The 8th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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2. Buddhist Prophecy
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The Buddhist teachings describe the Kalachakra (Wheel of Time), which revolves in cycles like the Hindu yugas. According to the Maitreyavyankarna ("Prophecy of Maitreya"), Buddha will incarnate as Lord Maitreya ("The Buddha Who Returns") at the end of the present cycle after major geological catastrophes have so changed the face of the planet that he can walk from continent to continent. During his reign, humanity will attain salvation, and even the gods will be liberated from their desires.
The last Hindu Avatar explained the job to Bharata Prince Arjuna, as recorded in the Bhagavad-Gita (4:7-8):
"Whenever there is decay of righteousness... and there is exaltation of unrighteousness, then I Myself come forth... for the destruction of evil-doers, for the sake of firmly establishing righteousness, I am born from age to age."
In the Surangama Sutra, Gautama Buddha told his disciple Sariputta of the signs that precede the end of the age:
"After my decease, first will occur the five disappearances. And what are the five disappearances? The disappearance of attainments [to Nirvana), the disappearance of the method [of doing so], the disappearance of (spiritual) learning, the disappearance of the symbols [of Buddhism), the disappearance of the relics...
"Then when the Dispensation of the perfect Buddha is 5,000 years old, the relics, not receiving reverence and honor will go to places where they can receive them... This, Sariputta, is called the disappearance of relics."
In another conversation with Ananda, recorded in the text Vinya Pitaka (II: 253), the Buddha modified this prophecy, reducing the time by half:
"If, Ananda, women had not retired from the household life to the houseless one, under the doctrine and discipline announced by the Tathagata [another Buddha), Dharma would long endure; a thousand years would the good Dharma abide. But since, Ananda, women have now retired from the household life to the houseless one, under the doctrine and the discipline announced by the Tathagata, not long Ananada, will Dharma endure; but five hundred years, Ananda, until the Dharma abide".
The Chinese Buddhist text Abhidharmakosha (4.12c. III) affords a few more details about this prophecy:
"The monks and stream-attainers will be strong in their union with Dharma for 500 years after the Blessed One’s Parinirvana. In the second 500 years they will be strong in meditation; in the third period of 500 years they will be strong in erudition. In the fourth 500-year period they will only be occupied with gift-giving. The final or fifth period of 500 years will see only fighting and reproving among the monks and followers. The pure Dharma will then become invisible."
In Chapter 26 of Digha Nikaya, we are told:
"At that period, brethren, there will arise in the world an Exalted One named Maitreya, Fully Awakened, abounding in wisdom and goodness, happy, with knowledge of the worlds, unsurpassed as a guide to mortals willing to be led, a teacher for gods and men, an Exalted One, a Buddha, even as I am now. He, by himself, will thoroughly know and see, as it were face to face, this universe, with Its worlds of the spirits, Its Brahmas and Its Maras, and Its world of recluses and Brahmins, of princes and peoples, even as I now, by myself, thoroughly know and see them."
Elsewhere, the Buddha said of Maitreya:
"Maitreya, the best of men, will then leave the Tushita heavens, and go for his last rebirth. As soon as he is born he will walk seven steps forward, and where he puts down his feet a jewel or a lotus will spring up. He will raise his eyes to the ten directions, and will speak these words, ’This is my last birth. There will be no rebirth after this one. Never will I come back here, but, all pure, I shall win Nirvana."
In recent years, a claimant calling himself Maitreya, with headquarters in England, has been offering himself to the world. He was born in 1944 in Iran, and claims to be a descendant of the Iranian king Nader Shad. His apologists offer numerous prophetic "proofs" of his authenticity, but all of them are dubious. In particular, he forgot to walk and talk at birth, and lotuses fail to sprout in his footsteps.
The Gautama Buddha also made this prophecy concerning the advent of Maitreya:
"And the Blessed One said to Ananda, I am not the first Buddha, nor shall I be the last. In due time another Buddha will arise in the world, a Holy One, a supremely enlightened one, endowed with wisdom, auspicious, embracing the Universe, an incomparable Leader of Men, a Ruler of Devas and mortals. He will reveal to you the same eternal truths, which I have taught you. He will establish His Law, glorious in its spirit and in the letter. He will proclaim a righteous life wholly perfect and pure, such as I now proclaim. His disciples will number many thousands while mine number many hundreds.’
"Ananda said, ‘How shall we know Him?’
"The Blessed One said, ‘He will be known as Maitreya.’
In the sacred text Anagatavamsa, the sage Sariputta asked Buddha Arahant about the future Buddha, and was told:
"I am now the perfect Buddha;
And there will be Maitreya too
Before this same auspicious aeon
Runs to the end of its years.
The perfect Buddha, Maitreya,
By name, supreme of men."
On another occasion, Sariputta asked after Maitreya again, and the Buddha replied:
"At that time, the ocean will lose much of its water, and there will be much less of it than now. In consequence a world-ruler will have no difficulties in passing across it. India, this island of Jambu, will be quite flat everywhere, it will measure ten thousand leagues, and all men will have the privilege of living on it. It will have innumerable inhabitants, who will commit no crimes or evil deeds, but will take pleasure in doing good... Human beings are then without any blemishes, moral offenses are unknown among them, and they are full of zest and joy. Their bodies are very large and their skin has a fine hue. Their strength is quite extraordinary. Three kinds of illness only are known --- people must relieve their bowels, they must eat, they must get old...
"Maitreya, the best of men, will then leave the Tushita heavens, and go for his last rebirth into the womb of that woman (Brahmavati)... As soon as he is born he will walk seven steps forward, and where he puts down his feet a jewel or a lotus will spring up. He will raise his eyes to the ten directions, and will speak these words: ’This is my last birth. There will be no more rebirth after this one. Never will I come back here, but, all pure, I shall in Nirvana!’...
"For 60,000 years Maitreya, the best of men, will preach the true Dharma, which is compassionate towards all living beings. And when he has disciplined in his true Dharma hundreds and hundreds of millions of living beings, then that leader will at last enter Nirvana. And after the great sage has entered Nirvana, his true Dharma still endured for another 10,000 years..."
The Buddha also described the decline of religion in the latter days of this age:
"How will it occur? After my decease there will first be five disappearances. What five? The disappearance of attainment (in the Dispensation), the disappearance of proper conduct, the disappearance of learning, the disappearance of outward form, the disappearance of the relics. There will be these five disappearances.
"Here attainment means that for a thousand years only after the Lord’s complete Nirvana will monks be able to practice analytical insights. As time goes on and on these disciples of mine are non-returners and once-returners and stream-winners. There will be no disappearance of attainment for these. But with the extinction of the last stream-winner’s life, attainment will have disappeared....
"The disappearance of proper conduct means that, being unable to practice jhana, insight, the Ways and the fruits, they will guard no more the four entire purities of moral habit. As time goes on and on they will only guard the four offenses entailing defeat. While there are even a hundred or a thousand monks who guard and bear in mind the four offenses entailing defeat, there will be no disappearance of proper conduct. With the breaking of moral habit by the last monk or the extinction of his life, proper conduct will have disappeared...
"The disappearance of learning means that as long as there stand firm the texts with the commentaries pertaining to the word of the Buddha in the three Pitakas, for so long there will be no disappearance of learning. As time goes on and on there will be base-born kings, not Dharma-men; their ministers and so on will not be Dharma-men, and consequently the inhabitants of the kingdom and so on will not be Dharma-men. Because they are not Dharma-men it will not rain properly. Therefore the crops will not flourish well, and in consequence the donors or requisites to the community of monks will not be able to give them the requisites. Not receiving the requisites the monks will not receive pupils. As time goes on and on learning will decay. In this decay the Great Patthana itself will decay first... While a four-line stanza continues to exist among men, there will not be a disappearance of learning. When a king who has faith has had a purse containing a thousand coins placed in a golden casket on an elephant’s back, and has had the drum sounded in the city up to the third time, to the effect that: ’Whoever knows a stanza uttered by the Buddhas, let him take these thousand coins together with the royal elephant’ --- but yet finding no one knowing a four-line stanza, the purse containing the thousand coins must be taken back into the palace again --- then will be the disappearance of learning...
"As time goes on and on each of the last monks, carrying his robe, bowl, and tooth-pick like Jin recluses, having taken a bottle-gourd and turned it into a bowl for alms food, will wander about with it in his hands, thinking, ’What’s the good of this yellow robe?’ and cutting off a small piece of one and sticking it on his nose or ear or in his hair, he will wander about supporting wife and children by agriculture, trade and the like. Then he will give a gift to the Southern community for those of bad moral habit. I say that he will then acquire an incalculable fruit of the gift. As time goes on and on, thinking: ’What’s the good of this to us?’, having thrown away the piece of yellow robe, he will hurry beasts and birds in the forest. At this time the outward form will have disappeared...
"Then when the Dispensation of the Perfect Buddha is 5,000 years old, the relics, not receiving reverence and honor, will go to places where they can receive them. As time goes on and on there will not be reverence and honour for them in every place: from the abode of serpents and the deva-world and the Brahma-world, having gathered together in a space round the great Bo-tree, having made a Buddha-image, and having performed a ’miracle’ like the Twin-miracle, will teach Dharma. No human being will be found at that place. All the devas of the 10,000 world system, gathered together, will hear Dharma []and many thousands of them will attain to Dharma. And these will cry aloud, saying: ’Behold, devatas, a week from today our One of the Ten Powers will attain complete Nirvana.’ They will weep, saying: ’Henceforth there will be darkness for us.’ Then the relics, producing the condition of heat, will burn up that image leaving no remainder.
"That, Sariputta, is called the disappearance of the relics."
The Buddhist sage Nichiren (1222-1282) left these specific notes of the signs of our times:
"When, at a certain future time, the union of the state law and the Buddhist Truth shall be established, and the harmony between the two completed, both sovereign and subjects will faithfully adhere to the Great Mysteries. Then the golden age, such as were the ages under the reign of the sage kings of old, will be realized in these days of degeneration and corruption, in the time of the Latter Law. Then the establishment of the Holy See will be completed, by imperial grant and the edict of the Dictator, at a spot comparable in its excellence with the Paradise of Vulture Peak. We have only to wait for the coming of the time. Then the moral law will be achieved in the actual life of mankind. The Holy See will be the seat where all men of the three countries (India, China and Japan) and the whole jambudvipa (world) will be initiated into the mysteries of confession and expiation; and even the great deities, Brahma and Indra, will come down into the sanctuary and participate in the initiation."
Nicholas Roerich, who traveled in Asia during the 1920s, transmitted this Tibetan prophecy of the end of the present era:
"First will begin an unprecedented war of nations. Afterwards brother will rise against brother. Oceans of blood shall flow. And the people shall cease to understand one another. They shall forget the meaning of the word teacher. But just then shall the Teachers appear and in all the corners of the world shall be heard the true teaching. To this word of truth shall the people be drawn, but those who are filled with darkness and ignorance shall set obstacles. As a diamond glows the light in the tower of the Lord of Shambhala. One stone on his ring is worth more than all the world’s treasure. Even those who by accident help the Teachings of Shambhala will receive in return a hundredfold. Already many warriors of the truth are reincarnated. Only a few years shall elapse before everyone shall hear the mighty steps of the Lord of the New Era. And one can already perceive the unusual manifestations and encounter unusual people. Already they open the gates of knowledge and ripened fruits are falling from the trees..."
For many centuries, the mystical tradition of Agharti (or, Aghartha) and its ruler, the King of the World, has existed in Tibet and Mongolia. Many people believe Agharti to be a real place, a hidden civilization located in a series of huge caverns under Tibet and Mongolia, with secret entrances all over the earth. Whenever the King of the World makes prophecies, the birds and animals on the surface suddenly become silent. Hundreds of years ago, the King of the World uttered a prophecy that pertains to the present state of human society:
"Men will increasingly neglect their souls. The greatest corruption will reign on earth. Men will become like bloodthirsty animals, thirsting for the blood of their brothers. The crescent [[[Wikipedia:Islam|Islam]]] will become obscured, and its followers will descend into lies and perpetual warfare. The crowns of kings will fall.
"There will be terrible war between all the earth’s peoples; entire nations will die --- hunger, crimes unknown to law, formerly unthinkable to the world. The persecuted will demand the attention of the whole world. The ancient roads will be filled with multitudes going from one place to another. The greatest and most beautiful cities will perish by fire. Families will be dispersed; faith and love will disappear. The world will be emptied.
"Within fifty years there will be only three great nations. Then, within fifty years, there will be 18 years of war and cataclysms. Then the peoples of Agharti will leave their subterranean caverns and will appear on the surface of the earth."
The related prophecy of the idyllic hidden kingdom of Shambhala states that each of its 32 kings will rule for 100 years. While they reign, conditions in the outside world will deteriorate. Men will fight more and more wars, seek power for its own sake, and materialism will reign. These modern barbarians will unite under an evil king and conquer the earth. When they think that nothing is left to conquer, the mystic mist will evaporate to reveal Shambhala. The huge army of barbarians will attack Shambhala. King Rudra Cakrin will lead the fight against the invaders, who will be destroyed in a final great battle.