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Maitreya Votive from Ancient China

Maitreya Votive from Ancient China

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Maitreya, in Buddhist tradition, the future Buddha, presently a bodhisattva residing in the Tushita heaven, who will descend to earth to preach anew the dharma (“law”) when the teachings of Gautama Buddha have completely decayed. Maitreya is the earliest bodhisattva around whom a cult developed and is mentioned in scriptures from the 3rd century ce . He was accepted by all schools of Buddhism and is still the only bodhisattva generally honoured by the Theravada tradition.

The name Maitreya is derived from the Sanskrit maitrī (“friendliness”). In Pali the name becomes Metteyya, in Chinese Milefo, in Japanese Miroku, and in Mongolian Maidari in Tibetan the bodhisattva is known as Byams-pa (“Kind,” or “Loving”). His worship was especially popular from the 4th to the 7th century, and his images are found throughout the Buddhist world many of them beautifully convey his characteristic air of expectancy and promise. He is represented in painting and sculpture both as a bodhisattva and as a buddha, and he is frequently depicted seated in European fashion or with his ankles loosely crossed.

A statue honoring Maitreya

The Leshan Giant Buddha statue (also known as Dafo), is located to the east of Leshan City and sits at the junction of three rivers the Min River, Qingyi River, and Dadu River. It faces the sacred Mount Emei with the rivers flowing below its feet and depicts a stout, smiling monk, calmly sitting, resting his hands upon his knees with heavy-lidded eyes gazing across the river. The statue is believed to be Maitreya, a Buddha and disciple of Sakyamuni, who is thought to have been the founder of Buddhism, symbolizing brightness and happiness.

Worshiping Maitreya was especially popular between the 4th and 7th Centuries. Today, images of him can still be found in many Buddhist temples throughout China and the Leshan statue is considered the most inspiring of them all.

The Paradise of Maitreya, Zhu Haogu and Zhang Boyuan, 1320 ( Wikimedia Commons )

  • Location: The Bingling Grottoes site begins at the edge of Liujiaxia Lake about 75 or 80 kilometers or 50 miles southwest of Lanzhou.
  • How to go there:

Bus: First take a bus to Liujiaxia. The bus ride takes about two hours. It is best to leave as early as you can in the morning to maximize your stay at the site.

Boat: Then people have to hire a boat. The cost for private motorboats has to be bargained for. A group of eight may be able to hire a boat for 500 RMB or about 75 USD. The trip takes about an hour or more, depending on the boat. The boat drivers may not want to wait for tourists for more than an hour unless their waiting time is negotiated and paid for.

Walking: Once there, there are paths and stairs to walk around on and people might be able to hire a jeep to see the more distant parts of the site.

Travel Tips

  • Chinese name:乐山大佛 (Leshan Dafo)
  • Location: Lingyun Street, Shizhong District, Leshan, Sichuan Province 126 kilometers away from Chengdu
  • Best times to visit the Leshan Giant Buddha: With the most sunny days and beautiful scenery, April and October are the best months of the year to travel to see the Leshan Giant Buddha.
  • Opening hours:
  • April 1 st to October 7 th : 7:30am to 6:30pm
  • October 8 th to March 31 st : 8am to 5:30pm
  • Entrance fee: 80 yuan per person (including Wulong Temple and the Mahao Cliff Tomb)
  • The Leshan Giant Buddha ferry price: 120-150 yuan per person

Avoid Crowds of Tourists by Taking a Boat

The boat trip takes about 30 minutes for a return trip. You should wear a life jacket when you are in the boat. Without being surrounded by crowds of tourists, you will have the best angles to take photos from and to get a full view of the Leshan Giant Buddha. Do you want to get closer to the giant Buddha? To do this, you have to spend over 3 hours crossing the bridge from the hilltop to the feet of the giant Buddha, which is usually very crowded with people. It’s not a very enjoyable experience. You can see the full structure from the top after your boat trip, which will allow you to see the Buddha’s head and the three connecting rivers.

Visit Leshan Giant Buddha by boat

How to Get There from Chengdu and Other Places

No matter where you are traveling from, the best option is to fly to Chengdu’s airport first and then take a high-speed train to Mount Emei. You will see many buses operating to Mount Emei when you exit the train station. Take a bus trip for 15 minutes to arrive at this famous spot.

It’s convenient to take a high-speed train from Chengdu to Mount Emei. It takes about 1½ hours and costs 104 yuan for a first-class seat ticket. There are many trains operating every half an hour from 6am to 9pm.

There are two bus stations in Leshan — Jiuzhu Long Distance Passengers Transportation Center and Emeishan Tour Passenger Transport Center. The first one is 6 kilometers away from the Leshan Giant Buddha and the second one is in Mount Emei Scenic Area.

If you are planning a tour to Leshan Giant Buddha, please feel free to contact us.


As well as the Focus of Illumination, his retreat in the Himalayas, Maitreya maintains an etheric retreat over Tientsin, China, southeast of Peking (Beijing). With Lord Gautama he also teaches students seeking to graduate from earth’s schoolroom at the Eastern and Western Shamballa and at the Royal Teton Retreat.

As the sponsor of twin flames, he is the friend of all initiates of the sacred fire. When called upon, he will give the illumination of the Christ and the strength of the Word to pass the initiations that come under his sponsorship.

His banner is the thoughtform of a mighty clipper ship as it comes in with the tides at eventide to fetch souls of mankind to take them to another shore. His musical keynote is “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life.”

Empress Dowager Cixi

You are Cixi! Born into a family of Manchu government officials, aged sixteen Cixi became a low-ranking concubine. She had a son, the first - only - male heir to the Qing throne, and she dominated the court right up to her death in 1908. She was intent on preserving Manchu power, she played one faction off against another. And she was ruthless - responsible for more than a dozen political killings. A lover of dogs, flowers, Chinese opera, and cigarettes, and she was interested in every sort of newfangled gadget - had electricity installed in the Forbidden City, and a cinema. But she stopped the emperor's modernisation efforts, and had him imprisoned on an island in the imperial park. Resentment against the Manchu Qing dynastry was so great that it was swept away within three years of her death.

Gurpa hill: The mountain where Mahakasyapa waits for Maitreya

Gurpa hill is the ancient shrine of Buddhism. Gurpa peak, also known as Kukkutapada Giri or Gurupada Giri is situated in a small village called Gurpa, which is located 34km from Gaya district in Bihar. On top of the Gurpa peak, there is one stupa and a temple.

From the top of the Gurpa peak, one can get a breathtaking view of the surrounding countryside. It is an ideal place for meditation.

The peak first finds its mention in the scriptures of Fa Hien (4 th CE), Chinese Buddhist monk and translator who traveled by foot from China to India, visiting sacred Buddhist sites in Central, South and Southeast Asia and Hiuen Tsang (7 th CE), who spent sixteen years in India translating Buddhist scriptures, but both of their information contradicted with each other.

Later in 1906, Gurpa hill was identified by R.D. Banerjee, the discoverer of Mohenjo-daro, and was acclaimed as the actual site of Kukkutapādagiri.

The Kukkutapada Mountain appears as the three feets of a cock with three small mountains standing on it, also called chicken foot mountain.

It is believed that Mahakasyapa, one of the ten major disciples of Buddha, resides on the hill till date.

Mahakasyapa had gone to the hill in the last days of his life. His journey to the peak was met with obstructions by the mountains.

When he arrived at the mountain, the three mountains split and formed a seat to receive him. He entered the hollow opening and sat down to meditate. Then the three mountains enclosed his body.

Hiuen Tsang mentions that, Kasyapa did not die he is waiting for the future Buddha i.e., Maitreya, to come to kukkitapada Giri and awaken Mahakasyapa to receive Buddha’s robe from him that Gautma Buddha exchanged with Mahakasyapa.

About Mahakasyapa

Mahakasyapa was born in a Brahmin family, in a village in the Magadha kingdom. Like Buddha, he was also born under the tree and was named ‘Pipphali’ which means ‘born under the tree.’

Seeing the perils of life, he denounced his worldly life for an ascetic one. He parted ways with his wife Bhadda . In later times, when Mahakasyapa became a disciple of the Buddha, Bhadda also took refuge. She was especially devoted to the training and education of young nuns.

After two years of searching for a good religious teacher, Kasyapa had found Gautam Buddha, who lived with his disciples in Venu Van, a park in Rajgir.

In his early days, he used to follow the devotees to Venu Van to listen to the preaching of Buddha.

In one of the enlightening incidents, Kasyapa on his way home, moments after he left the Van, he saw Buddha sitting under the tree. He was surprised by his immediate presence as Buddha was still in Venu Van when he was leaving the place. It is said that, in that moment Kasyapa lied down and said “Lord Buddha, my great teacher, please take me as your disciple” to which Buddha replied, “Mahakasyapa, no one in the world is qualified to be your teacher. Please take me as your disciple.”

Mahakasyapa achieved enlightenment after the seventh day of him being a monk. Later he assumed leadership of the monastic community following the death of the Buddha, presiding over the First Buddhist Council.

He is also a patriarch of Chan (Zen) Buddhism, a religion followed in China, Korea, Japan and western countries.

The way to the peak involves heavy trek, multiple stairs climbing and making your way through narrow cut rocks.

A steep path leads to the base of the rock with a narrow cleft which on entering leads to another cave. There are 1680 steps from the bottom of the hill to the top. The steps take you through breathtaking scenery and narrow passages surrounded by very high rocks.

Gurpa hill also known as Gurupada is now a pilgrimage shrine for Hindus who visit this place annually in the month of Sawan (July-August). The place according to local Hindu tradition is recognized as Vishnupada, where lord Vishnu underwent fifty-two incarnations. The footprints on the hill, as believed in Hindu traditions, are of Lord Vishnu.

China also has Kukkutapada on the Jizu Mountain, in Yunnan inspired by the Gurpa hills. It is known as the Chicken foot mountain because of its appearance which is similar to the one in Gurpa.

As per the scriptures of Fa hien, in order to avoid long pilgrimage to India, a similar identifying hill was dedicated in the name of Buddha. This was built around the 9th century when Kukkutapadagiri became popular among the devotees in China and South-East Asian countries.

Consider the Source: Why Was Maitreya Too Fat to Sit in Full Lotus?

In the great Buddhist grottos at Dunhuang, the unequalled repository of Buddhist statues and art in China’s far west, certain Buddha figures do not sit in full lotus as one might expect. Nor do they stand erect, another common posture. Instead, they sit with their legs crossed at their ankles, a puzzling, rather uncomfortable looking position. The Chinese scholar Gu Zhengmei argues that this posture is a sure sign that these statues represent Maitreya Buddha, the “Buddha to Come” who is said to appear in the world when all have forgotten the dharma. He claims that it is consistent with discoveries of Maitreya images not just at Dunhuang, but also in Greek-influenced Gandhara, where the first icons of the Buddha were found.

Photograph by Andy Ferguson. An exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC shows a presiding buddha in the tell-tale crossed ankles posture. This monument was likely commissioned by Emperor Taiwu of the Northern Wei.

But why does Maitreya sit with his legs crossed at the ankles, instead of in full lotus? It may be because the kings who commissioned these buddha images intended them to represent the kings themselves. By claiming to be the very incarnation of Maitreya, kings could command ultimate religious status, and thus control the spiritual aspects of their subjects’ lives. By and large, kings enjoy diets that are not conducive to sitting in the lotus position—when kings who claim to be buddhas cross their legs, they’d prefer to do so at the ankles, not at the thighs! So the Maitreya statues depict kings sitting in a chair, their crossed ankles suggesting their holy status with only a half-hearted nimbleness.

Certain rulers can be connected with this phenomenon, all of them key links in the importation of political Buddhism into China. One was the emperor Kanishka of the mid-2nd century AD Kushan Empire, whose domain included much of present-day Afghanistan and Pakistan. The empire’s artistic culture was deeply imbued with Greek and Buddhist influence statues of Kanishka depict him in this telltale crossed-ankles pose. Another was the first king to create Buddhist icons at Dunhuang, Meng Sun of the Northern Lian Dynasty, who is also portrayed in Dunhuang’s first caves as Maitreya, sitting with ankles crossed.

Kings using religion to help them reign and employing holy icons for their own aggrandizement are ploys as old as rulers and religion. Buddhism was as susceptible to this as any other teaching. Despite its original ideal of the “home leaver” who left the polluted world behind, the religion was quite thoroughly sucked into the vortex of politics in ancient China. These statues of Maitreya may be one slightly comical result.

This post is part of author and scholar Andy Ferguson’s new “Consider the Source” series. As an old Chinese saying goes, “When drinking water, consider the source.” In the coming weeks, Ferguson will ask and answer seemingly simple (but in the end, profound) questions about the “source” of East Asian Buddhism, weaving a tale of both spiritual inspiration and political intrigue.

This fall, Tricycle will be traveling to the source itself, China, in a special pilgrimage led by Ferguson and abbot of the Village Zendo Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara. Want to come with us? Click here for more information.

The Tide is Turning: Change and the Coming of Maitreya

For most of 2020 Covid-19 has dominated mainstream media, and whilst serious, the pandemic is but the latest in a series of dark clouds gathering upon our collective horizon: interconnected crises, from the environmental emergency to war, poverty, inequality, and social division among others. All flow from the same root a misguided set of conclusions about life and ourselves this fragmented and conditioned pattern of thinking fuels actions that result in the various crises we see all around us. It is the consciousness of humanity with its misplaced values and beliefs, its ideologies and reductive notions of self that constitute the underlying crisis.

For the issues of the day to be met and overcome a major shift in attitudes is needed, a change in consciousness allowing for the creative re-invention of civilization to take place. The current ‘way of life’ is largely unhealthy, for the individual and society, and has proved deadly for the natural environment. It is an unkind brutal construct based on ideologies that separate, setting one against the other, creating an atmosphere of fear and suspicion. Pleasure and desire are promoted as surrogates for natural happiness and love, competition and conformity insisted upon it is an outdated construct that has no place within the positive movement of the times, which is well underway.

The transition into the new is happening apace and as those forces obstructing change begin to be swept aside there is a sense that humanity is poised to turn a corner. Sharing, cooperation, tolerance, understanding, these are some of the keynotes of the time. Perennial principles held within the hearts of people throughout the world, and which, given the correct conditions will explode into life, sweeping aside all obstacles to freedom, justice and unity. But resistance is fierce, conditioning and attachment to the old ways, strong. And the issues are daunting, overwhelming.

Given these prevailing conditions and the hostility to fundamental change – as opposed to the manipulation of existing systems – it is difficult even for the most optimistic of us to imagine a new world evolving within the short space of time we have. It is hard to see how humanity can make the leap, embrace a radically new, simpler way of living, and overcome the enormous challenges without support and guidance.

We are not alone

While the responsibility to create a new just civilization rests entirely and solely with humanity, we are not alone in this endeavor, nor have we ever been. Withdrawn from the hurly-burly, the noise and pollution, and unknown to the vast majority of people (particularly those in western countries), there exists a large group of highly evolved, perfected men, who, from behind the scenes, are actively engaged in all aspects of life on Earth. They are the senior members of the spiritual hierarchy, (spoken of by H.P. Blavatsky, Helena and Nicholas Roerich and Alice A Bailey among others) the Masters of Wisdom and Lords of Compassion.

The Masters are our elder brothers, those who have gone ahead of us, and have become perfected. They are the custodians of the plan of evolution, yes, according to the esoteric literature there is a plan, one that involves all the kingdoms of nature including the human and works towards total harmony.

At the head of the hierarchy sits Maitreya, the World Teacher. Maitreya is awaited by all the world’s religions under different names: He is Krishna, for the Hindu, the Imam Mahdi for Muslims, Maitreya Buddha expected by Buddhists, and embodying the Christ Consciousness, the second aspect of divinity, the energy of Love, Maitreya is the Christ the Lord of Love, the Prince of Peace – a deeply controversial statement that many Christians will no doubt resolutely reject.

Maitreya is the teacher for this time and He is once again among us waiting for the most positive moment to step forward into full public view and begin His open work. This is the message that British artist and writer Benjamin Creme shared with the world for over forty years. I first heard him speak in 1987 and although I had no knowledge of such things I intuitively recognized that what he said was true.

According to Creme, Maitreya has been in the everyday world since July 19th 1977 when He “descended from His ancient retreat in the Himalayas” and entered His ‘point of focus” as it is called” – London, England. Maitreya is a teacher in the broadest sense He comes for everyone as our brother and friend. He will offer advice, guidance on how the crises that weigh so heavily on humanity can be overcome “My task will be to show you how to live together peacefully as brothers. This is simpler than you imagine, My friends, for it requires only the acceptance of sharing” – from Message no. 82 (of 140 messages given by Maitreya between September 1977 and June 1982). Sharing is crucial: when we share, we create the conditions in which trust and justice can come into being, and when these are present peace between people becomes possible conversely, without trust and (social) justice there will never be peace.

To claim that the World Teacher is here and waiting for the right moment to emerge is, of course, deeply contentious, and many may dismiss it out of hand. But whilst the appearance of the teacher – a Buddha or Christ figure – is indeed extraordinary it is not unusual. We have lost sight of ourselves and our long past historically a teacher has always come forth from the spiritual hierarchy at particular times of crisis or transition and we are living through such a time. So why should now be any different? Look at the world it is in a state of enormous turmoil, of division and pain, opportunity and awakening. On the one hand huge numbers of people throughout the world are calling for change, for justice and freedom, an end to racism and hate and for substantive action to tackle the environmental emergency. In the opposite corner are the reactionary fearful forces that are desperate to stop progress and to maintain the cruel status quo. It is these very forces that are the major obstacle to change and the swift emergence of Maitreya, who is the harbinger of the new.

Their weapons of choice are fear and division, interconnected poisons that feed on each other, and that once embedded can tear people apart, feeding hatred and anger, within a family, a society or nation. One of the loudest expressions of the reactionary strain in recent years has been the rise of political populism, and with it tribal nationalism, intolerance and isolationism. With the fall of Trump – a hugely significant and positive event for the world – this destructive movement has lost one of its leading cheerleaders. Others will gradually fall by the wayside and become increasingly marginalized figures.

After decades of tension there is a real sense now that the tide is finally turning, a feeling that a pivotal point has been crossed. Few can deny that change is underway as a guide to the direction of such change, which must be measured and ordered, and the nature of our actions, Maitreya advises us to “Take your brother’s need as the measure for your action and solve the problems of the world. There is no other course.”

The momentum will continue to increase, dynamically gaining greater and greater strength, leading to the inculcation of totally new structures and modes of living. And as resistance is overcome, not through conflict, but by growing awareness and the weight of collective will, the space into which Maitreya can step forward will open up, allowing for what one of the Masters describes as the “Dispensation of Love” to take place.

This article was posted on Wednesday, November 18th, 2020 at 12:24am and is filed under General, Opinion.

Watch the video: Ancient Chinese Inventions (July 2022).


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