84000 Glossary of Terms

Our trilingual glossary combining entries from all of our publications into one useful resource, giving translations and definitions of thousands of terms, people, places, and texts from the Buddhist canon.

བྱམས་པ། | Glossary of Terms


    byams pa


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The bodhisattva Maitreya is an important figure in many Buddhist traditions, where he is unanimously regarded as the buddha of the future era. He is said to currently reside in Tuṣita heaven, as Śākyamuni’s regent, where he awaits the proper time to take his final rebirth and become the fifth buddha in the Fortunate Eon, reestablishing the Dharma in this world after the teachings of the current buddha have disappeared. He is the only bodhisattva widely accepted outside the Mahāyāna traditions, though his role there is much less central than in the Mahāyāna schools of India, China, Tibet, Japan, Vietnam, and Korea. His future coming as a buddha is predicted in the Pali Canon, where he is mentioned in the Cakkavattisīhanādasutta of the Dīgha Nikāya, and in the Mahāvastu, a canonical text of the Lokottaravāda school of the Mahāsaṅghikas. The prophecy of the future awakening of Maitreya is told in the Mūla­sarvāstivādavinaya, in the Bhaiṣajya­vastu, the sixth chapter of the Vinayavastu (The Chapter on Medicines, Bhaiṣajya­vastu, Toh 1, ch. 6). Within the Mahāyāna sūtras, Maitreya is elevated to the same status as other central bodhisattvas such as Mañjuśrī and Avalokiteśvara, and his name appears frequently in sūtras, either as the Buddha’s interlocutor or as a teacher of the Dharma. His name literally means “Loving One.” He is also known as Ajita.

In the Kangyur, we find a few short sūtras, such as Maitreya’s Rebirth in the Heaven of Joy (Toh 199), describing the circumstances leading to his awakening, his future appearance in the world, and the methods to apply if one wishes to be reborn close to him at that time. On his bodhisattva career and the circumstances for his initial arousing of the mind set on awakening, see Maitreya’s Setting Out (Toh 198). Other sūtras in which previous lives of the bodhisattva Maitreya are recounted include The White Lotus of the Good Dharma (Toh 113), The Sublime Golden Light (Toh 555–57), and The Question of Maitreya (Toh 85). Maitreya also occupies a central role in some of the most famous Mahāyāna sūtras, such as The Teaching of Vimalakīrti (Toh 176), The Rice Seedling (Toh 210), The Stem Array (Toh 44-45), The Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines (Toh 12), and The King of Samādhis (Toh 127).