, Arhat, Completely Perfect Buddha.

As follows: [Root mantra] Om Invincible, Invincible, Unconquered Conquer the Unconquered, take, take [it], You Who Look Down with Friendliness, act, act, Bring, bring the fulfillment of your great pledge, Shake the seat of great awakening, Remember, remember [your] pledge for us, Awakening, awakening, great awakening, svaha.

[Heart mantra] Om fascinating, fascinating, greatly fascinating, svaha.

[Close Heart mantra] Om sage, sage, remember, svaha.

The Chinese canon contains the following:

namo ratna-trayāya, nama āryāvalokiteśvarāya bodhi-sattvāya mahāsatvāya mahākāruṇikāya tad-yathā, oṃ, maitre maitre maitra-manasi maitra-sambhave maitra-udbhave mahāsamaye svāhā

Maitreya in East Asia

Seated stone-carved Maitreya, Leshan Giant Buddha in Sichuan, China
Statue of Maitreya (Mile Pusa) with the Four Heavenly Kings, Baoshan Temple, Shanghai.
Illustration of the Maitreya Sutra, Yulin Caves, Gansu, China

Maitreya devotion

Maitreya devotion (Chinese: 彌勒信仰) has been a part of East Asian Buddhism since the time of Dao’an (312–85), who is known to have founded a Maitreya devotionalism in China.[51] Maitreya devotion was popular during the Northern Wei period (386–534). Some Wei rulers even used the Maitreya myth to bolster their authority, and claimed that they were the Buddha himself.[59]

Devotional practices to Maitreya were an important part of the East Asian Yogacara school. A key element of Maitreya devotion in East Asia is the intention to be reborn in Maitreya's Inner Court of Tushita Heaven (兜率內院).[60][61] Some Buddhist scriptures have noted that Maitreya is currently teaching at the Inner Court of Tushita, and some East Asian masters who were Maitreya devotees, such as Xuanzang (7th century), Kuiji, Wohnyo, and Yijing, had the intention of being reborn there after their death.[50][62][63][64]

Xuanzang was a famous devotee of Maitreya who vowed to be reborn in his Tushita palace so that he could "serve upon the Kind Lord", and to eventually "descend with him to perform the deeds of the Buddhas, until we attain unsurpassed bodhi".[65] Xuanzang also taught a devotional verse (gatha) and taught everyone to recite it, the gatha is:[66]

Namo Maitreya Tathagata, the Perfectly Awakened One! May all living beings swiftly be in the presence of your kind visage. Namo the inner community abiding with Maitreya Tathagata! After I shed this life, may I be reborn among them.

The work of the Silla monk Wŏnhyo (617–686), especially his commentary on the Maitreya sutras, is an important source for East Asian Maitreya devotion.[67] According to this work, Maitreya devotion consists of a visualization meditation in which one visualizes the majestic adornments of Tushita heaven and "the superiority of receiving rebirth [there] as a bodhisattva."[68] According to Spongberg, "this means that one is to visualize oneself, personally present, amidst all of the splendors of Tusita Heaven, splendors that certainly include, but are not limited to, Maitreya."[69] The practice further includes hearing the name of Maitreya (a kind of mindfulness of the Buddha), "respectfully trusting in the virtues manifested by this name", repenting past bad deeds, and other ritual acts like taking care of stupas, offering incense, flowers, etc.[68] According to Wohnyo, this practice results in being reborn in Tushita to personally receive teachings from Maitreya so that one cannot relapse from Buddhahood.[68]

A famous episode during Xuanzang's travels illustrates his devotion to Maitreya. While sailing on the Ganges, he was overtaken by pirates who were going to sacrifice him to Durga. After asking for a moment of silence to meditate, Xuanzang meditated on Maitreya, praying he would be reborn in Tushita with him and focusing his thoughts on the bodhisattva. Xuanzang then had a vision of Maitreya seated on his glittering throne in Tushita surrounded by many devas. Then a storm came and the pirates, terrified, threw themselves at Xuanzang's feet.[70]

Modern Chinese Buddhist monks, such as Xuyun, have also been known to have dreamt of going to the Inner Court of Tushita.[71][72] The modern Chinese reformer Taixu 太虛 (1890–1947), one of the key founders of Humanistic Buddhism, was also a devotee of Maitreya. He is known to have promoted devotional practices and liturgies focused on Maitreya and was even said to have propagated the "Maitreya School" (Cizong 慈宗).[73]

Maitreya devotion is most widely practice in Chinese Mahayana Buddhism, but it may also be found in other Chinese religions, like Yiguandao.[74][75]

Maitreya devotion was also popular in Silla Korea and in Japanese Buddhism.[76]

Maitreya teachings and millenarianism

Main article: Maitreya teachings

Throughout Chinese history, the Buddhist prophecy of Maitreya and the doctrine of the age of social decline (Chinese: 末法; pinyin: Mò Fǎ; “the Degenerate Age of Dharma”) was adopted and wielded by numerous religious, social and political groups. Some of these groups operated as secret societies, like the White Lotus Society. Many of these groups held millenarian beliefs about the immanent arrival of Maitreya. Not all of these groups were orthodox Buddhists, and some combined Chinese folk religion, Buddhism and Taoist beliefs. Nattier points out that there was a pre-existent Taoist belief in a messianic savior figure (Li Hong). Some of these millenarian groups held antiestablishment views and even led rebellions against the Chinese state at various points of socio-political crisis.[77][78]

During the Sui Dynasty, there were three different rebellions led by three separate leaders who claimed to be Maitreya, one in 610 at the capital (Chang'an) and two in 613 (one led by magician named Song Zixian and another by a monk named Xiang Haiming).[79] During the Tang dynasty, another Maitreyan rebellion was led by a certain Wang Huaigu.[80] During the Song, Wang Ze led a revolt of Buddhists expecting Maitreya (1047); they took over the city of Beizhou in Hebei before they were crushed.[81] The Song Dynasty government declared Maitreya Sects to be "heresies and unsanctioned religions". Tens of thousands of Maitreya Sect followers were killed.[82]

The Yuan dynasty saw the Red Turban Rebellion (aka The First White Lotus Rebellion c. 1351–1368) led by Han Shantong, leader of the White Lotus Society, and Army Commander Liu Futong rebelled against the Mongols.[80]

A Second White Lotus Rebellion broke out in 1796 among impoverished settlers in the mountainous region that separates Sichuan from Hubei and Shaanxi as a protest against heavy taxes imposed by the Manchu rulers of the Qing Dynasty.[83] The White Lotus Society influenced the development of the 19th century "Society of Harmonious Fists" which led the Boxer Rebellion in 1899.[citation needed]

Japanese Buddhism

Maitreya is a central figure for the Japanese Yogacara school (Hossō-shū) who considers Maitreya to be the founder of the tradition. Maitreya (Jp. Miroku) devotion was extensively promoted during the Kamakura period (1185–1333) by Hossō-shū scholars like Jōkei (1155–1213).[11]

Japanese illustration of Maitreya (Miroku), Chōgenji, Obama, Fukui, Japan.

The monk and religious founder of the Shingon sect Kukai is believed by Shingon adherents to currently be in a state of meditation on Mount Koya. He awaits the coming of Maitreya. Following his example, later Shingon meditators attempted to self-mummify (known as Sokushinbutsu) through ascetic practices to also wait for the coming of Maitreya.[77]

In Nichiren Buddhism, Maitreya is seen as a steward and protector of the bodhisattvas who teach the Lotus Sutra, a view promoted by the sutra itself.[84][better source needed] According to Nichiren, all beings can be "Maitreya", since the true meaning of this name "designates the Votaries of the Lotus Sutra" who compassionately uphold the teaching of this sutra.[85][better source needed]

Non-Buddhist views

Chinese salvationist religions

Beginning with the White Lotus Society (whose roots go back to the 12th century), Maitreya has been an important part of many Chinese Salvanionist Religious sects. In many of these sects, Maitreya is seen as a "primordial one" and a heavenly religious leader who will come to change the world radically. The most common myth is that Maitreya is a savior sent by Eternal Venerable Mother (Wusheng Laomu, i.e. Queen Mother of the West) to show people the way to their true home, the heaven of the Eternal Mother, where all beings are originally from.[86] According to some of these sectarian salvation religions, Maitreya's arrival is immanent and he will usher the final age in which all beings will be reunited with the Eternal Mother, an event called the "recovery of original wholeness" (shou-yuan).[86]

One modern example of such a sect is Yiguandao (Eternal Way), a 19th century salvationist religion. In Yiguandao, Maitreya is a key figure, a great savior and teacher sent by the Eternal Venerable Mother. Yiguandao claims that during the end times, Maitreya will incarnate on Earth to save humanity.[87] Maitreya appears as a similar figure in another popular salvation religion, Xiantiandao (Chinese: 先天道; pinyin: Xiāntiān Dào; lit. 'Way of Former Heaven').

Theosophy and New Age

In Theosophy, Maitreya (or Lord Maitreya) has multiple aspects signifying not just the future Buddha, but similar concepts from other religious or spiritual traditions.[88] For modern Theosophy, Maitreya is an advanced enlightened being and a high-ranking member of secret spiritual hierarchy, the Masters of the Ancient Wisdom. These masters guide the spiritual evolution of humanity and Maitreya is said to hold the "Office of the World Teacher". As such, Maitreya is in charge of teaching and guiding humanity. As Annie Besant writes, Maitreya has "the duty of watching over the spiritual destinies of mankind; of guiding, blessing, maintaining the various religions of the world, founded in outline by Himself."[89]

Maitreya may occasionally incarnate in the world to guide humanity directly.[90] Some Theosophists, like C. W. Leadbeater, held that Maitreya previously reincarnated as Christ.[91] In the early 20th century, leading Theosophists became convinced that a return of Maitreya as a "World Teacher" was imminent. At this time, a South Indian boy, Jiddu Krishnamurti, was thought to be destined as the "vehicle" for Maitreya; however, in his early 30s, Krishnamurti, himself, declined to serve in this role.[92]

The Theosophical Maitreya gave rise to further Western conceptions of Maitreya as a future world teacher who would usher in a new age for humanity's spiritual evolution. The related Ascended Master Teachings also contains teachings about Maitreya. Various views regarding Maitreya can thus be found in contemporary New Age and Esoteric groups.

Post-theosophical movements

Since the growth of Theosophy in the late 19th century, diverse religions and spiritual movements have adopted and reinterpreted older Jain, Hindu and Buddhist beliefs about Maitreya. Share International, for example, equates Maitreya with the prophesied figures of multiple religious traditions, claims that Maitreya 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.[93]

In the beginning of the 1930s, the Ascended Master Teachings 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.[citation needed]

In 1911, Rudolf Steiner claimed "Roughly three thousand years after our time the world will experience the Maitreya Buddha incarnation, which will be the last incarnation of Jeshu ben Pandira. This Bodhisattva, who will come as Maitreya Buddha, will also come in a physical body in our century in his reincarnation in the flesh—but not as Buddha—and he will make it his task to give humanity all the true concepts about the Christ Event." Steiner was careful to distinguish Jeshu ben Pandira as somebody entirely distinct from Jesus of Nazareth, as Maitreya was said to be entirely distinct from Jesus (but in moment-to-moment relationship with him the last three years of his life).[94][95]

Korean shamanism

Statue of Maitreya at Mireukdang, Suwon, South Korea

In many East Asian folk religions, including Korean shamanism, a deity by the name of Maitreya appears as an ancient creator god or goddess. In one such Korean creation narrative, a malevolent usurper deity by the name of Shakyamuni (the historical Buddha[clarification needed]) claims dominion over Maitreya's world, and the two engage in a flower-growing contest to decide who will rule the world. Maitreya grows the flower while Shakyamuni cannot, but the usurper steals it while the creator sleeps. Shakyamuni thus becomes the ruler of the world and brings suffering and evil to the world.[96]


The Ahmadiyyas believe Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835–1908) fulfilled expectations regarding the Maitreya Buddha.[97] The founder has given the whole account about the truth of forthcoming of Jesus Christ and his travel via Tibet and the transformation of word "Masiha" to "Metteyya" in one of his Prolific writings "Jesus in India" (Maseeh Hindustan Mai).

Baháʼí Faith

See also: Baháʼí Faith and Buddhism

Followers of the Baháʼí Faith believe that Bahá'u'lláh is the fulfillment of the prophecy of appearance of Maitreya, the fifth Buddha.[98][99] Baháʼís 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.[98]


Islamic prophet Dhu al-Kifl has been identified with the Buddha based on Surah 95:1 of the Qur'an, which references a fig tree—a symbol that does not feature prominently in the lives of any of the other prophets mentioned in the Qur'an. It has meanwhile been suggested that the name Al-Kifl could be a reference to Kapilavastu, the home of Siddartha Gautama as a boy.[100] On the other hand, some of the preachers of Islam cite Buddhist sources to claim that "Maitreya" refers to Islamic Prophet Muhammad. The Muslim Times website, for example, cites The Gospel of Buddha by Carus with the following quote of Buddha:

I am not the first Buddha who came upon the earth, nor shall I be the last. In due time another Buddha will arise in the world, a holy one, a supremely enlightened one, endowed with wisdom in conduct, auspicious, knowing the universe, an incomparable leader of men, a master of angels and mortals. He will reveal to you the same eternal truths which I have taught you. He will teach his philosophies, glorious in its origin, glorious at the climax, and, glorious at the goal. He will live a unifying life, wholly perfect and pure, such as I now proclaim. His disciples will number many thousand, while mine number many hundred... he will be known Maitreya.[101]

Maitreya claimants

Main article: List of Buddha claimants

Tang Dynasty Empress Wu Zetian who claimed to be Maitreya incarnate

The following list is just a small selection of those people who claimed or claim to be the incarnation of Maitreya. Many have either used the Maitreya incarnation claim to form a new Buddhist sect, a new religious movement or cult or even a political rebellion.


See also


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Further reading