Love is the motivation for entering the practice of the Vajrayana. A telling sign that this practice has been successful is its limitless expression. The spiritual master has a loving radiance as well as sternness. This quality draws the minds and hearts of others. The love of a guru for his or her disciples surpasses the love they have for themselves. This introduction to the world of the Vajrayana concludes with the conqueror Maitreya.
The Story of Maitreya Buddha:
It begins during the time of Buddha Ratnachattra. His disciples included the monk Sthiramati, who cared for others more than he did for himself. He would often starve himself until he had put several people on the paths of pure moral discipline. His dedication to others' happiness was strong. And his kindness and love were radiant. So, the gods of heaven gave him the title "Loving One," or Maitreya. Ratnachattra predicted that his fame would spread far and wide.
Along with love, one of the other main practices of Maitreya was the seven-limbed Puja. This method to purify negativity and gather good energy is a part of Buddhist practice.
A prayer outlines its main features:
With body, speech, and mind I pay homage with devotion.
And make offerings, both actual and mentally transformed.
I rejoice in the virtues all beings perform.
O Gurus, please stay here until samsara ends,
and turn the wheel of dharma for the benefit of all.
Thus, I dedicate the merit of myself and of all others that we may meet the enlightened beings' state.
Through the sincere performance of this seven limbs-prostration, Maitreya achieved full enlightenment.
Maitreya Buddha and Shakyamuni Buddha
Maitreya realized Buddhahood before Shakyamuni. But he honored Shakyamuni as his guru and held him in the highest esteem.
One common portrayal of Maitreya shows him adorned with a stupa on the crown of his head. The stupa symbolizes Shakyamuni and its position on Maitreya's crown demonstrates high respect. Shakyamuni appeared in this world as the fourth Founding Buddha of the present age. To teach other the bodhisattva path, he manifested one of his disciples along with Avalokiteshvara and Manjushri.
Shakyamuni predicted that his teachings would last five thousand years. People will become immoral, weak, and destitute. The world will go through periods of disease, famine, and warfare. It would resemble a vast battlefield or graveyard. That is when Maitreya will appear, not in his evolved Buddha form, but as a person of regal bearings. On seeing this him, people will be curious and will ask how he came to have such an attractive appearance.
Maitreya will then reply, "Through patience and avoiding giving harm to others. If you too abide in love and tolerance, will also become like me." His appearance marks a turning point in the fortunes of this world. As more and more beings follow his example, their store of merit, and lifespan, will increase. People will forget the sufferings of old age and death. Morality will grow as people engage in the pleasures of their existence. With this laxity will come another gradual shortening and degeneration of their lifespan. They once again will become suitable to take a sincere interest in the spiritual path.
Maitreya Buddha in Tushita Heaven
This is when Maitreya Buddha will descend from the Tushita Buddha Field. He resides there and then appears in this world as the fifth Founding Buddha of this world age.
An illustration symbolizes that he is ready to arise in response to the needs of the world. He descends to turn the wheel of dharma, as Shakyamuni did before him.
His hands are 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 his head is an umbrella that indicates his ability to protect himself from evil influences. An aura around him suggests that through him shines the light of hope for the future.
The first of the four great deeds of Je Tsongkhapa was the restoration of a Maitreya statue. One of his chief disciples was Gendun Drub, the First Dalai Lama.
He wrote: “May the beings who create images of Maitreya experience the dharma of a Great Way. That too, in the presence of Maitreya himself.”
In these lines, the Dalai Lama expresses a wish. It is common among the followers of Mahayana Buddhism. It is that in the future they might be reborn as disciples of Maitreya.
There is an example of such a prayer written by a modern-day Tibetan master.“In the past, I have wandered down long lonely paths.
But now, by remembering you at the time when
the light of my life comes to set
May the hook of your mercy catch hold of my mind.
When my mind travels on to my future rebirth,
may I sprout without hindrance from the heart of a lotus.
In the presence of Maitreya in Tushita Heaven.
O Protector Maitreya,
when you are the lama of numberless beings at the site of Bodh Gaya.
May I too become one of your foremost disciples
and be able to ripen all fortunate ones.
In short, then, I dedicate all the white karma
I gather in the past, the present, and the future.
To be born in your presence.
O, mighty Protector.
By developing insight on the Mahayana path and teaching to others.
May I become a true refuge for every pathetic
and depressed living being.”
Shakyamuni predicted those who followed his teachings. They would be reborn in the first circle of Maitreya's entourage. They would be able to complete the spiritual path under his guidance. It is the custom when taking the vows to engage in the altruistic practices of a bodhisattva.
One ought to recite some verses
"Like the sun rising over the mountains
Maitreya Buddha appears at the Diamond Seat
and opens my mind.
May I fulfill all the needs of the swarms of fortunate disciples.
They will cluster like thirsty bees longing to drink.
Maitreya Buddha extends his hand to my head and predicts when I will gain full enlightenment.
May I achieve this enlightenment soon for everyone's sake.”
An Inspiring Story of Asanga
One doesn’t always have to wait until Maitreya next appears in this world to reap its benefits. A popular story illustrates how one makes contact with him. It concerns the Indian master Asanga.
He, along with Nagarjuna, is one of the two Jewels of the World. Asanga had difficulty in gaining an understanding of the Perfection of Wisdom sutras. He decided that only from Maitreya could he receive the instructions he desired. He entered into intensive retreat in hopes of gaining a direct vision of this Buddha. But after three years with no success, he quit his retreat in disgust. On his way back to town he saw an old man.
In reality, he was an emanation of Maitreya. He was trying to remove a huge stone that blocked the sun from his house by brushing it with a feather!
Asanga took this as a sign that perseverance helped to complete anything. He reentered his retreat. Six years went by without any results. Each time he gave up, he would encounter someone performing an impossible task. This would inspire him to return to his practice. And after twelve years with nothing to show for them, he gave up his practice for good.
This time on his way into town he saw a pitiful sight. On the ground lay a starving dog whose wounds were being eaten by maggots. The compassion for the dog moved him but he was unwilling to kill the insects. So, he cut off a piece of his flesh and bent down to transfer the maggots to the meat with his tongue so as not to harm them. He closed his eyes so he would not have to look at what he was doing, and drew nearer. He leaned over very far but he felt nothing. When he opened his eyes, the dog had disappeared and, in its place, stood Maitreya in all his glory!
Asanga demanded, "Where were you all those years I was meditating in that cave?"
Maitreya replied that he had been there next to him all that time. Only delusions had prevented Asanga from seeing him. Now his compassionate act had removed those delusions. And there was nothing left to prevent their communicating with each other. Asanga was so overjoyed that he lifted the buddha on his shoulders and ran through town.
He cried, "Look everyone, here is Maitreya!"
Except for one old woman, no one saw anything but an insane man running up and down the streets. The woman’s veil of delusions was somewhat thinner than those of the other townspeople. She saw Asanga carrying a mangy dog on his shoulders. Maitreya took Asanga and transported him to the pure land of Tushita.
They spent a morning there as Asanga received instructions from Maitreya. It was about the Perfection of Wisdom sutras. It was in the form of five texts that still make up an integral part of Buddhist monastic education. Having transmitted to Asanga these teachings, Maitreya returned him to this world. Asanga discovered that fifty years had passed while he was away. He then spent the rest of his life disseminating these teachings. He had his commentaries on them too. He brought inestimable benefit to others through them.
It is this potential that enables ordinary beings to transform. It is through the means of the Vajrayana practices based on love and compassion. It helps them reach into an awakened Buddha. Here is one of the nine similes Maitreya gave for this potential for enlightenment.“Under the floor of some poor man's house lies
an uncorroded treasure.
But because he does not know of its existence,
he does not say that he is rich.
Inside one's mind lies truth itself, firm and unfading.
Yet, because beings see it not,
they experience a constant stream of misery.
The pauper with a treasure buried
under his shack does not say he has a treasure, for he knows it not.
Likewise, the treasure of truth lies within the house of the mind. And yet we live impoverished through lack of it.
Thus, the seers take a pure birth into the world,
so that they may know of this treasure.”