The ‘secret’ role of the Thus Come One

Spirit of Early Chinese Buddhism

However religious his basic task and intention, Maitreya could thus appear as a symbol of a different system of order and authority in the world, and hence it is not surprising that he was often viewed with suspicion by official investigators. Nonetheless, in the scripture texts themselves his role is predominantly otherworldly; he comes to rescue the lost from the profane world by reminding them of their sacred roots and showing them the way home to the Eternal Mother. In her heavenly paradise they will enjoy felicity and long life forever or, more precisely, for eighty-one eons, or kalpas. 

Considered in isolation, some of the language related to Maitreya in these books has a political “aroma,” as the Chinese would say. But taken in the larger context of their teaching, Maitreya’s fundamental task is to bring spiritual deliverance; it is this task that is explicitly and repeatedly promised and spelled out, constantly reinforced with exhortations to maintain pious diligence.  There exist scriptures where there is apparently suggestive language about texts subtly revealing ancient secrets concerning “important affairs of the latter realm” (the present world). But in such text it is soon clear that ‘subtle’ refers to the new outpouring of revelation in the third period of world history, that of the “imperial ultimate,”.

Such text’s content is the liberation from samsara of the remaining children of the Eternal Mother, the creator of humankind. Its intention is the restoration of primordial unity as the last act of salvation history which takes place in heaven, beyond the world. The directional language employed is that of departure as well it might be, for at the end of the age the world is in utter chaos (as it is in the present Age).

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