Thangka of Maitreya Buddha
Maitreya is the 5th Buddha that is to appear in this Kalpa. Hence he is considered to be the Buddha to come.
The Legend behind the Thangka
The legend of Maitreya goes back many Kalpas, to a time when there lived a Buddha by the name of Ratnachattra. One of his monks by the name of Sthiramati, often fasted for lengthy periods of time during which he would set out to teach the 3 principles of learning : Ethique, Concentration and Wisdom, to a set number of beings and would not break his fast until he had succeded to do so. The glow and strength of his goodness and love (Maitri) was such that the Gods themselves were touched, and they decided to name him Maitreya (he who loves).
It is with this name that he would come back and serve one of the previous incarnations of the Buddha Shakyamuni, his devotion for his master was such that when he meditated on him, a crystal stupa would form over his head. It is in commemoration of this that we will sometimes see him represented with a Stupa on his head.
It is also written that he reached Enlightenment before the Buddha Shakyamuni, but came
back to serve Buddha Shakyamuni, under the form of a Boddhisattva, while he ruled over the Tushita Heaven, before succeeding him.
Buddha Maitreya – Attributes and Mudra
It is under this form that we will often see Maitreya represented, on a throne with all the attributes of a Boddhisattva.He is using both hands to do the Dharmachakra Mudra.
Holding a lotus in each hand. a Wheel of Dharma on one and a Ritual Vase on the other. The Wheel of Dharma is placed on the Lotus to emphasize his mission to spread and teach Dharma to all beings.
While the Ritual Vase is said to represent that Shakyamuni Buddha was born of a high cast, Maitreya will be born of a low cast.
Maitreya Buddha – Tell-tale Posture
The most important thing to notice is that Maitreya is seated in a “european” posture called bhadrasana. This is to remind us that he is seated on the Throne of Tushita, but also to show that he is prepared to decend from his throne for the good of all.
It is said that those who sincerely pray to Maitreya and recite his Mantras, as well as those who paint or create his Thangkas or Statues will be re-born in Tushita Heaven, so they continue down their spiritual journey.
A Beautiful Story: Asanga, Maitreya and the Dog.
Asanga is said to be one of the great Buddhist adepts of ancient India. While he was still young and full of energy, he remained dissatisfied of his comprehension of Prajnaparmita, the perfection of Wisdom. With the permission of his Master he went into retreat in a cave, to recite the Mantra of Maitreya and perhaps obtain what he considered as necessary explanations.
After three years of practice and meditation, having obtained nothings, he felt discouraged. As he was leaving the cave, he saw a bird flying out of the rock, taking a closer look realized that the place where the bird passed time and time again was smooth,understanding that, if feathers, with time could smooth the rock, he too must persevere. And he regained his cave.
After a further three years, he yet again felt discouraged and left the cave. A few steps from his cave he saw drops of water falling to the ground, which after centuries of falling on the same spot, had worn the rock forming a pool. He again took this as a sign that he too must persevere.
Three years passed before he left again, this time making it all the way to the home of an old man. The old man was rubbing small metal wires with a cloth. Asanga thought to himself that this man had lost all reason, and proceeded to ask him what he was doing. The old man told him that he was making needles, and to prove it, showed him a box full of his product. Asanga, understanding once more that this was all the more reason not to be discouraged, and once again headed back to his cave.
Three more years of meditation, did not bring any new results. Asanga, discouraged left his hermitage permanently.
After several days of travel, he reached the outskirts of a village. A dog barked as he passed, he turned his head to see an old dog: the miserable animal was covered in sores and infected skin on which worms had begun to feed. At the sight of this, compassion flooded into Asangas mind and heart. After some thought and with the desire to help the dog without harming the worms, he cut a piece of his own flesh to offer to the worms once he had removed them from the dog.
To remove them with his fingers would kill the worms, the only solution: to remove them with his tongue. Vanquishing his repulsion and disgust, he closed his eyes and lent forwards undaunted.
Yet his tongues touched only dirt!
He opened his eyes to see the dog has disappeared and in the air in-front of him, was Maitreya, basking in a radiant glow of light. Asanga said to him :
My Lord, why were you deaf to my prayers for twelve years I prayed to you. You are the one who loves, why did you leave me thirsty under the scorching sun?”
and he begun to cry. To this Maitreya replied :
The King of the Gods, makes it rain on all the worlds. But, once the crop is burnt nothing can grow. The Buddhas as this are always there. But those who do not posses sufficient qualities will receive nothing from them.
The question is not whether the Buddhas are willing to save all souls, but whether the souls are willing to be saved.
From the first day you begun to meditate till this moment, I was present in front of you in the cave. Yet, you were unable to see me, because you meditated for the past 12 years with your own personal goal.
This was worth nothing compared to what you did with compassion for a miserable dog. Your act of compassion purified you and enabled you to see me. Maybe you don’t believe me? Then I will sit atop your shoulders and we will walk through the village.
They proceeded to walk through the village and not a single habitant saw something in particular. Only a single farmer, whose heart was purer than the rest, saw a Monk who bizarrely was carrying a sick old dog on his shoulders..
There is a very strong message here, and many of us will struggle to fully comprehend it. Perhaps what we are to understand from this story is that we are all blinded by the three poisons and it is this very blindness that prevents us from seeing the true beauty of life. Another perception would be that all acts are selfish, and only a true act of compassion can be considered as pure.
I look forward to your comments!