Waiting for Maitreya
Nov 27, 2023
Welcome, and thank you for listening.
Yesterday I saw a social media post describing how members of different spiritual and religious lineages have been waiting for their version of a Messiah to arrive, sometimes for thousands of years.
It concluded with the comment that, "Most religions adopt the idea of a 'savior' and state that the world will remain filled with evil until this savior comes and fills it with goodness and righteousness. Maybe our problem on this planet is that people expect someone else to come solve their problems instead of doing it themselves."
While I agree that it is vital that each of us be as proactive as we can about creating the world we wish to be a part of, I also feel that vision and ethical leadership plays a vital role in systems change. But that is not why I brought up this idea today. The reason that this post caught my attention is that the spiritual lineages mentioned included Buddhism, pointing out that "Buddhists have been waiting for Maitreya for 2,600 years."
In fairness, not all Buddhists have been waiting for Maitreya for 2,600 years. As I understand it, the story of the Bodhissatva Maitreya is of particular significance to the Mahayana lineage of Buddhism. But what caught my attention was the idea of any group of Buddhists engaging in a process of waiting, for anything in particular. Because the process of waiting is inherently antithetical to the experience of continually living in the present.
Often the experience of waiting can be a part of our present moment experience. For example, it is necessary to engage in a process of waiting when you anticipate the arrival of a train to arrive that will take you to your next destination. It is necessary to wait in line at the grocery store. But this is not the same as waiting for some long-desired event prophesied by a mythology invented by humans who lived thousands of years ago.
We only wait for something made up and mythological like this to come about, when we are attached to seeing it come about, when we are focused on making it come about.
The story of Maitreya is a very beautiful one. The name "Maitreya" is derived from the Sanskrit word for "friendship." Maitreya is said to abide in a realm known as Tushita Heaven, which is accessible through meditation, and will appear on Earth at a time when the teachings of Gautama Buddha have largely been forgotten, in order to share a practice of self-realization, and what Buddhists consider right action, and right relationship.
But when I first heard this story, I thought, I don't want to wait for some mythical Bodhissatva to show up, so I can practice self-realization! I want to enjoy cultivating as much self-realization as I can, every day, in this relatively short lifespan, that so far as I know will be my only chance to experience self-realization as a human!
If you are on a journey of self-realization, you are never waiting to take the next step, because the experience of each next step is a part of your journey of self-realization.
The Buddha Siddhartha Gautama was a beloved, highly influential philosopher and teacher. He was also a human being, who spent his relatively short lifespan engaged in his own process of self-realization. What he might have been before he was a human being, or after, we cannot know, as we also cannot know this about ourselves. What we can know is that he, and we, are human, and if the Maitreya of myth were to someday arrive, he, she, or they would also be human while they are here, wherever they may have come from, too.
To me what that means is that Maitreya could be among us right now. Any one of us could be Maitreya. Or several of us. Or many, or all of us.
In the book version of The Science of Enlightenment, meditation teacher and science scholar Shinzen Young proposes, "Traditionally, it is assumed that the Buddha-to-come will be an individual. I imagine that Maitreya will not be an individual enlightened being, but a team of enlightened beings, most of whom will be scientists, specifically neuroscientists. This team would use the power of post-twentieth-century science, combined with the depth of their personal experiences, to formulate a radically innovative paradigm for what enlightenment is and how to get there."
While I don't want to weigh in on whether Maitreya will be a team of neuroscientists, I really love the idea of Team Maitreya. Because I believe that each of us has it within us to become deeply self-realized, and to then help others to as well. If each of us strives to live in the way that we imagine Maitreya, who can say what the result might be? I, for one, can see no downside! Why not a neuroscientist Maitreya, a voice teacher Maitreya, a Maitreya who sings R&B!
The Maitreya story dates from the third century of the common era. Maitreya is prophesied to be a northern Indian nobleman, and there are also predictions about who his wife and son will be. The Mahayana Buddhists of the third century did not, however, prophesy that Buddhism would attain the kind of global reach that it enjoys in the 21st century of the common era, or that a female voice teacher would someday be recording a podcast about Maitreya. I say, we need not be any particular nationality or gender, to live as we imagine Maitreya would live.
And Maitreya need not be one. What this world truly needs now, is for Maitreya to be Legion.
When we wait for a leader to arrive, we perpetuate the very status quo we desire to change. When we deify or mythologize any one leader, we perpetuate a hierarchical culture that thrives on attachment and competition, rather than create the possibility of a more egalitarian and equitable society. So let's not wait for Maitreya. Let's each of us connect with our inner Maitreya. Again, how could there possibly be a downside?
This episode was heavy on the Buddhism, with no discussion of singing, but I promise to connect those dots tomorrow when I talk about something called Deity Practice, and the ways in which I find the philosophy behind this practice informative for what embodying a role or telling a story can do for a singer. Maitreya is, in my view, the mother of all deities!
A posture of waiting is inherently antithetical to the experience of continually living in the present. Be your own Bodhisattva.—don’t wait for an exalted teacher to arrive.
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