Instructions for Equalizing and Exchanging Our Attitudes about Self and Others
Munich, Germany, November 1982
Session Two: Questions about Maitreya Buddha, No Self and Bodhisattva Activity
Participant: He heard Maitreya will come and he wants to know if it will happen.
Serkong Rinpoche: This is something that will happen in the future. There’s a little time left before. In this world age it has been predicted that one thousand Buddhas will come as universal teachers, and all of these will come during a time when the human life span is declining. The human life span goes through cycles during a world age and the present Buddha, Buddha Shakyamuni, came when the human life span was a hundred on its way down in a declining period. This is still the time of the teachings of the Buddha Shakyamuni. Of the thousand Buddhas of this eon, the present Buddha, Buddha Shakyamuni, is the fourth of these Buddhas and he’s been preceded by the Buddha Kashyapa and two other Buddhas, the first and the second, and the Buddha Maitreya will be the fifth of the thousand.
In the future the human life span will decline and go down until it’s only ten years. In the future the times will become worse and worse. People’s lives will get shorter and shorter. They’ll go through the life span in a shorter period during the life cycle so that eventually their whole life will pass in ten years; and likewise they will become smaller in size and it will reach a very awful state in the world. The people of this time in the future will be extremely aggressive and warlike and will always be fighting with each other. Everyone will be the size of midgets that you see in the circus.
But then, after that terrible period, then the times will change and then the human life span will start to increase. If you ask how (does it come about that) the times will change at that period, it will be because an emanation of Maitreya Buddha will come, and he’ll take the form of an extremely beautiful and attractive person. Everyone will see Maitreya and see him having such a beautiful and attractive form, and they will say how did you get that way? He will answer them and say that I became a beautiful person like this as a result of always having meditated on love. Although all these little people at this time won’t have any idea of how to meditate on love, they’ll start to repeat the word “love” and everybody will be saying “love.” Even just repeating the word “love” like this is something that will have great benefits and eventually the life span of people will start to increase and the situation will start to improve.
Then as the life span increases, this will be the period in the world ages when you have the appearance of universal monarchs who have various types of wheels of authority: those that have golden wheels, those with silver, those with copper, and those with iron wheel of authority. This is the time of these great universal monarchs. Eventually it will reach a point where people will live to be eighty thousand years old. Once it’s reached this peak of eighty thousand years, then again the life span will start to decrease.
When it starts to decrease from eighty thousand years going down, then that’s the time when the next Buddha, Maitreya will come as a universal teacher, when it’s just starting to go down from eighty thousand. The Buddhas all appear as universal teachers when the life span is decreasing and this is because in such a situation when things are getting worse and worse, this causes people to be interested in finding some solution and turning to spiritual matters; whereas, during the periods of time when the life span is increasing and everything is growing better, no one will take interest in trying to find any spiritual path. At that time when the life span of humans has reached such a great length of eighty thousand years, this is a time when everything in the world will be very beautiful and happy; that for instance the land itself will not have rough mountains and difficult areas, but everything will be smooth like a beautiful vast plain.
Unlike the Buddha Shakyamuni who had to demonstrate doing very difficult ascetic practices for six years, this will not be necessary, for in the time when the Buddha Maitreya comes, he’ll only give a very brief indication of difficult practices. Why is that? It’s because Maitreya – whose name means love – as a result of his very intense practice and meditation always of love, and this being his major emphasis, there will be less need for such a difficult practice at his time. That’s the result of his tremendous practice of love.
Maitreya composed a short prayer of love, and he has been practicing and reciting this prayer always, and likewise many others will have said this prayer and this situation of how things will come about at this future time will be the result of all these prayers of love. If now at this present time we follow very well the teachings of the Buddha Shakyamuni, then it has a special feature that we will be reborn among the first of the disciples in the future of the Buddha Maitreya.
Now in answer to your question, if you were asking when would Maitreya come in the form of a supreme emanation of body with all the signs of a Buddha and come as the universal teacher, then this is the time that I’ve described in the far future. But in terms of just ordinary types of emanations of Maitreya, these are present in various different situations and undoubtedly are present now working for the sake of all others.
Participant: How can we benefit future lives and develop love and compassion? How can we influence our future lives, and how can we develop compassion if there is no soul-like substance which can do this?
Serkong Rinpoche: When you hear in the Buddhist teachings that there’s no soul or no self, you shouldn’t think that that means there is absolutely no such thing as a soul or a self. It’s not denying completely everything, because not only do you hear the statement that there’s no self or no identity, but likewise that there are no things. This is in terms of there are no true things. What is being denied is that anything is inherently findable, that ultimately you can find or pinpoint anything. It’s just saying that things aren’t inherently findable but it doesn’t mean that things don’t exist at all. It says that a self or a soul is something that you can’t actually inherently pinpoint and find, but it doesn’t say that there’s no such thing.
Participant: It says that bodhisattva activity lasts until samsara ends. What is the relation of this to sunyata, and how does it relate to the fact that a bodhisattva shouldn’t want to leave samsara and reach nirvana?
Serkong Rinpoche: The bodhisattvas are dedicated beings. They work for the sake of everybody until everybody is free from samsara, and they have the wish that they are not going to achieve enlightenment themselves until everybody is free; but when they say that, that doesn’t mean that they don’t reach enlightenment. They have reached enlightenment. There are many, many Buddhas. The point is that they are not going to reach it just selfishly for themselves until everybody is free. They give that up. They don’t do it just for themselves. They do it for everybody else, and in this way then they work to help everybody. The way in which they actually do reach enlightenment and become free themselves is through understanding voidness.
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