At this time of year it is traditional, in Chinese temples and at many OBC temples, to celebrate the Festival of Maitreya Bodhisattva (on the Lunar New Year in Chinese temples and at the secular New Year in OBC temples). Maitreya, who’s name means something like “the friendly one who possesses loving-kindness” is venerated as the Bodhisattva who is said to be in line to be the next Buddha of this world. Maitreya appears in many places throughout the Buddhist canon, and there is an interesting story about him in the beginning of the Lotus Sutra.
It is said that Maitreya, in a former existence, was a bodhisattva in training named Fame Seeker who was “…greedily attached to the development of gain, and though he read and recited many sutras repeatedly, none of them penetrated and stuck, for he forgot and lost almost all. So he was named Fame Seeker. This man also, because he had planted many roots of goodness, was able to meet innumerable hundred thousand myriad kotis of Buddhas, whom he worshiped, revered, honored, and extolled”.
I suppose he was called Fame Seeker because he was all caught up in his concerns about what others thought of him and, like many of us, let those thoughts get in the way of doing something a bit more substantial in his life. I always quite appreciate this aspect of Maitreya’s story and find it encouraging. Here is the great Maitreya, living out his life as a mostly perfected Celestial Bodhisattva there in the Tushita heaven and he once was a regular human being who I can relate to.
It is, of course, excellent to make and follow through on our various intentions to help ourselves and those around us and one thing a story like this helps me to work on, is letting go of the self-judgement and recrimination that arises in my mind when I backslide.
Sometimes, because of that judgement, a kind of despairing voice arises asking “what is the point in making vows and resolutions that I will most likely fail at?” But the thing is, like Maitreya, we are also doing other things which have merit and those things will eventually lend their help in overcoming our obstacles, helping us follow through on our resolve. Making a resolve, even if we fall down, generates its own merit which will bear fruit in our future success if we do not give up.
As Dogen says, our eventual success is built upon a thousand failures.