The Shurangama Sutra, Volume 5, with Commentary by Venerable Master Hsuan Hua

...Maitreya Bodhisattva is also Ajita. Maitreya is his family name, Ajita his given name. Maitreya means "compassionate clan" [ci shi]; Ajita means "invincible" (wu neng sheng).

Perhaps you have seen images of a fat monk in the dining hall in Buddhist temples. Maitreya is that monk. Maybe this Bodhisattva liked to eat good things and got fat that way. He also liked to laugh, but his laugh was not a coarse "Ha! Ha! Ha!" Rather, he always had a big smile on his face. He enjoyed playing with children, and so the children were all fond of him in turn. He was always surrounded by them. After Shakyamuni Buddha retires as the teaching host of this world, Maitreya Bodhisattva will take over the position.

Shakyamuni Buddha is known as the Red-Yang Buddha. When Maitreya Bodhisattva becomes a Buddha, he will be the White-Yang Buddha. This means that when Maitreya Bodhisattva comes to the world as a Buddha, people's blood will be white, not red. People are red-blooded now because of the Red-Yang Buddha.

When will Maitreya Bodhisattva come into the world? It sounds like a long time when you describe it, but it is not actually so long, because from a Bodhisattva's point of view it is but the blink of an eye. How long a time will it be? At present, people's average lifespan is about sixty years. Every hundred years people's lifespan decreases one year and their average height decreases one inch. When these have decreased to the point that people's lifespan is around thirty years, there will be a pestilence. People will die very quickly from the disease, even to the point that they will be dead an hour after they contract it. One may call for a doctor, but the doctor will die along with the rest. Fifty percent of the entire population will succumb to the disease. When the lifespan of the remaining fifty percent reaches twenty-five years, there will be another calamity.

Why must these people die? Because by that time, people's minds will be thoroughly decadent. There will be too many bad people, so heaven and earth will have to eliminate these incorrigibles. They will be unacceptable and will have to be traded in for better ones. In the first plague, then, fifty percent of the people will die. When the average life-span has declined to twenty-five years, there will be a devastating fire. Not only will people all over the earth be burned, but even those in the first dhyana heavens will perish.

Fire burns the first
dhyana. All over the world the seas will be burned dry. Uncountable people will die in the fire. Even so, some people will escape the destruction. When the lifespan of the remaining people reaches about twenty years, there will be a disaster of water. Water drowns the second dhyana. When the lifespan of those who are left is just about twenty, there will be a disaster of wind, which will blow through the third dhyana heaven. Wind rips up the third dhyana.

So it is said,

In the six desire
are the five signs of decay;
Above, in the third
dhyana heavens
is the disaster of
Even if people cultivate and reach
the heaven of neither thought nor non-thought,
It's not as good as going to the Western Land,
and coming back again.

The six desire
heavens are the ones we see overhead; the Heaven of the Four Kings, the Trayastrimsha Heaven, the Suyama Heaven, the Tushita Heaven, the Heaven of the Bliss from Transformations, and the Heaven of the Comfort Gained from Others' Transformations. Beings in these six desire heavens have to endure the five signs of decay:

1) Their floral crowns wilt. The heavenly beings are crowned with flowers. They do not make the crowns; the crowns naturally appear to adorn them. But when the gods are about to die, what do you suppose happens? The flowers fall. Before a heavenly being's time comes to die, the flowers remain ever-fresh.

2) Their clothes get dirty. The clothes worn by the gods and goddesses don't need to be washed, unlike the clothes we people wear, which must be washed after being worn just once. The heavenly beings' clothes don't get dirty until the five signs of decay appear. This is the result of karmic retribution. The filth on their clothing comes from their karmic obstacles. Why do some people smell very bad when they are on the verge of death? Some smell bad even before it's time to die. That is also a result of karma.

3) Their armpits sweat. The gods don't perspire like people do. They never sweat, until they are on the verge of dying.

4) Their entire bodies smell. Ordinarily, the heavenly beings emit a sweet fragrance from their person. When they are about to die, however, they smell bad. Usually, though, they don't have to douse themselves with perfume, because they naturally smell good.

5) They cannot sit still. They can no longer sit like they used to. They keep restlessly getting up and down as if they were crazy. In the midst of this flurry, they get confused, and as soon as that happens, they die. They fall into this world.

Once the
three disasters are over, people's lifespan will decrease to ten years. At that time, people will only reach the height of the dogs of the present day. They will be completely corrupt and act just like horses, cows, and pigs, in that they will have desire from the moment they are born. They will also be able to speak as soon as they are born. They will be capable of sexual desire because,

People's nature flows into emotion;
Emotion flows into desire.

By that time, people will have totally abandoned themselves to desire. They will marry by the time they are two or
three years old, have children, and die by the time they are ten years old. But when the lifespan of people reaches only ten years, an increase will begin. The proportions will be the same: in every century a year will be added to their lifespan and an inch to their average height. It will increase until the lifespan of people reaches 84,000 years. Then a decrease will begin again, and when the lifespan has decreased to 80,000 years, Maitreya Bodhisattva will come into the world and accomplish Buddhahood. Some religious sects say that Maitreya Bodhisattva has already come to become a Buddha. These are words spoken in a dream; basically, those people don't understand the Buddha-dharma. Maitreya's coming will happen in a certain way; you can't just explain it any old way.

When Maitreya Bodhisattva was cultivating the Way, he was always seeking advantage from situations, "climbing on conditions" as it's said in Chinese. He was always hobnobbing and fraternizing with the rich. So although he and Shakyamuni Buddha cultivated together at the same time, Maitreya Bodhisattva didn't become a Buddha as quickly as Shakyamuni Buddha did, since he was always climbing on conditions. I certainly believe that he liked to take advantage of situations; how else would he have gotten so fat? He's fat because he liked to eat good food; he didn't get that way just by laughing.

He arose from his seat, bowed at the Buddha's feet, and said to the Buddha, "I remember when, as many kalpas ago as there are fine motes of dust, a Buddha named Light of Sun, Moon, and Lamp appeared in the world. Under that Buddha I left the home life; yet I was deeply committed to worldly fame and liked to fraternize with people of good family. I was intent on getting a good reputation." "People of good family" refers to large families with lots of money. Every country has its wealthy people, and wherever Maitreya Bodhisattva went he paid no attention to the poor, but went to the homes of the rich to exchange greetings and flatter them. Everywhere he went he also advertised for himself. He was phony this way when he first started to cultivate.

But you shouldn't think of Maitreya Bodhisattva as someone who climbs on conditions, because he eventually stopped doing it. The next passage refers to the time when he had already stopped.

The Shurangama Sutra, Volume 5, with Commentary by Venerable Master Hsuan Hua