There are two major points of Buddhist eschatology: the appearance of Maitreya and the Sermon of the Seven Suns.
Buddha described his teachings disappearing five thousand years from his passing, corresponding approximately to the year 4600 CE. At this time, knowledge of dharma will be lost as well. The last of his relics will be gathered in Bodh Gaya and cremated. There will be a new era in which the next Buddha Maitreya will appear, but it will be preceded by the degeneration of human society. This will be a period of greed, lust, poverty, ill will, violence, murder, impiety, physical weakness, sexual depravity and societal collapse, and even the Buddha himself will be forgotten.
The earliest mention of Maitreya is in the Cakavatti (Sihanada) Sutta in Digha Nikaya 26 of the Pali Canon.
“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”— Digha Nikaya, 26.
Maitreya Buddha is then foretold to be born in the city of Ketumatī in present-day Benares, whose king will be the Cakkavattī Sankha. Sankha will live in the former palace of King Mahāpanadā, but later will give the palace away to become a follower of Maitreya.
In Mahayana Buddhism, Maitreya will attain bodhi in seven days, the minimum period, by virtue of his many lives of preparation. Once Buddha, he will rule over the Ketumati Pure Land, an earthly paradise sometimes associated with the Indian city of Varanasi or Benares in Uttar Pradesh. In Mahayana Buddhism, Buddhas preside over a Pure Land (the Buddha Amitabha presides over the Sukhavati Pure Land, more popularly known as the Western Paradise).
At this time he will teach humanity of the ten non-virtuous deeds (killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, divisive speech, abusive speech, idle speech, covetousness, harmful intent and wrong views) and the ten virtuous deeds (the abandonment of: killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, divisive speech, abusive speech, idle speech, covetousness, harmful intent and wrong views). He is described by Conze in Buddhist Scriptures:
The Lord replied, ‘Maitreya, the best of men, will then leave the Tuṣita 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.”‘— Buddhist Scriptures by Edward Conze
He currently resides in Tushita, but will come to Jambudvipa as successor to the historic Śākyamuni Buddha. Maitreya will achieve complete enlightenment during his lifetime, and following this reawakening, he will bring back the timeless teaching of dharma to this plane and rediscover enlightenment.
Sermon of the Seven Suns
In the Sattasūriya sutta (sermon of the “Seven Suns”) in the Aňguttara Nikăya of the Pali Canon, the Buddha describes the ultimate fate of the world in an apocalypse that will be characterized by the consequent appearance of seven suns in the sky, each causing progressive ruin until the Earth is destroyed:
All things are impermanent, all aspects of existence are unstable and non-eternal. Beings will become so weary and disgusted with the constituent things that they will seek emancipation from them more quickly. There will come a season, O monks, when after hundreds of thousands of years, rains will cease. All seedlings, all vegetation, all plants, grasses and trees will dry up and cease to be…There comes another season after a great lapse of time when a second sun will appear. Now all brooks and ponds will dry up, vanish, cease to be.— Aňguttara-Nikăya, 7.66
The canon goes on to describe the progressive destruction of each sun. A third sun will dry the mighty Ganges and other great rivers. A fourth will cause the great lakes to evaporate, and a fifth will dry the oceans. Finally the final suns will appear:
Again after a vast period of time a sixth sun will appear, and it will bake the Earth even as a pot is baked by a potter. All the mountains will reek and send up clouds of smoke. After another great interval a seventh sun will appear and the Earth will blaze with fire until it becomes one mass of flame. The mountains will be consumed, a spark will be carried on the wind and go to the worlds of God….Thus, monks, all things will burn, perish and exist no more except those who have seen the path.— Aňguttara-Nikăya, 7.66
The sermon completes with the planet engulfed by a vast inferno.
Buddhists believe that the historical Buddha Shakyamuni is only the latest in a series of Buddhas that stretches back into the past. The belief in the decline and disappearance of Buddhism in the world has exerted significant influence in the development of Buddhism since the time of the Buddha. In Vajrayana Buddhism and various other forms of esoteric Buddhism, the use of tantra is justified by the degenerate state of the present world. The East Asian belief in the decline of the Dharma (called mappo in Japanese) was instrumental in the emergence of Pure Land Buddhism. Within the Theravada tradition, debate over whether Nirvana was still attainable in the present age helped prompt the creation of the Dhammayutt Order in Thailand.
In China, Buddhist eschatology was strengthened by the Daoist influence: the messianic features of Maitreya are widely emphasized. The figure of Prince Moonlight 月光童子 obtains prominence unknown in the Sanskrit sources. Thus, one of the Tang dynasty apocrypha predicts his rebirth in the female form, thus creating religious legitimacy for the Wu Zetian Empress’s usurpation. Furthering the Daoist associations, the “Sutra of Samantabhadra” portrays Prince Moonlight dwelling on the Penglai Island in a cave.
Buddhism believes in cycles in which life span of human beings changes according to human nature. In Cakkavati sutta the Buddha explained the relationship between life span of human being and behaviour. As per this sutta, In the past unskillful behavior was unknown among the human race. As a result, people lived for an immensely long time — 80,000 years — endowed with great beauty, wealth, pleasure, and strength. Over the course of time, though, they began behaving in various unskillful ways. This caused the human life span gradually to shorten, to the point where it now stands at 100 years, with human beauty, wealth, pleasure, and strength decreasing proportionately. In the future, as morality continues to degenerate, human life will continue to shorten to the point where the normal life span is 10 years, with people reaching sexual maturity at five.
Ultimately, conditions will deteriorate to the point of a “sword-interval,” in which swords appear in the hands of all human beings, and they hunt one another like game. A few people, however, will take shelter in the wilderness to escape the carnage, and when the slaughter is over, they will come out of hiding and resolve to take up a life of skillful and virtuous action again. With the recovery of virtue, the human life span will gradually increase again until it reaches 80,000 years, with people attaining sexual maturity at 500.
According to Tibetan Buddhist literature, the first Buddha lived 1,000,000 years and was 100 cubits tall while the 28th Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama (563BC–483BC) lived 80 years and his height was 20 cubits. This is on par with the Hindu eschatology which says this age to be the 28th Kaliyuga.
In other traditions, such as Zen, a somewhat utilitarian view is taken. The notion often exists that within each moment in time, both birth and death are manifest. As the individual “dies” from moment to moment, they are equally “reborn” in each successive moment, in what one perceives as an ongoing cycle. Thus the practitioner’s focus is shifted from considerations regarding an imagined future endpoint, to mindfulness in the present moment. In this case, the worldview is taken as a functional tool for awakening the practitioner to reality as it exists, right now.
- Germano, David (2012). Embodying the Dharma: Buddhist Relic Veneration in Asia. State University of New York Press. p. 14. ISBN9780791484401.
- Hooper, Rev. Richard (April 20, 2011). End of Days: Predictions of the End From Ancient Sources. Sedona, AZ. p. 156.
- “Sutta Pitaka, Digha Nikaya, Pāli Canon”. p. 26. Archived from the original on 2012-05-05.
- Vipassana.info, Pali Proper Names Dictionary: Metteyya
- “《彌勒上生經》與《彌勒下生經》簡介”(PDF). Retrieved 2012-11-27.
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