​An elixir for restoring youth

The precious book of salvation
Later Chinese Buddhism texts for the most part continue the tradition of Maitreya as one  of a series of saviors. For example, an eighteenth-century text, The precious book of salvation brought by Maitreya, is in the form of vignettes concerning several incarnations of Maitreya, who adopts various guises to save people in different situations in the Soochow area (in China). Though in language and structure this is a sectarian book, its emphasis on Maitreya as a wandering messenger to erring individuals is unusual for this tradition. The theme of the work is set in passages such as the following:

The Buddha Maitreya took leave of the Venerable Mother and descended to the Han land of the nine divisions. City gods and locality gods received his carriage, bowed, and said, “We hope the Buddha in his compassion will save all sentient beings.”

The Buddha replied, “In obedience to the Venerable Mother’s edict I have descended to the world to save all people. You should each with sincerity aid the task of universal salvation, [so as to] together attain the Buddha Way and sit on the heart of the lotus….I have now descended into the world only so that people on the great earth can drive away heresy and return to orthodoxy realize enlightenment and not reject the Venerable Mother’s saving intentions.”

Maitreya transformed himself to save living beings; holding a staff, he roamed about everywhere, observing how the people of the world piled up sins as high as the mountains and did evil as deep as the sea.

MAITREYA AS A WANDERING MESSENGER

To a crowd at the Tiger Hill monastery in Soochow, Maitreya says, “The last age approaches, but you good people do not understand [the significance of] this last age of the teaching, and still go on contending for fame and profit without cease. You have completely forgotten a hope for lodging temporarily in life and returning in death.” The preacher urges his audience “to maintain a vegetarian diet, do good and practice religion according to the true Way”.

In another scene Maitreya transforms himself into a “Confucian physician” carrying a gourdful of medicine on his back and an elixir for restoring youth in his hand. He heals the illnesses of all who come to him “with one dose” and then preaches to them the virtues of a vegetarian diet, repentance, and doing good. He also appears as a ragged scholar who stations himself outside a wine shop, exhorting drunkards to change their ways. In the same form he visits the “flowery streets,” where he preaches about lewd sexual behavior and engages in a debate with two prostitutes (who repent). He also converts an evil rich man, a butcher, a group of rowdy young men using high-pressure sales tactics in a marketplace, and selfish monks in a monastery.

Near the end of this book, Maitreya says, “I leave behind this succinct message to urge people to sincerely and quickly cultivate good karma. All those with karmic potential will together enter the Dragon-flower assembly. All those who listen will awaken to the Way, all those who hear will clarify their minds. [This great message] points out clearly the path to heaven, and sweeps away the darkness of purgatory”. In sum, this is an interesting and lively work that presents Maitreya as an earnest preacher who meets people on their own terms and shows them a better way.

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