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Bodhisattva Maitreya’s Birthday
by Upasaka Ci De
The first day of the first month of every Chinese Lunar Calendar New Year is the birthday of Bodhisattva Maitreya. I do not know when this began. The Sangha Community must not have been satisfied with having only one birthday to celebrate, namely that of Buddha Shakyamuni, so they instituted days on which to position the birth dates of other Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. The birthday of Buddha Amitabha, for example, is actually the birth date of Chan [Zen] Master Yongming Yanshou of the early Song Dynasty.
For Buddha Maitreya’s birthday, the first day of the first month of the Lunar New Year was chosen. But Bodhisattva Maitreya has been reborn up into Tusita Heaven, and he will not be reborn back down until the Decreasing Kalpas of the tenth small Kalpas when the human lifespan is 80,000 years old. Therefore, where does his birthday come from?
Bodhisattva Maitreya was in fact a true-life human being who was born when Buddha Shakyamuni was alive in the world. Nothing from textual research verifies the Bodhisattva’s authentic date of birth. Chinese people have made the first day of the first month of the Chinese New Year the Bodhisattva’s birthday intending to entreat Maitreya to be reborn soon to transform the human realm into a Pure Land, although this is pushing it a bit.
The Bodhisattva Maitreya had already twice incarnated in China, once as the sack-toting monk and once as Upasaka Fuxi. There are no particulars about the sack-toting monk’s date of birth, but Upasaka Fuxi was born on the 8th day of the 5th month of the lunar calendar (as recorded in the 兜 率 龜 鏡 集 doushuai4 gui jing4 ji4 Tusita Turtle Mirror Collection). Therefore, we ought to make this the birthday of the Bodhisattva. This would be the same as Amitabha Buddha incarnating as Chan Master Yongming who was born on the 17th day of the 11th lunar month, which later became the birthday for Amitabha. The incarnation of Bodhisattva Mahasthama (Mahasthamaprapta) was Grand Master Yinguang who was born on the 13th day of the 7th lunar month and again people later designated this day as this great being’s birthday. Therefore, the date of Upasaka Fuxi’s birth into the world should also be the true birthday of Bodhisattva Maitreya. Moreover, the 15th day of the 2nd lunar month should consequently be the Bodhisattva’s birth up to Tusita and the 8th day of the 4th month the day Maitreya attains Buddhahood.
Be that as it may, Chinese Buddhism has designated the first day of the first lunar month as Bodhisattva Maitreya’s birthday. Also, the first shrine in a temple – The Celestial King Shrine has in its exact center an image of the incarnation of Buddha Maitreya – the bag-toting monk. On the very first day of the Lunar New Year all Buddhist Disciples are permitted to come and create wonderful karmic bonds with Maitreya. This position also lets those who enter the temple see Buddha Maitreya foremost, making a happy karmic bond with Buddha Maitreya as well, whether intentionally or unintentionally. These conditions, which are not deliberate causes and conditions, are all created by the compassionate mind of Bodhisattva Maitreya to receive us as we take our step toward liberation.