Imagine this news bulletin: “A person claiming to be Maitreya Buddha who is the next Buddha after Gautama Buddha is teaching and living in India according to government sources.”
It almost goes without saying but there would be a mass exodus to India of all sorts of people who might expect to be saved from their misery by this Buddha—if he really is a Buddha (and how would they know?).
What we would not expect to see is very much excitement over the announcement that the next Buddha can be found within each of us; who might be revealed to us through meditation (dhyana/zen-na). As we might expect, it is much easier to ignore this way of seeing our Maitreya Buddha and, instead, wait for another to appear in the flesh in India on some future day. In the meantime, we can indulge ourselves in mundane existence. We can get a good job. We can raise a family, and spend what leisure time we have left in the pursuit of entertainment. Yep—no time to look within.
But what if Gautama Buddha, some thousands of years ago (some Hindu scholars say he was born in 1887 B.C.) was just one of many important teachers in ancient India, at that time, who sought union with the absolute from within; who, if he were alive and teaching today, would hardly draw much attention? We also might conclude, with very little to contradict our opinion, that the accretion of stories that make up the Buddha legend—one heaped upon the other—are not the product of the original founder but, instead, are those of his followers.
At any rate, my words will not stop anyone from getting on a plane and flying to India should CNN report that Maitreya Buddha has arrived in India or Nepal. Many people believe that the spiritual path is to be found on the outside that inevitably leads to India or Jerusalem, or even Mecca. They believe that pious behavior is the surest sign of a true religious person (I hope these people are familiar with the play, Tartuffe, by Moliere that is a humorous attack on religious hypocrisy). As is often the case, such people, while they are aware of history’s list of religious charlatans—do not, however, consider themselves to be religious dupes—but they are.
While the bulk of mankind has expertise about the things that make up external reality, it would be a mistake to conclude that spiritual wisdom can be approached in an external manner as if one might enroll in a school to learn a trade. And despite what some Buddhist monks may lead others to believe about the monastic community, donning Buddhist robes doesn’t grant access to the very self (pratyatman) which is unchanging and undying. Such a monk who harbors this view the Buddha likened to “a monkey in a lion-skin.”