Maitreya also is a caretaker, watching over the earth's destiny, until he will emanate as a supreme incarnation many thousand years from now. Part of his care taking involves appearing ahead of time in this world, to keep humans moving in the right evolutionary direction.
In anticipation of this event, he is frequently represented as a Buddha, and worshipped as such. Nagarjuna, the founder of the Madhyamika school, describes devotion to Maitreya as an easy, other-regarding path to Enlightenment. Maitreya is also the subject of a fervent paean at the end of Buddhaghosha's Visuddhi Magga.
Mairi, love, is related to Matr (mother), and mitra (friend).
Maitreya could also hold his hands in the teaching mudra at his heart and hold the stems of two lotuses, these bear a wheel, indicating his role as the next wheel-turning founding Buddha.
Above Maitreya's head is an umbrella, one of the eight auspicious symbols. This indicates that Maitreya has the ability to grant protection from evil influences.
Maitreya is often depicted in a pose known as bhadrasana, which is very unique in the Buddhist iconography. It looks like he is sitting, Western-style, on a seat. This conveys that Maitreya is already preparing to descend into the world. In this specific posture he often holds one hand to his cheek, with three fingers extended, symbolizing the Three Jewels. He is gazing downwards, toward the world which he will one day enter to illuminate its darkness with his rediscovery of the Dharma.
The Maitreya figure could also have a brilliant aura to suggest that
through Maitreya the Loving-Kindness shines the light of hope for the
Buddhist History of Maitreya
The story of Maitreya begins incalculable ages in the past during the time of Buddha Ratna-chattra. One of his disciples was the monk Sthiramati, who had infinitely more concern for the welfare of others than he did for himself. He would often forsake taking food until he had established a vowed number of beings on the path of pure moral discipline, concentration and wisdom. So strong was his dedication to others' happiness and so radiant his kindness and love (Skt Maitri) that even the gods of heaven praised him, giving him the title "Loving One", or Maitreya. Buddha Ratna-chattra predicted that in all his future rebirths as a bodhisattva he would be known by this name and that his fame would spread far and wide.
In addition to love, one of the main practices of Maitreya was the Seven-Limb puja. This powerful method for countering the delusions, purifying negativity and accumulating meritorious energy is an integral part of the Mahayana Buddhist practice (prostration, offering, declaring non-virtue, rejoicing, entreating the guru-buddhas to remain, requesting teachings and final dedication). Through sincere performance of these seven limbs Maitreya eventually achieved full enlightenment.
Although Maitreya realized buddhahood before Shakyamuni, he honored Shakyamuni as his guru and held him in highest esteem. One way portraying Maitreya shows him adorned with a stupa on the crown of his head, the stupa symbolizes Shakyamuni and its position on Maitreya demonstrates supreme respect. When Shakyamuni appeared in this world as he fourth founding Buddha of the present age, Maitreya manifested as one of his disciples (along with Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri and others) to demonstrate how the bodhisattva path should be followed.
Maitreya is often figured gathered around Shakyamuni to listen to his
teaching of the Universal Vehicle discourses. He and Manjushri are often
paired there in dialogues, or in alternating interlocution of the
Maitreya in the Mahayana TraditionIt is considered (especially in the Tibetan tradition, with the Chinese and Japanese agreeing in general, although differing in particulars) that Maitreya authored five great treatises, using Asanga as a scribe, that serve as the basis of the idealistic school of Universal Vehicle philosophy, the Experimentals (Yogacara), or Idealist (Vijnana-vada) school.
One of the common icons in Tibet is called the "refuge field" that
presents the Buddha Shakyamuni in the center of a host of Indian, Tibetan
and supernatural teachers. To Shakyamuni's left is Manjushri, at the head
of the lineage of the profound view. To his right is Maitreya, at the head
of the lineage of the magnificent deeds. Beneath Maitreya sit Asanga and
Vasubandhu at the head of succession of ethically oriented philosophers.
The Buddha in the center of this icon represents the unification of both
these lineages. The team of Maitreya and Manjushri, heading the two main
branches of the great tree of philosophical tradition, assure that the
balance never goes too far in either direction, either toward the
sentimental and mystical extreme that Maitreya himself favors, or toward
the cold and skeptical extreme that Manjushri might manifest in
single-minded pursuit of the transcendent wisdom of selflessness.
Future HistoryShakyamuni Buddha predicted that due to the inevitable degeneration of the times, his own teachings would last just five thousand years before disappearing from this world. People will grow more and more immoral and their lifespan will gradually decrease, as will their health, stature and fortune. While such delusions as miserliness, hatred and jealousy gain strength, the world will go through prolonged periods of famine, disease and continuous warfare until it eventually resembles a vast battlefield of graveyard. Thereupon Maitreya will appear, not in his fully evolved buddha form, but as a person of regal bearing, very handsome and taller than those around him. On seeing this unusual being, people will be filled with wonder and faith, and will ask how he came to have such an attractive appearance. Maitreya will reply that this is due to his practice of patience, avoiding giving harm to others, and if others will also abide in love and tolerance, they could become similar to him.
Maitreya's appearance will mark a great turning point in the fortunes of this world. As more and more beings follow his example, their store of merit, and consequently their lifespan, will increase. Eventually people will live in health for such a long time that the sufferings of old age and death will scarcely be known. At that time, their observance of morality will grow lax as people become more and more involved in the pleasures of their existence. With this laxity will come another gradual shortening and degeneration of their lifespan until eventually beings once again will become suitable ripe to take sincere interest in the spiritual path. When the human lifespan as increased again to many thousands of years, and when the planet will be entirely dominated by a benevolent wheel-turning sovereign (Chakravartin) named Shankha, it is at this time that Maitreya Buddha will descend from the Tushita buddha field (devaloka) where he now resides, to appear in this world as the fifth founding Buddha of this world age. Maitreya will be born the son of a Brahmin priest, and will renounce the world and attain enlightenment in a single day, not requiring six long years. The world in this time will be politically neutralized, and therefore the warrior class and its martial virtues will be obsolete. Thus he will be born among the intellectuals, the priests, and his teaching will bring the gentler emotions to the fore.
His teachings will not deviate from that of previous Buddhas, except for an interesting tradition that he will not teach any esoteric Tantras (most likely hinting that Maitreya's mission will in general be more effective than Shakyamuni's). This does not show a difference in the perfection of liberative techniques of the two Buddhas, rather a difference in the evolutionary stage of the human beings on the planet (Shakyamuni Buddha taught at a time of violence and widespread militarism, and had to turn to the martial qualities of toughness, ascetism and determination toward the pursuit of enlightenment.
Shakyamuni Buddha also predicted that those who followed his teachings
would be reborn in the first circle of Maitreya's entourage and would be
able to complete the spiritual path under Maitreya's guidance.
Mahayana ScripturesAs a Bodhisattva, Maitreya appears in many sutras. In the Larger Sukhavati Vyuha he is shown the Pure Land of Amitabha by Shakyamuni Buddha. In this sutra Maitreya is called by one of his other names, Ajita (unconquered). He also appears in the Gandhavyuha sutra.
According to the tradition, Maitreya is also the author of some commentarial work, known as the Five Books of Maitreya. These include Abhisamaylankara, a brilliant summary of the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra in 25,000 lines. Modern scholars attribute these five works to Asanga or Maitreya-natha, however, thereŐs no reason in principle, though, why the writer should not have been directly inspired by Maitreya to compose these works. Tradition has that through deep meditation Asanga had a vision of the Tushita devaloka during which he received from Maitreya the teachings contained in the Five Books. Asanga had been experiencing difficulty in gaining and unmistaken understanding of he Perfection of Wisdom sutras and decided that only from Maitreya could he receive the instructions he needed. He therefore entered into intensive retreat in hopes of gaining a direct vision of this buddha.
After three years of intensive retreat with no success he quit this retreat. On his way back home he saw an old man trying to remove a huge stone by brushing it with a feather. Asanga took this as a sign that with enthusiastic perseverance, anything could be accomplished, so he reentered his retreat. More years passed, without results. But each time Asanga gave up he would encounter someone doing an impossible task, and thus he would be reinspired again. But after 12 years with no results, Asanga gave up his practice for good. This time on his way home, he saw a starving dog on the ground, its wounds being eaten by maggots. Moved by compassion for the dog and maggots, he cut off a piece of his own flesh and bent down to transfer the maggots to the meat with his tongue so he would not hurt the maggots. He closed his eyes, but although he leaned over very far, he felt nothing. When he opened his eyes to see what was wrong, the dog had disappeared and in its place stood Maitreya in all his glory.
Asanga was shocked and asked: "Where were you all those years I was meditating in the cave?" Maitreya replied that he had been there next to him all that time and only delusions had prevented Asanga from seeing him. Asanga's compassionate act removed the veil of those delusions.
Maitreya took Asanga and transported him to Tushita. They spent the morning there, during which Asanga received detailed instructions from Maitreya on the Perfection of Wisdom sutras in the form of five texts. These are:
Uttara-Tantra (Peerless Continuum)This scripture that Maitreya revealed to Asanga have detailed teachings about the buddha-nature, or buddha-potential, existing within the minds of all living beings. This potential enables ordinary beings to be transformed into fully awakened buddhas.
Here's an extract from this scripture:
Under the floor of some poor man's house lies an uncorroded