Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Buddha's "Second Coming" (Maitreya)

Seven Dharmachari, Ashley Wells, Amber Dorrian (Wisdom Quarterly) (Fabrizio_Gravity/Flickr)

In a space world named Tusita, devas (literally, "shining ones") implored Setaketu (Sanskrit, Śvetaketu or "White Banner") to be reborn on Earth to become a fully enlightened buddha.

The Bodhisatta Santussita deva accepted the challenge at their behest after reviewing the Five Great Considerations (vilokana):
  1. a suitable time in history
  2. continent
  3. territory
  4. clan
  5. and lifespan of a mother (phramick).
  • vilokana: (Sanskrit, glancing) looking at, investigation, reflection, prognostication usually Five Objects of Reflection as to when, where, how one shall be reborn, consisting of kāla, desa, dīpa, kula, mātā (the latter as janetti -- āyu i.e., mother and her time of delivery at Jataka i.48) or time (right or wrong), continent, sky (orientation), family (or clan), and one's (future) mother: Jat i.48, 49; DhA i.84; as 8 at Miln 193, viz. kāla, dīpa, desa, kula, janetti, āyu, māsa, nekkhamma (i.e., the five plus period of gestation, month of birthday, and renunciation)...(Pali-English Dictionary, Rhys Davids & Wm. Stede).

As mirrored by Christianity and Judaism -- awaiting the Messiah -- many Buddhists await Maitreya (Pali, Metteya, "loving-friend"). He is the buddha-to-come.

This will not, however, be a second coming. It will be an entirely different buddha. The historical Buddha, like all liberated beings, has gained liberation from ALL birth and death.

The meaning of "liberation" (moksha) is that one is finally free of all forms of suffering having gained release from the round of rebirth (samsara).

But if Shakyamuni Buddha will not come again, who will? The Buddhaspoke of the next supremely enlightened teaching-buddha. Theoretically, one can visit this future-buddha either by space travel or meditation.

Both methods are unlikely. So people wait. Who is he, and when will he be coming?

The Second Coming

His name will be Maitreya. His name is currently Nātha (Sanskrit, "Protector"). He now resides in the delightful space world of Tusita with a sure prediction from the historical Buddha that he will be the next buddha to appear on Earth.

There are three kinds of buddhas: personal (arhat), nonteaching (pacceka), and teaching (samma-sam).

Humans in this great-aeon (maha-kalpa) are said to live in a fortunate age because it has seen the appearance of more than one "supremely enlightened" teacher. This kind of buddha rediscovers and establishes the Dharma, the path to liberation.

Unfortunately, the staggering time spans between teaching-buddhas could, it is said, be measured in geological time.

Time races when one is having fun in exalted worlds, yet even the longest long lifespan is too soon exhausted. Relative to Earth time, it could be epochs before the "second coming" of a buddha.

The hsitorical Buddha Gautama named 24 teaching-buddhas who had lived in previous ages be. How long will that be exactly? This was explained to Visakha:

  • "Visakha, that which among humans is currently four hundred years is but one celestial night and day in the world of the Tusita devas. Their celestial month has 28 of those days, their year 13 of those months. And the lifespan of the Tusita devas is 4,000 of those celestial years..." (AN 8.43, Wisdom Quarterly translation, Visakha-Uposatha Sutra: Discourse to Visakha on the Lunar Observance Day and the Eight Practices).
So how long will Natha (the future Maitreya) be tied up in the bliss of the Tusita world?*

The description of time here sounds very specific. Many Buddhists behave as if they are awaiting a "second coming." The mainstream media made it sound as if he had already arrived in Nepal in the form of "Buddha Boy" (Ram Bahadur Bomjon, aka Ven. Palden Dorje).

These misunderstandings and the expectations that arise on account of them lead to messianic religious tendencies. This is particularly pronounced among Tibetan Vajrayanists and Buddhists in other traditions (Mahayana, Theravada, Shingon).

The Time to Practice
Many individuals seem to think it is better to wait to practice meditation until Maitreya's return, when they have a buddha to practice under. How they imagine they will have a rare human rebirth, or meet with the Dharma again, or meet a buddha is hard to understand.

Merit makes it not impossible, but it would still be extraordinarily good fortune. It will surely extend their suffering by delaying their practice and realization.

Why would anyone ever think him or herself lucky enough to be living on Earth or as a nearby deva capable and interested in practice, or to be healthy and in possession of all one's faculties (which is rare), or to hear the Dharma (the rarest of all opportunities) at that crucial time?

To be alive and residing in the "Middle Country" anywhere near the Buddha Maitreya and to come into any kind of contact with him, or even to hear of the Teaching and recognize it as true is beyond unlikely.

It would be far better to practice now and be reborn as a deva with an incredibly long lifespan. That would increase one's chances by far. And it would benefit them and make it much more likely that they would have an affinity with such a teacher when he born in the world.

It cannot be overstated how rare it is to ever be a human, much less a virtuous, healthy one, who even hears of the Dharma. All of these stack the odds against us. The Buddha frequently emphasized this to spur followers to practice without delaying or waiting for better circumstances.

The Buddha gave a famous analogy on the likelihood of ever being reborn as a human being: Say one were to throw a ring in the ocean, which was then tossed about by wind and waves. And say at the same time a sea turtle were to jump in that ocean and swim freely about only sticking its head up out of the water once every 100 years. Given these two events:

  • What is the chance that turtle would fortuitously, by sticking its head out once a century, put its head through the ring?
Well, according to the Buddha, that would sooner happen than one would again have the opportunity to be reborn as a human being.

The moral of the story? Practice NOW when the chance is at hand! This is an unbelievable opportunity. One will never regret the profitable karma one has stored up or the unskillful deeds one left undone.

The progress achieved towards the unparalleled bliss of enlightenment and nirvana can hardly be compared to any worldly or heavenly wealth. Moreover, sincere practice gives one the best chance to meet a buddha in the future.

  • *Lifespan of devas in Tusita is said to be 576,000,000 human years [using European solar calendar assumptions, which Wisdom Quarterly has rectified below]. See story in the Dhammapada Commentary (translated in Buddhist Legends, Pali Text Society, London, 1969) called "Husband-honorer," which brings to life this comparative time scale.
  • Part II: "Celestial Time and Math"

1 comment:

Unknown said...

The pureland is here and now.