Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Buddha to come (sutra)

Dhr. Seven, CC Liu, Amber Larson (eds.) Wisdom Quarterly; "The Wheel-turning Emperor" (Cakkavatti Sutra, DN 26) Ven. Thanissaro (Geoffrey DeGraff, trans.); G.P. Malalasekera; Wiki
The Future-Buddha Maitreya, Diskit monastery, Himalayas (MickeySuman/flickr)
Mountain-size "Giant Buddha" of Leshan's foot photographed from stairway that leads toward base of the statue that stands 253 feet (77 meters), making it the largest stone Buddha in the world -- even larger than the known monoliths in Afghanistan, where the Buddha was likely born and where a larger reclining Buddha remains be discovered). It is carved into the Chinese cliff face facing Mt. Emei in the distance (Andrew MacDonald).

Maitreya (Dboo/flickr.com)
This sutra consists of a narrative illustrating the power of skillful karma. In the past, unskillful behavior was unknown among humans.
As a result, people lived for an immensely long time -- as long as 80,000 years [which is likely a stereotype rather than literal number signifying an extraordinarily long time, an ayu-kalpa, an average lifespan within a larger cycle, an incalculable or innumerable] -- endowed with great beauty, wealth, pleasure, and strength.

Leshan head and tourists (Joegwolf/flickr)
Over the course of time, however, they began behaving in various unskillful ways. This caused the gradual shortening of the human life span, to the point where it now stands at 100 years, with human beauty, wealth, pleasure, and strength decreasing proportionately.
In the future, as morality continues to degenerate, human life will continue to shorten to the point were the normal life span will be just 10 years, with people reaching sexual maturity at five.
The Giant Buddha of Leshan, China (Qasimism/flickr.com)
"Among those human beings, the Ten Courses of Action (AN 10.176) will have entirely disappeared... The word "skillful" will not exist, so from where will there be anyone who does what is skillful?
Those who lack the honorable qualities of motherhood, fatherhood, shraman (wandering ascetic)-hood, and Brahmin-hood will be the ones who receive homage... Fierce hatred will arise, fierce malevolence, fierce rage, and murderous thoughts: mother for child, child for mother, father for child, child for father, brother for sister, sister for brother."
Ultimately, conditions will deteriorate to the point of a "sword-interval," in which swords appear in the hands of all human beings, and they will hunt one another like game. A few people, however, will take shelter in the wilderness to escape the carnage. And when the slaughter is over, they will come out of hiding and resolve to take up a life of skillful and virtuous action again.
With the recovery of virtue, the human life span will gradually increase again until it reaches a very long time (listed as 80,000 years), with people attaining sexual maturity at 500 [another number that literally means "a large number" instead of 500].

The Friend
Maitreya (Kushan)
The Sanskrit name Maitreya (Metteyya in Pāli) is derived from the Sanskrit word maitrī (Pāli mettā) which means "loving-kindness." This term is in turn derived from the noun mitra (Pāli mitta) in the sense of "friend." 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 bhikshu 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 (wheel of life) resting on a lotus. A khata (ceremonial scarf) is always tied around his waist as a girdle. The Stupa on his head was actually seen by disciples when Maitreya received teachings from his master Buddha Shakyamuni as a sign of his outstanding devotion. That is the reason why he is pictured with a Stupa either on his head or in his hands. Also the original Stupa was a crystal one, which stands for the purity of his devotion. In the Greco-Buddhist art of Gandhara, in the first centuries CE in northwestern India, Maitreya is represented as a Central Asian or northern Indian noble (kshatriya caste, warrior, ruler, royalty), holding a "water phial" (kumbha) in his left hand. Sometimes this is a "wisdom urn."
The Future Buddha
One of the most beautiful representations of the Future Buddha, the second most important figure in populist Mahayana Buddhism. Kwan Yin, like the Virgin Mary in Catholicism, is the most important. Thikse monastery, Ladakh, Buddhist India, Himalayas (WQ).

Only three diseases will be known at that time: desire, lack of food, and old age. Another buddha -- Metteyya (Sanskrit, "Maitreya") -- will gain enlightenment and have a Sangha [a monastic community of monks, nuns, and novices] numbering in the thousands.
    Future largest Buddha statue, India
  • Maitreya is regarded as the future buddha of this world in Buddhist eschatology. In some Mahayana Buddhist literature, such as the Amitabha Sutra and the Lotus Sutra, he is referred to as Ajita Bodhisattva. He is the bodhisattva, or buddha-to-be, who in Buddhist tradition will be reborn on Earth, achieve complete enlightenment, and again make known the liberating Dharma unique to buddhas. According to sutras he is the immediate successor of the historic Śhākyamuni Buddha. The prophecy of his arrival refers to a time when the Dharma will have been forgotten by most on Jambudvipa [more likely a reference to this planet or region in space than to the subcontinent of India]. It is found in the canonical literature of all major Buddhist schools (Theravāda, Mahāyāna, Vajrayāna), and is accepted by most Buddhists as a statement about an event that will take place when the Dharma will have been mostly forgotten on Earth.
The greatest ruler of the time, King Sankha, will go forth into homelessness and attain arhatship under Metteyya's guidance.
The story, after chronicling the ups and downs of human wealth, life span, and so on, concludes with the following lesson on karma and skillful action.
..."Meditators, live with yourself as your island, yourself as your guide (not refuge), with nothing else as your guide. Live with the Dharma as your island, the Dharma as your guide, with nothing else as your guide. [To this might well be added the noble-Sangha, those who have successfully followed the Buddha's ennobling Dharma and gained one or more of the stages of enlightenment. These three -- Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha -- are regarded as the Three Precious Jewels of tradition].
  • This may also be translated as: "Live with dharma [rather than the Dharma, the Teaching, the Doctrine] as your island, mental phenomena as your guide, with nothing else as your guide." Dhamma has many meanings, one in particular is phenomena. Another more common definition in India is "social obligations" or "duties" (as opposed to karma, which are one's personal choices for action). The Buddha, a karmavadin, or teacher-of-karma, was not recommending one simply do whatever one feels like, but to live in accordance with Truth, with justice, in harmony with others.
"And how does one with oneself as island, oneself as guide, with nothing else as guide; with the Dharma as island, the Dharma as guide, with nothing else as guide?

"There is the case where a meditator remains focused on the body in and of itself -- ardent, alert, and mindful -- putting aside greed and grief with regard to the world. One remains focused on feelings (sensations) in and of themselves... mind (process of consciousness) in and of itself... mental qualities in and of themselves -- ardent, alert, and mindful -- putting aside greed and grief with regard to the world. [We stop here because Maitreya is not mentioned again, and why is that? The suggestion is that it is because this sutra was never really about Maitreya. See commentary below.] More
R. Gombrich (ahandfulofleaves.org)
Doubt about this discourse: Metteyya (Sanskrit Maitreya) is mentioned in the Cakavatti (Sihanada) Sutta (DN 26) of the Pali Canon. He appears in no other sutra in the Pali Canon, and this has cast doubt as to the sutra's authenticity. Most of the Buddha's discourses are presented as having been presented in answer to a question, or in some other appropriate context. But this sutra has a beginning and ending in which the Buddha is talking to monastics about something totally different. This leads Gombrich to conclude that either the whole sutra is apocryphal (of unknown origin), or that it has at least been tampered with (Richard Gombrich, Theravada Buddhism: A Social History from Ancient Benares to Modern Colombo, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1988, pp. 83-85).

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