1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Maitreya

MAITREYA, the name of the future Buddha. In one of the works included in the Pali canon, the Dīgha Nikāya, a prophecy is put into the Buddha’s mouth that after the decay of the religion another Buddha, named Metteyya, will arise who will have thousands of followers instead of the hundreds that the historical Buddha had. This is the only mention of the future Buddha in the canon. For some centuries we hear nothing more about him. But when, in the period just before and after the Christian era, some Buddhists began to write in Sanskrit instead of Pali, they composed new works in which Maitreya (the Sanskrit form of Metteyya) is more often mentioned, and details are given as to his birthplace and history. These are entirely devised in imitation of the details of the life of the historical Buddha, and have no independent value. Only the names differ. The document in which the original prophecy occurs was put together at some date during the 1st century after the Buddha’s death (see Nikāya). It is impossible to say whether tradition was, at that time, correct in attributing it to the Buddha. But whoever chose the name (it is a patronymic or family, not a personal name), had no doubt regard to the etymological connexion with the word for “love,” which is Mettā in Pali. This would only be one of those punning allusions so frequent in Indian literature.

Long afterwards, probably in the 6th or 7th century, a reformer in south India, at a time when the incoming flood of ritualism and superstition threatened to overwhelm the simple teaching of the earlier Buddhism, wrote a Pali poem, entitled the Anāgata Vaṃsa. In this he described the golden age of the future when, in the time of Metteyya, kings, ministers and people would vie one with the other in the maintenance of the original simple doctrine, and in the restoration of the good times of old. The other side also claimed the authority of the future Buddha for their innovations. Statues of Maitreya are found in Buddhist temples, of all sects, at the present day; and the belief in his future advent is universal among Buddhists.

Authorities.—Dīgha Nikāya, vol. iii., edited by J. E. Carpenter, (London, 1908); “Anāgata Vaṃsa,” edited by J. Minayeff in Journal of the Pali Text Society (1886); Watters on Yuan Chwang, edited by Rhys Davids and S. W. Bushell (London, 1904–1905). (T. W. R. D.)