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Artistic representation of Maitreya from Gandhara, 2nd century

Maitreya (Sanskritमैत्रेय; PaliMetteyya) is regarded in Buddhism as the Buddha of the future and the great coming world teacher. The name is probably derived from the Sanskrit word "maitri", which means "universal love". His coming is predicted, depending on the source, to be 3,000, 5,000 years or 30,000 years after Buddha Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama). Rudolf Steiner has stated that the Maitreya will ascend to Buddhahood exactly 5,000 years after Gautama Buddha, that is, in the sixth post-Atlantean cultural period.

Coming 5th Buddha of this Aeon

As the coming Buddha, Maitreya is the only Bodhisattva recognised in Theravada Buddhism. He is also known in Mahayana and is particularly important in Tibetan Buddhism. There he is one of the so-called Eight Great Bodhisattvas, also called the Eight Great Sons of Buddha. In Tibet's first monastery, Samye, one of the four large temples on the side of the main temple is dedicated to Maitreya. According to the Pali canon, Maitreya is currently and until his appearance on earth in the "Tushita" heaven, the fourth and most beautiful of the six deva worlds, where all Buddhas live before their final rebirth. In this life his name is Nathadeva.

The historically known depictions sometimes show Maitreya standing, but mostly sitting. Unlike other Buddha or Bodhisattva images, his feet touch the ground, symbolising that he has not yet fully taken his place. In his left hand he holds a water vessel in many depictions.

Reception in the West

The belief in the appearance of a future world teacher is present in various religions and religious movements. In the West, the myth of the appearance of a future Buddha has been taken up and treated many times in theosophy and esotericism, whereby the original Buddhist teachings in this regard were partly rejected and partly reinterpreted in the sense of the respective movement.

In the West, Rudolf Steiner in particular has dealt significantly with the Maitreya phenomenon, but also, for example, the Turkologist Annemarie von Gabain and the religious philosopher Volker Zotz (among others).

Rudolf Steiner on the Maitreya Buddha

The future Maitreya Buddha will ascend to Buddha-dignity in the sixth post-Atlantean cultural epoch. Until then he will incarnate again and again as a Bodhisattva on earth. One hundred years before Christ he was incarnated as Jeshu ben Pandira. He lived in this incarnation as an important leader of the Essenes and taught that the time would soon come when the Christ would appear in the physical body.

„Before the Christ appeared on earth through the Mystery of Golgotha, the doctrine of the Christ was also prepared. The physical Christ was also proclaimed at that time. It was mainly Jeshu ben Pandira, a hundred years before Christ, who was the forerunner and herald. He too had the name Jesus, and he was called Jesus ben Pandira, son of Pandira, in distinction from the Christ Jesus. The latter lived about a century before our era. You don't need to be a clairvoyant to know this, for it is written in rabbinical writings, and this fact has often been the cause of confusing him with the Christ Jesus. Jeshu ben Pandira was first stoned and then hung on the stakes of the cross. Jesus of Nazareth was really crucified first.

Who was this Jeshu ben Pandira? He is a great individuality who has been incarnated once in almost every century since Buddha's time - that is, six hundred years before our era - to bring humanity forward. To understand him, we have to go back to the Buddha's being. We know that Buddha lived as the royal son of the house of Sakja five and a half centuries before our era. The individuality that became the Buddha at that time was not already a Buddha before. Buddha, that king's son who brought the teaching of compassion to humanity, was not born as a Buddha then. For Buddha is not an individuality, Buddha is a dignity. That Buddha was born as a Bodhisattva and was raised to Buddha in the twenty-ninth year of his life, when he sat absorbed in meditation under the Bodhi tree and brought down the teaching of compassion from the spiritual heights into the physical world. He was a bodhisattva before, so also in his previous incarnations, and then he became a Buddha. But now the position of a Bodhisattva, that is, the position of a teacher of humanity in physical form, became vacant for a certain age and had to be filled again. When the Bodhisattva who incarnated here ascended to the Buddha in the twenty-ninth year of his life, the dignity of Bodhisattva was immediately transferred to another individuality. So we have to speak of the successor of the Bodhisattva who ascended to the Buddha-dignity here. The successor of the Gautama Buddha Bodhisattva became that individuality which at that time, a hundred years before Christ, was incarnated as Jesus ben Pandira, as a herald of the Christ in the physical body.

He is now the Bodhisattva of humanity, until one day, after three thousand years, counting from today, he will in turn ascend to become a Buddha. So it will take him just five thousand years to become a Buddha from a Bodhisattva. He, who has been embodied once almost every hundred years since then, is also embodied now and will be the actual proclaimer of the Christ in the etheric clothing, just as he then proclaimed the Christ in advance as the physical Christ. And many of us will experience for ourselves that in the thirties there will be people - and later in the course of this century more and more - who will see the Christ in etheric form. Spiritual science is there to prepare this, and everyone who collaborates in the work of spiritual science helps in this preparation.

The way in which humanity is taught by the leaders, but especially by a Bodhisattva who will become the Maitreya Buddha, changes enormously in the periods of time. The way spiritual science is taught today could not have been taught in the Greco-Latin times, no one would have understood it then. At that time, the Christ being had to physically and visibly exemplify the goal of development, and only in this way could he work at that time.

Spiritual research spreads this teaching more and more among people, and more and more people will learn to understand the Christ Impulse until the Christ Himself has moved into them. Today, through the word of the larynx, it is possible to make the goal comprehensible in concepts and ideas, through thinking, and to influence the souls in a good sense, in order to warm and inspire them to aesthetic and moral ideals. In the following periods of time, however, the language of today will be replaced by more powerful impulses of stimulation than is possible today through language alone. Then language, the word, will have the effect that in it, the word itself, there are forces which transmit movements of mind from soul to soul, from master to disciple, from the Bodhisattva to all who do not turn away from him. Language will then be able to be a carrier of aesthetic emotions. But this requires the dawn of a new age. In our time it would not be possible even for the Bodhisattva to exert such effects through the larynx as will then be possible.

And in the last period, before the great war of all against all, it will be in such a way that, just as today speech is a vehicle of thoughts and ideas and later will be a vehicle of the mind, so in the last period speech will carry and transmit from soul to soul the moral, the moral impulses of will. Today the word cannot yet have a moral effect. Our larynx, as it is today, cannot yet produce such words. But such a spiritual power will one day exist. Words will be spoken with which man will receive moral power.

Three thousand years from today, the above-mentioned Bodhisattva will become a Buddha, and then his teaching will immediately pour out impulses into humanity. He will be the one foreseen by the ancients: the Buddha-Maitreya, a bringer of good. He has the task of preparing men to understand the actual Christ-impulse. He has the task of directing people's eyes more and more to that which can be loved, of allowing more and more of that which can be spread as a theory to run into moral waters, so that in the end all that man can possess in thought will be poured into morality. And while today it is still quite possible for a man to be very clever but immoral, we are approaching an age in which it will be impossible for man to be both clever and immoral at the same time. It will be impossible for cleverness and immorality to go hand in hand.“ (Lit.:GA 130, p. 119ff)

„How does he prepare himself? By developing, above all, these qualities, which are called the good ones, to the highest degree. The bodhisattva develops to the highest degree what can be called devotion, serenity towards fate, attention to all the processes of our environment, devotion to all beings and insight. And although many lives of the future Buddha are necessary, in his embodiments he exhausts himself mainly in looking up to what is happening, even if what he is doing now is hardly much, because he is preparing himself completely for his future mission. This is achieved by the fact that there is a special law for this Bodhisattva in particular. We will understand this law when we consider that there is the possibility that at a certain age of life a complete upheaval of our soul life may occur.

The greatest such reversal that ever took place was at the baptism of John. There it happened that the I of Jesus left the flesh in the thirtieth year of life, and another I entered: the I of the Christ, the leader of the solar beings.

The future Maitreya Buddha will relive a similar change. But in a very different way he relives such a turnaround in his incarnations. The Bodhisattva lives the life of Christ, and those who are initiated know that in each incarnation he shows very special peculiarities. Especially in the period from the thirtieth to the thirty-third year of life, one will always notice that a tremendous change occurs in his life. There, even if not in such an enormous way as in the case of the Christ, the soul is replaced: the I, which until then had animated the body, goes out at this time, and the Bodhisattva basically becomes a completely different person from what he had been until then, even if in him, as in the case of the Christ Jesus, the I does not cease and is replaced by another I. This is what all occultism is about. That is what all occultists have in common, that one cannot recognise him before this moment, before this transformation. Until then - though devoted to everything with the keenest interest - his mission will not be particularly prominent, and even if the change is certain to come, one can never say what will happen to him then. The earlier period of youth is always quite different from that into which he is transformed between the ages of thirty and thirty-three.

Thus he prepares himself for a great event. It will be like this: The old self goes out and another self enters. And this can be such an individuality as that of Moses, Abraham, Elijah. This will then be active in this body for some time; through this, what must happen in order to prepare the Maitreya-Buddha can happen. The rest of his life he then lives in such a way that he continues to live with this I who enters.

So what happens is like a complete change. But what is necessary to recognise the Bodhisattva can happen. And then one knows that when he appears in three thousand years and is raised to the dignity of the Maitreya Buddha, his I will remain in him, but will be permeated inwardly by another individuality. And this will happen in his thirty-third year, in that year in which the Mystery of Golgotha took place with Christ. And then he will appear as the teacher of good, as a great teacher who will prepare the right teaching of the Christ and the right wisdom of the Christ in a quite different way than can happen today. Spiritual science is to prepare that which is one day to take hold on our earth.“ (Lit.:GA 130, p. 136ff)


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  • Volker Zotz: Maitreya. Kontemplationen Über den Buddha der Zukunft. Mit einem Geleitwort von Anagarika Govinda. Hann Münden 1984, ISBN 3-87998-054-3 - eine religionswissenschaftliche Untersuchung aus buddhologischer Sicht
  • Valentin Tomberg: Die vier Christusopfer und das Erscheinen des Christus im Ätherischen. Schönach (Achamoth Verlag) 1994
  • Elisabeth Vreede/Thomas Meyer: Die Bodhisattvafrage, Basel 1989
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  • Hermann Keimeyer: Wie findet man die Meister in höheren Welten?, 2 Bände, Überlingen 2004/2005
  • Martin Kriele: Anthroposophie und Kirche. Erfahrungen eines Grenzgängers, Freiburg - Basel - Wien 1996
  • Willi Seiß, Das Erscheinen des Christus im Ätherischen – ein zentrales Anliegen Tombergs. In: Valentin Tomberg: Leben – Werk – Wirkung, Band II, Schaffhausen 2000, S. 46 – 58
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  • Martinus: Das Ewige Weltbild, Band 2, Martinus Institut, Kopenhagen 2001
  • Martinus: Die Menschheit und das Weltbild, Kleine Schriften Nr. 8, Martinus Institut Kopenhagen 1998
  • Uwe Todt: Anthroposophie und Martinus Geisteswissenschaft. Aspekte eines zukünftigen Christentums, Novalis Verlag 2016, ISBN 978-3-941664-51-7, Verlagsauskunft , contents
  • Uwe Todt: Martinus – Leben und Werk, Band I.: Martinus‘ Leben 1890-1981, eine Biographie, Novalis Verlag, Schaffhausen 2007; Band II.: Sein Werk. Ein zusammenfassender Überblick mit geisteswissenschaftlicher Erörterung, Novalis Verlag, Schaffhausen 2008, ISBN 978-3-907260-46-3 und ISBN 978-3-907260-48-7; Rezension (Günter Röschert)
  • Uwe Todt: Kosmisches Wissen. Der neue Weltimpuls des Dänen Martinus, Novalis 2012, ISBN 978-3-941664-30-2, contents
  • Rudolf Steiner: Das Ereignis der Christus-Erscheinung in der ätherischen Welt, GA 118 (1984), ISBN 3-7274-1180-5 English: German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub
  • Rudolf Steiner: Das Matthäus-Evangelium, GA 123 (1988), ISBN 3-7274-1230-5 English: German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub
  • Rudolf Steiner: Das esoterische Christentum und die geistige Führung der Menschheit, GA 130 (1987), ISBN 3-7274-1300-X English: German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub
References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
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Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English.
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.
This article is partly based on the article Maitreya from the free encyclopedia de.wikipedia and is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike. Wikipedia has a list of authors available.