In the center, we come to another popular
figure. You might be surprised to learn that the monk Maitreya, known as
"the Happy Buddha" (or "Laughing Buddha"), is in fact not a
Buddha at all, but a Bodhisattva. He was a companion of the Buddha, whom
the Buddha designated as the next Buddha-but it hasn't happened yet.
The system is something like this: A Buddha
comes and teaches. Then, over the years, his teachings degrade and finally
disappear, like an echo. Then another Buddha appears, to restore the
teaching. Succeeding Buddhas are always recognized by their predecessors.
This is not a matter of "choosing" a Buddha; rather, the current
Buddha recognizes the advanced cultivation in one of his followers, and
validates his accession.
When he knew the Buddha, Maitreya
was all skin and bones. How did he come to be portrayed as fat and jolly?
The answer lies in one of his
Chinese incarnations. There was a historical monk who lived around the end
of the Tang Dynasty-say in the late ninth or early tenth century. A
scholar and a wanderer, he always carried with him a bag made of hemp, which
earned him the nickname "Pu Tai," or Cloth Bag. Although
homeless, and virtually without possessions, he was always cheerful. He
begged, he taught, he predicted the weather and told fortunes. And he
distributed goods freely from his sack, like a big Buddhist Santa Claus.
Finally, when he died he left a verse, according to tradition. It read:
Maitreya is a real Maitreya, who manifests
uncountable transformed bodies.
Constantly he manifests before living beings
who are not able to recognize them!
Thus people believed that the cheerful Pu Tai
was in fact a manifestation of Maitreya Bodhisattva, and in China Maitreya is
still portrayed in the form of Pu Tai. Because of his
"prosperous" look, and his custom of giving from his bag, his
attribute is "Great Generosity" or "Great Benevolence."
Many people petition him for wealth and good luck. I have chosen in the
Intention section to concentrate on his happiness as a sign of well-balanced
In front of Maitreya Bodhisattva
O Maitreya, Bodhisattva of Great Benevolence!
I ask you to help me gain control over my feelings and destroy all unwholesome emotions.
Through your great generosity to all, you have conquered your emotions and you have become known as The Happy Buddha.
Through your great goodwill, you have shown us that happiness can be attained through giving, and you have secured your place as the Buddha-to-come.
Let me also, by cultivating benevolence, attain this excellence.
Help me to conquer greed, fear, anger, jealousy, and other destructive emotions.
Help me to practice right giving and open-heartedness,
that I, too, may become a Buddha,
and that I may dedicate further merit to the enlightenment of all sentient beings.
O great One Who Possesses Loving-Kindness, hear my prayer!
O great Maitreya Bodhisattva, hear my prayer!