The Maitreya Buddha
"OM Buddha Maitreya Mem"
Fire of great kindness
OM Buddha Maitreya Mem
Maitreya is a bodhisattva revered by Buddhists of most schools. His name derives from the Sanskrit word maitri meaning caring or "loving-kindness" (in Pali, metta.) He is one of the few deities depicted in paryanka asana -- seated with legs hanging, like a Westerner. He is currently believed to be functioning in the Tushita heaven, and will be born on earth for the benefit of beings 4, 000 years [or 5, 000, according to another source] after the passing of Shakyamuni Buddha.
A scriptural source for this date is Shakyamuni's response to Shariputra's questions (The Surangama Sutra.) He responded that Maitreya would appear before the last of The Five Disappearances:
And, regarding that last disappearance:
Various groups, including authorities of belief systems other than Buddhism, calculate the date according to their own agendas.
On 16 hectares of land near the Bodhgaya temple in the Indian state of Bihar state, the new statue of the seated figure of Maitreya will be three times as tall as the Statue of Liberty, and is intended to last for 1,000 years. The 500-foot (152.4 m.) bronze-clad statue designed and constructed by an international group of architects and engineers will have an inner steel framework.
The five-year project will cost around $200 million to be raised through donations. Bihar is one of the poorest regions in India, and the project which includes a village complex will create over 1,000 jobs for local people. The Indian Government plans to build an airport nearby.
Laughing Buddha or Fat Buddha
Bodhisattva Maitreya (Chin: Mileh-fo and Japan: Miroku Butsu or Bosatsu) is often depicted as a fat, laughing monk whose belly some considered auspicious to rub.
He is also referred to as The Monk with the Cloth Bag. However, that image is based upon Chang Dingzi (907-1060) a Buddhist monk who was a native of Chekiang Province. He was an itinerant who wandered about at the end of the Tang and beginning of the Wu-Tai Dynasties propagating the Dharma. Though dressed only in thin monk's robes, he could lie on the snow without getting cold and wet, and he also had the ability of foreseeing the future. One story says that he had an eye on his back; perhaps he saw the past, too.
Besides being a yogi, he was also a learned man, but everyone addressed him as Pu Tai -- 'calico bag' or 'cloth bag' after the large bundle that he carried wherever he went. He soon became worshipped as the incarnation of Maitreya.
It is possible that the fat belly is symbolic shorthand for the Chinese idiom that is used to express someone who is exceedingly tolerant -- has a "big stomach." The monk may really have been fat, or since Maitreya is a bodhisattva with limitless compassion, the quality of character that is shown by an actual "big stomach" is further emphasized by the laughing expression and a version that has numerous, little children (noisy, too, no doubt) swarming over him. As Laughing Buddha, he is called in one Chinese transliteration, "Ta-pao Mi-Lei-Fwo."
The fat belly and the children later led women to rub the belly of images of Mileh Fo a.k.a. Pu Tai, in hopes of conceiving children through his influence.