Most Buddhists believe in the prophecy of Maitreya as a bodhisattva who will descend from Tusita (the closest Christian analogy is heaven) to Earth, become enlightened, and teach the pure Dharma. Maitreya is believed to incarnate after the teachings of Gautama (Dharma) have been forgotten. Instead of entering nirvana, Maitreya remains embodied so he or she can help and teach the rest of us in the building of a new world. The arrival of Maitreya marks the end of what Buddhists call the middle time, a low point of human existence on Earth.
Although Maitreya, arguably, originated with Buddhist thought, other spiritual movements and religions — including Islam, Zoroastrianism, Bahai, theosophy, the ascended master teachings, and others — have adopted the concept.
Throughout recorded history, individuals have claimed to be Maitreya, usually to form a minor Buddhist sect or cult.
One of the modern followings, Share International — an outgrowth of theosophy — believes Maitreya fulfills the prophecies of most major religions: Christianity (the second coming of Christ); Hinduism (the Kalki avatar of Vishnu); Islam (the Imam Mahdi); Judaism (the Jewish Messiah). Benjamin Creme, the originator of Share International, and his followers believe that Maitreya was embodied in the Himalayas and moved to London in 1977 and then to the US, emerging gradually so as not to impede free will. Largely as a reaction to Creme’s activities, the evangelical Christians (mostly in the US) claim Maitreya to be the Antichrist. Ironically, Creme and his followers do not claim Maitreya as a religious leader; only that Maitreya will unite the global population to reorder social priorities, making food, housing, education, and medical care universal human rights.
Creme’s belief is that Maitreya will not reveal him or herself until the “Day of Declaration,” at which time he or she will acknowledge the embodiment. On 14 January 2010, Creme announced that Maitreya had given an interview on American television, but did not reveal the individual’s identity. Could it be that the interview to which Creme refers took place on the 12 January 2010 episode of The Colbert Report?
Earlier this week, Scott James writing in the New York Times, claims that Share International adherents have identified Maitreya as Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System and The Value of Nothing. Because he’s a lefty, advocating paying true costs for what we consume, pointing out the failure of the free market, and recommending that we draft our politicians (think ancient Athens) the right wingnuts are going to have a field day with Patel.
Interestingly, Patel meets all of Creme’s criteria: Age, race, life experiences, and philosophies. Patel, of course, denies being Maitreya. So, is he Maitreya? Doubtful since the core tenet of the Buddhist prophecy — that Maitreya won’t embody in human form until the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama Buddha (Dharma) have all been forgotten — has by no means happened. Does it matter? Not in the least. Patel is doing good work. That matters.
Imagine that, Maitreya outed by the New York Times. What if?