The Past Buddhas and the Future Buddha Metteyya

Preamble

During one of the Sutta Study Class sessions conducted by Bhante Cakkapala, the topic on future Buddha was raised by an attendee about Metteyya Buddha and the period of His appearance. We know Metteyya Buddha is featured prominently in Mahayana Buddhism and other traditions. However, in Theravada Buddhism it remains obscure and is scantly mentioned.

Bhante Cakapala revealed the two sources from the Pali Canon that made specific mention of Metteya Buddha by name are found in the Cakkavattisihanada Sutta from Digha Nikaya and Buddhavamsa of Khuddaka Nikaya from the Sutta Pitaka. He also pinpointed that some scholars even questioned the authenticity of these passages. Nevertheless, Buddha often mentioned that there will be many Future Buddhas in other suttas.

“Every Buddha teaches The Four Noble Truths. The Dhamma is readily available now, then why not seek liberation in this life time rather than waiting for the appearance of a Future Buddha?” asked Bhante Cakkapala.

We gathered as much information as we could find in the Theravada tradition, though not exhaustive and hope this writing can shed some light from the scriptures and texts to share with readers the little information in the Pali Canon and Buddhist texts on Metteyya Buddha, though insignificant but the fact remains of the name Metteyya is etched in our mind.

Introduction

The historical Gotama the Buddha is not the only Buddha who appeared in the current world system.

It is mentioned in Satipattana Samyutta, “The Arahants, the Perfectly nlightened Ones, who arose in the past also had just such a pair of supreme disciples as I had in Sariputta and Moggallana. The Arahants, the Perfectly Enlightened Ones, who will arise in the future will also have just such a pair of disciples as I had in Sariputta and Moggallana.” (SN 47:14).

In Buddhavamsa, it states, “In this Buddha-eon there have been three leaders, Kakusandha, Konagamana and the leader Kassapa. I am at the present time am the Self-Awakened One, and there will be Metteyya. These are the five Buddhas, wise ones, compassionate toward the world.

The Past Buddhas and the Future Buddha

Preceding the current historical Buddha there were twenty seven Buddhas, commenced with Tanhankara and ended with the immediate past Buddha Kassapa before Gotama. This is enumerated in the Buddhavamsa which includes Gotama as the twenty-eighth Buddha.

The last seven Buddhas, going back to ‘ninety-one aeons’ refer to in the Mahapadana Sutta (DN 14) and Nidana Samyutta (S.N. 12, 4 – 10) are Vipassi, Sikhi, Vessabhu, Kakusandha, Konagamana, Kassapa and me. All Buddhas go through the same experiences in their last earthly life. (D, ii: 8).

The Lakkhana Sutta (DN 39) speaks of the great marks endowed on a man will destine to be a world monarch and; if he renounces the world he will be a Buddha. There is no other way. “Endowed with this Mark, if he dwell in the House, be becomes Monarch, Turner of the Wheel. If he leaves the House for the Homeless State, he becomes Arahant, Buddha Supreme, rolling back the veil of the world.” (D, iii: 147).

Metteyya Buddha

The future Buddha known as Buddha Metteyya (Maitreya in Sanskrit), is recognized by both Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism, and featured more prominently in the former tradition.

Metteyya Buddha is first mentioned in the Buddhist scriptures in the Cakkavitti-Sihanada Sutta (DN 26). Legend has it of the universal monarch with gradual corruption of morals and their restoration, and prophecy of the future Buddha Metteyya. The Sutta speaks of a distant time in which all skillfulness in the Dhamma practice is lost and mankind will be at war with each other for self-destruction.

Later people begin to realize that killing one another will lead to doomsday. Therefore, the wise among them start to avoid killing and treating nicely towards others. These compassionate relationship and restraint of committing evil deeds will enable them to increase their life span. Gradually, when the life span of human will reach 80,000 years, then Metteyya Buddha will be born among them in the reign of the Wheel Turning Monarch Sankha. “Bhikkhus, when the life span of people becomes eighty thousand years, where will appear in the world a Bhagava called Metteyya.” The Wheel Turning Monarch Sankha will then renounce and be a bhukkhu during the time of Metteyya Buddha. (D, iii: 76).  

The second source that mentioned Metteyya Buddha is from Buddhavamsa, “I am at the present time am the Self-Awakened One, and there will be Metteyya.”

 A popular image of Metteyya Buddha.

A popular image of Metteyya Buddha.

Birth ritual of a Buddha

The Mahapadana Sutta, (DN 14), was preached at Savatti, in Anathapindika’s park in Jetavana, in the Karerihutment, was the result of a conversation among the monks, in which they expressed the desire to know something of the births of previous Buddhas. It refers to the last seven Buddhas, going back to ‘ninety-one eons’ in time, where all Buddhas go through the same experiences in their last earthly life. In the Sutta it stipulates the rules of a Bodhisatta to be born as a Buddha. (D, ii: 14 – 15).

So it is the rule too, the future Buddha will go through the same passage of birth rituals.

Buddhist Pali Texts of Theravada tradition

There are Buddhist texts written in Pali based on commentaries and sub-commentaries with the fabrication of Mahayana literatures. They are part of the Theravada tradition prevalent in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand, contain information that was added at a relatively late date, and some with Mahayana influence, which we cannot ignore but be discerning.

Even in the Sutta Pitaka, there are many suttas that contain myths and legends and as with many other faiths, Buddhism is no exception. Inevitably Mahayana influence does creep in, for instance in the Mahapadana Sutta (DN 14): “two streams of water appear from the sky, one cold, the other warm, with which they ritually wash the Boddhisatta and his mother,” an origin of the Mahayana birth ritual. (D ii: 16).

Selected Buddhist Pali Texts

To have a consummate view we included some prevalent Buddhist Pali texts in the Theravada tradition. Below are briefs of the selected texts as follow:

The Anagatavamsa is said to have been written by the author of the Mohavicchedani, Ashin Kassapa (1160 to 1230 A.D.). It is a poem of one hundred and forty two verses dealing with the life and career of the future Buddha Metteyya. The Anagatavasama is composed after the manner and style of the Buddhavamsa.

 The Dasabodhisattuppattikatha written in the 14th century (1300) (“Ten Bodhisattva Birth Stories” or “Lives of the Ten Bodhisattvas”) is a Pali Buddhist text that deals with the Bodhisattas of ten future Buddhas. It is a “strange small work of late Pali literature” and “the only example of a book devoted entirely to extolling the Bodhisattas who will be Buddhas in future ages.”

The Mahavamsa (The Great Chronicle) was written by a scholar-monk named Mahanama in the sixth century. The importance of Mahavamsa is also founded on facts other than its literacy and presentation. Much information about Metteyya Buddha is found in Mahavamsa.

Non-Canonical Buddhist texts on Metteyya Buddha

“In the past Sariputta, Metteyya Bodhisata was born in the Kuru country, in the city of Indapatta, which was thirty yojanas in length, seven yojanas in breath, and resembled a city of deities. He was the emperor named Sankha, majestic and magnificent, possessed of the seven royal treasures … … he was the emperor before the era of the Buddha.” (Dasabodhisattuppattikatha).

“One named Ajita (will be born), Metteyya, the best two-footed beings, with the thirty-two excellent marks and the (eighty) minor characteristics, of golden complexion, without stain, very splendid, resplendent, of the highest fame, glorious, of perfect forum, of good sight, of great power, incomparable. He will be born in a Brahmin family, with great wealth and possessions, and of excellent family. There will be no dispute concerning his birth.” Anagatavamsa (Verses 43-45).

When Venerable Sariputta asked the Buddha who was residing at Migaramatu’s residence on the prophecy of Elder Ajita as the next Buddha named Metteyya, said: “Sariputta, there have been limitless and countless noble people in the world who have successively fulfilled the perfections, attained Buddhahood and, having completed a Buddha’s duty, passed away at the end of their life-span. In the future, too, there will be limitless and countless noble people who, having enjoyed the pleasures of the sensual world and the bliss of the Brahma worlds, who, with courage and determination having successively fulfilled the perfections, will attain Buddhahood and pass away having completed a Buddha’s duty.(Dasabodhisattuppattikatha).

Characteristics of Metteya Buddha

According to the Mahavamsa King Kakavannatisa and Viharamahadevi, parents of Dutthagamani, will be Metteyya’s parents, Dutthagamani himself will be his chief disciple and Saddhatissa his second disciple.

Sariputta, Metteyya, the World Perfect One, will have a life-span of eighty two-thousand years. He will be eighty-eight cubits in height, twenty-five cubits in breath and the same length-wise. He will measure twenty-two cubits from the soles of the feet up to the knee, twenty-two cubits from the knee to the navel, twenty-two cubits from the navel to the collar-bone and twenty-two cubits from collar-bone to the apex of the head. The length of both the arms will be forty cubits, the space between the arms twenty-five cubits, each of the collar-bones five cubits, each finger four cubits, each palm five cubits, the circumference of the neck five cubits, each lip five cubits, the length of the tongue ten cubits, the elevated nose seven cubits, each eye-sockets seven cubits, each eye five cubits, the space between the eyebrows will measure five cubits, each ear seven cubits lengthwise, and each auricle twenty-five cubits in circumference. He will possess the thirty-two major marks and eighty minor marks of a Great King.” (Dasabodhisattauppattikatha).

How to Meet Buddha Metteya

In the Dasabodhisattauddesa, Gotama Buddha says to Venerable Sariputta, “Not all men will see my physical body. If they encounter my Teachings (sasana), give gifts (dana), observe morality (Sila), and cultivate development of the mind (bhavana), through the fruit of that, they will be reborn in the time of Buddha Ariya Metteyya.

The Angatavamsa gives more details. In order to meet Buddha Metteyya, “people should put forth effort (viriya) and be firm (dalha), with agitated mind (ubbigga-manasa). All those who do good deeds and who are vigilant – whether they are bhikkhus, bhukkunis, laymen or laywomen – will be able to encounter the next Buddha. All those who pay great honour to the Buddha will see the auspicious assembly of Buddha Metteya.”

Predicament

In the Cakkavattishihanada Sutta, King Cakkavatti (Wheel Turner Monarch), Sankha will renounce the world to be a monk in the era of Metteyya era. “King Sankha will re-erect the palace which the King Great Panada had built, and, having lived in it, will give it up and present it to the ascetics and Brahmins, the beggars, the wayfarers, the destitute. Then, shaving off hair and beard, he will don yellow robes and go forth from the household life into homelessness under the supreme Buddha Metteyya.” (D, iii: 77).

That statement contradicts the words what the Buddha delivered in the Lakkhana Sutta (DN 30). According to that Sutta, when a universal king renounces the world, he must become a Buddha. There is no other way.(D, iii: 147). This view is reinforced by the statement from Dasabodhisattuppattikathe:Metteyya Bodhisatta was the emperor Sankha during time of the Worthy Perfect Buddha Sirimata.” Again in contrariety whether King Cakkavatti Sankha will be the future Buddha Metteyya, the Angatavamsa says, “One named Ajita will be born, Metteyya, … … There will be no dispute concerning his birth.”

Conclusion

Whether the emperor Sankha or Ajita will be the Buddha Metteyya should not distract the fact of the coming of a future Buddha. The future Buddha will also preach The Four Noble Truths taught by the current Buddha so why wait for the coming Buddha to attain liberation.

Satipatthana Samyutta: “So too, venerable sir, I have understood this by inference from the Dhamma: Whether Arahants, Perfectly Enlightened Ones arose in the past, … will arise in the future … who is at present the Arahant, the Enlightened One, … … With his mind in the four establishments of mindfulness, he developed correctly the seven factors of enlightenment and thereby he has awakened to the unsurpassed perfect enlightenment.

“Good, good, Sariputta! Therefore, Sariputta, you should repeat this Dhamma exposition frequently to the bhikkhus and bhikkhunis, to the male lay followers and the female lay followers. Even though some foolish people may have perplexity or uncertainty regarding the Tathagata, when they have hear this Dhamma exposition their perplexity or uncertainty Tathagata will be abandoned.” (SN, V, 47:12).

Brahma Samyutta states, “The perfect Buddhas of the past, the future Buddhas and the present Buddha who removes the sorrow of many: all those dwelled, now dwell, and (in the future) will dwell revering the good Dhamma. This is the nature of the Buddhas. Therefore one desiring the good, aspiring for greatness, should deeply revere the true Dhamma, recollecting the Buddhas’ Teachings.” (SN 1:6 and AN ll:22).

Each and every one of us has the potential to attain Enlightenment. So we should strive towards liberation in this life and not be entrapped by scepticism that impedes our practice. The past is already gone the future is not yet here. There’s only one moment for you to live that is the present moment. The Four Noble Truths preached in the first sermon by Buddha should be clearly understood while we can.

Do we need to wait and hear from the future Buddha?

Joint Contributors: Chin Kee Thou

in collaboration with Bhante Cakkappala

September 2nd 2015

N.B. Citations from Buddhist scriptures and texts are available for reading or reference at MV Library during opening hours from 6:30 to 7:30 pm on Thursdays and from 3:00 to 6:00 pm on Sundays. The Library is closed on public holidays and in the month of November and December.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Chin Kee Thou

Reading Buddhist scriptures and writing articles for the blog and newsletters.
This entry was posted in Abhidhamma in Daily Life, Buddhism in Daily Life, Courses, Dhamma in Daily Life, Events, Meditation in Daily Life, Sutta in Daily Life, Sutta Study Class. Bookmark the permalink.

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