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The Buddha of the Future






Maitreya’s name is derived from the Sanskrit ‘maitri,’ which means “universal loving- kindness.” Maitreya, or the Buddha of the future, has many myths surrounding his figure, however it is hard to find these myths since this Buddha has not yet arrived. The ritual worship of Maitreya is more prevalent than the mythology describing and explaining this bodhisattva. It is said that when Buddhism is in decline and the teachings of the present Gautama Buddha have faded out of existence, Maitreya Buddha will appear to re-teach the Dharma.


In the Mahayana tradition, it is believed that as a bodhisattva, he refuses to achieve nirvana because of his compassion for all sentient beings and his need to be reborn again and again so that he can protect and take care of others. According to the Spiritual Director of the Maitreya Project, a spiritual and economic undertaking in Northern India that includes the construction of Maitreya statues, “Maitreya Buddha is the embodiment of loving-kindness.” When Maitreya Buddha appears on Earth, he will preach loving-kindness and inspire others to follow a virtuous path to enlightenment. Some people believe that by building numerous statues of Maitreya, the time period between the Gautama Buddha and Maitreya will be shortened. In the Mahayana tradition, Maitreya is already wandering on the path to attaining his status as a Bodhisattva, but has not yet become a one. Presently, Maitreya resides in Tusita Heaven. Once a Buddha on the Earth, he will teach in the Ketumati Pure Land. This Pure Land is sometimes associated with the Indian city Varanasi.


In China, Maitreya is more commonly known as the Laughing Buddha. This myth claims that a Chinese monk, Hotei, was a reincarnation of Maitreya due to his “benevolent nature.” It is said that the Laughing Buddha is laughing because of his joy at relieving all sentient beings of their suffering.


This deity is very controversial for many reasons. There have been countless people who have claimed to be Maitreya, violent sects and rebellions that have occurred in China over the years and comparisons to the Anti-Christ of Western Judeo-Christian tradition.






Although Maitreya is a Bodhisattva, he is often worshipped as a Buddha in anticipation of his becoming the future Buddha. Maitreya is worshiped for several reasons. The Chinese worship Maitreya for wealth and happiness and many believe that he is able to give worshippers the gift of children. However, the two primary reasons for worshipping Maitreya, or Mi-Lo-Fwo, are:


1) “To take rebirth in Tusita Heaven, a kind of Pure Land, so as to receive the teaching of the Dharma"

2) “To gain sufficient merits as to obtain a rebirth during His appearance on earth, to hear His teachings and to be saved by Him.”




The practice of praying to Maitreya is similar to the practices of praying to Kuan Shih Yin and Amitabha Buddha. The practice of praying to Maitreya involves the recitation of a simple prayer: “NAMO- MI-LO FWO.” As a compassionate being, Maitreya always grants help to those who recite this prayer and who pray to him with faith. Buddhists also recite the prayer “Come Maitreya, come!” The main factors of the success of a prayer to Maitreya are firm faith, purity of intention and effort.




The mantra associated with Maitreya is the Maitri mantra, seed mantra of Maitreya. The mantra reads: Om maitri maitreya maha karuna ye.







Rituals associated with Maitreya often involve statues of Maitreya. Statues and images of Maitreya often depict Maitreya as a stout, bald man with a big, round belly who is in a sitting posture and is laughing. Hence, Maitreya is commonly known as the “Laughing Buddha.” This image is based on the image of the Chinese Zen monk Budai, who lived during the Later Liang Dynasty (907-923 AD) in China and is said to be an incarnation of Maitreya in Buddhist and Taoist folklore. Many believe that rubbing the belly of a Maitreya statue will bring good luck, wealth and prosperity. One ritual that is based on this belief occurs on the first day of the Chinese lunar calendar, the birthday of Maitreya. On this day, worshipers gather at temples to pray and rub the bellies of Maitreya statues in the hopes of gaining good luck, wealth and prosperity in the New Year.


Building statues of Maitreya is an important ritual associated with Maitreya. The benefits of building Maitreya statues include bringing inspiration for “creating and spreading positive human qualities,” “increasing our store of positive potential,” “helping the teachings of the historical Buddha last longer” and “shortening the time of darkness before Maitreya Buddha comes.” In hopes of bringing about these benefits, the Maitreya Project is planning to build a 500 ft/152m bronze statue of Maitreya in Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh, India.


Projected Image of the Maitreya Project          








     Maitreya is seated with both feet on the ground, indicating he has not finished ascending from his throne. His hands are held in teaching Dharma and he is holding the stems of two lotuses. The lotus on his right supports the wheel of Dharma, representing that one day once the teachings of the present Buddha have diminished he will turn the wheel and teach pure Dharma. The lotus on his left supports one of his defining attributes, a vase filled with life-giving nectars. He is often depicted with half crossed eyes, a sign of spiritual detachment.

     Maitreya is still in his princely attire with carved necklaces, armbands, bracelets and earrings. Even though still dressed in lavish apparel his urna and the nimbus around his head show his divine status. Another sign of his intellect is his ushnisha, the cranial bump on top of his head, which some say looks like a small stupa in his hair (Tharpa).



     This bas-relief from the third-fifth century shows an enthroned Maitreya in the Tushita Heaven, a place where the bodhisattvas live before descending to the human realm. Two richly attired men, one of them being his brother Vasubanhu, are sitting on either side of him listening to him as the women in the balconies pay him homage.

     Like most sculptures of this time these objects were originally colored. These plaques were embedded in the walls of Buddhist edifices to illustrate the episodes from the life of the Buddha.

     During the Kushan Dynasty (3rd-5th century) Buddhism experienced a major expansion and multiple monasteries were built. The location of the Kushan Buddhism along the Silk Road was a significant factor to the spread of its iconography to China (Guimet).




     This statue originated from the region which is now Pakistan, along the Silk Route, around the 3rd century CE.  A main theme of this depiction of Maitreya is how he still takes on a princely appearance and is not yet a Buddha.  Notice his elaborate jewelry – necklace, armbands, bracelets, hair jewels – and clothing which would not be customary for a bodhisattva.  Also, his long hair and mustache are also unusual.  The urna between his eyebrows and the cloud fragment behind his head are the only two indications of his true status.  Also, he sits upon a fabric-draped throne. 

      This representation is noteworthy because it emphasized that Maitreya is the Buddha of the future; he is yet to become a Buddha and yet still retains humanly characteristics.  Around the time of the creation of the statute, the 3rd century CE, Buddhism began to turn its attention to the future and Maitreya gained in popularity (Asian Art).



     This image is originally done with distemper on cloth in the 13th century, a relatively late depiction.  Unlike in the statute described above, Maitreya in the complex image is not adorned with jewelry or princely clothing. Rather, he is wearing clothing traditionally associated with bodhisattvas.  His hair indicates his future of a Brahman.  As in the statute above, Maitreya is seated on a throne.

      Two standing bodhisattvas (Padmapani and Manjushri) stand to Maitreya’s sides.  The thirty-five smaller Buddhas surround Maitreya, each of them with the earth-touching mudra.  Maitreya is displaying a mudra of religious discourse.  The flower to his right is a symbol of the deity (Asian Art).




A Poem about the Coming Buddha

-From BuddhaNature.com  







I am Maitreya, the buddha of the sun 

I shine with equal love upon all 


I am called the coming Buddha not because I will manifest in physical form 


But because I come to those at advanced stages of the spiritual path 


and say: "Be blessed friends, and give blessings". 


I am called the buddha of friendship 


For I take all beings as equals 


And do not accept the hierarchies of institutions. 






My love shines equally upon persons, groups, cultures, and worlds 


I call them to live in universal love and compassion 


I am white and golden, harmonious and full of richness 


Like a symphony, I unite the competing themes in the universe. 




I am found in optimism, in hope, and in faith 


And in those who look for a better tomorrow 


I bless the discouraged and the lonely 


The fearful and the mournful 


I give them a way out of the prisons of their hearts 


I liberate beings from confinement 


And show a brilliant and infinite future. 




There are many forms of liberation within the universe 


In the vast galaxy of changing forms 


Each moment of insight, each movement of growth 


Each turning away from the past 


Is a kind of liberation. 


To turn away from identity entirely is a rare blessing 


Those who do this do not look to me. 


Those who seek me need strength and determination, in life and in meditation 


They need hope and encouragement, and this I give them. 




Knowing that there is a more perfect world 


Allows them to improve this one 


Knowing that there are buddhas and bodhisattvas 


Allows them to strive for more perfect awareness 


Knowing that there is something to look forward to 


Allows the bondage of the past to fall away. 




I am the buddha of hope, and of striving 


So that transient beings may improve the world for other transients 


Though the universe grows and disintegrates and comes back again in glory 


I shall stay to bless the crowds who strive towards truth.




** NOTE: This statement goes against buddhist doctrine in the Vajrayana and Mahayana traditions which holds that Maitreya will incarnate on earth as a bodhisattva at some future time, and become an enlightened buddha during that incarnation.























Ashley Herzberger

Christine Cayot

Lynn Hall

Amanda Haynes

Comments (17)

elise.swanson@colorado.edu said

at 6:30 pm on Apr 9, 2010

I really enjoyed your page. It is well rounded and organized. I never realized that the laughing buddha is actually meant to be represent Maitreya and I thought it was very interesting that people believe building statues of him will bring him sooner. You provided a lot of good information and I would really be interested in finding out about other known reincarnations of him, other than the laughing Buddha. Good job!

sushupta.srinidhi@... said

at 9:52 am on Apr 10, 2010

Hello! I actually think this was one of the best pages for sure...as Elise said before me, it's ver well-rounded. I learnt a lot for thim page! Nice work!

deborah.krause@colorado.edu said

at 2:39 pm on Apr 10, 2010

I also agree with the two comments above mine! This has definitely been my favorite page thus far. It is very clear to understand, laid out in an easy way, and contains tons of great information. I especially enjoyed the ending prayer. Great job! score 5

Liz Chavez said

at 3:01 pm on Apr 11, 2010

Very nice lay out, and I like how the iconography section is towards the end. Having the background information first, and then the iconography made more sense to me than how most of the pages are arranged. The only thing that really needs improving is perhaps add a video, and consider deleting one of the sections about the laughing Buddha since the information is presented twice. Otherwise, it's a very pretty page. 4.9/5

Jenifer Miller said

at 4:16 pm on Apr 11, 2010

Great job! Love the addition of the poem and the images were all well thought out additions. Generally easy to follow although wish it was maybe a little more interactive (although I know it's super hard to find ones that work).

john.mcniece@colorado.edu said

at 11:44 pm on Apr 11, 2010

It's interesting to me that there are statues of a person who doesn't exist yet. Before this class, I thought all buddhas were Laughing Buddhas. I had only seen those big fat jolly-looking little statues in gift shops. Now i know it's Maitreya, the future buddha. This page is good, also, because it summarizes some very complex folkloric beliefs about Maitreya. Good pictures too.

jack.bradley@... said

at 5:57 am on Apr 12, 2010

the denseness of the information and beliefs was no doubt difficult to synthesize into a single page, yet i think you did as best as anyone could. it was easy to follow, concise, and still informative and interesting. really well organized and written

Hilary Peterson said

at 7:34 am on Apr 12, 2010

I think this page is done really well. It is very organized and contains a lot of information. I found it really interesting that there are already many images of the Maitreya even though he is still a figure of the future, however it makes more sense to me that there are not many myths yet. It was great how wide a variety of pictures you had.

Brittany Woods said

at 9:19 am on Apr 12, 2010

Concise, well-written, and organized. I enjoyed the myth and iconography sections; especially that statue from the Silk Route. Your page is easy to follow and flows; well-done.

Stephanie Iwahashi said

at 1:34 pm on Apr 13, 2010

I thought the page was well organized and I liked the iconography and myths. I also enjoyed reading the poem at the end of the page, but I thought there could be a little information about it afterward. 4.5/5

cameron.barras@... said

at 1:03 pm on Apr 15, 2010

This page was well-written and I truly enjoyed the myth and iconography sections. The poem at the end was very informational and my only critique is that your page could benefit from a movie or something more interactive. Great job 4/5!

TylerY said

at 1:54 pm on Apr 15, 2010

Well put together page. As already stated the information given is quite interesting. In fact I found myself wishing that you had gone into more detail in some places, but of course I understand why you refrained. One thing that needs improvement is the use of directly citing sources within the text, I had no idea where information came from. Regardless though this is a well done project. 4.5/5

Keith Ohler said

at 3:48 pm on Apr 15, 2010

You provided sources but didn't give specific page numbers where you found specific information this makes me doubt the scholastic validity of what you are saying. I liked the poem very in depth detail. 3 out of 5.

ryan.schnirel@colorado.edu said

at 9:49 am on Apr 16, 2010

The page contains a wealth of information and helps provides a strong understanding of Maitreya. I've always been interested in Maitreya, and appreciate how well you communicated ideas. I would have liked to have seen a few more images, and perhaps some more of the Maitreya in Kushnigar project. Overall great job!

matthew.mceachern@... said

at 12:12 pm on Apr 16, 2010

Maitreya is a very interesting Buddha. I wonder when he will appear again on earth. the page and the pictures are well organized and the poem at the end adds a nice touch. 4/5.

courtney said

at 6:46 pm on Apr 16, 2010

I learned a lot from this page and the page was very neat and clean. I really liked the picture of the Maitreya Project. 5.5

Henry said

at 10:29 am on Apr 18, 2010

This is a very well written, well-researched post. Your use of images is balanced with plenty of museum images as well as general internet photos. I also appreciated that you brought in the Maitreya Project, making the piece relevant to modern times. I have a few suggestions. The section on myth needs rounding out, the author wrote, “Maitreya… has many myths surrounding his figure, it is hard to find these myths since this Buddha has not yet arrived.” There are in fact plenty of myths about Maitreya. One of the more famous comes from China, the story of Fa-hsien. You might also consult a text such as “Maitreya, the Future Buddha” (Alan Sponberg, ed.). It is also important to distinguish culturally distinct iconography, the author wrote, “Statues and images of Maitreya often depict Maitreya as a stout, bald man with a big, round belly who is in a sitting posture and is laughing.” These would be statues in East Asia, which are distinct from those images found in Tibet. However, overall this is a well-rounded and concise piece of writing. Good work.
Grade: 4.5

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