‘I am not the first Buddha to come upon this earth; nor shall I be the last.
Previously, there were many Buddhas who appeared in this world. In due time, another Buddha will arise in this world, within this world cycle.’
When the Buddha was about to pass away, Ven. Ananda and many other disciples wept. The Buddha said, ‘Enough, Ananda. Do not allow yourself to be troubled. Do not weep. Have I not already told you that it is in the very nature of things that they must pass away. We must be separated from all that is near and dear to us.
The foolish man conceives his idea of Self; the wise man sees there is no ground on which to build the Self. Thus the wise man has a right conception of the world.
He will conclude that all component things will be dissolved again; but the Truth will always remain.’
The Buddha continued:’ Why should I preserve this body when the body of the excellent law will endure? I am resolved. I have accomplished my purpose and have attended to the work set upon me. Ananda, for a long time you have been very near to me in thoughts, words and acts of much love beyond all measure. You have done well, Ananda. Be earnest in effort and you too will soon be free from bondages! You will be free from sensuality, from delusion, and from ignorance.’ Suppressing his tears, Ananda said to the Buddha, ‘Who shall teach us when You are gone?’ And the Buddha advised him to regard His Teaching as the Master.
The Buddha continued again:’ I am not the first Buddha to come upon earth; nor shall I be the last. In due time, another Buddha will arise in this world, a Holy One, a Supremely Enlightened One, endowed with wisdom, in conduct auspicious, knowing the universe, an incomparable leader of men, a master of devas and men. He will reveal to you the same Eternal Truths which I have taught you. He will proclaim a religious life, wholly perfect and pure; such as I now proclaim.’
‘How shall we know him?’ asked Ananda. The Buddha replied, ‘He will be known as Maitreya which means kindness or friendliness.’
Buddhists believe that those people who at present are doing meritorious deeds by leading a religious life will have a chance to be reborn as human beings in the time of Maitreya Buddha and will obtain Nibbana identical with that of Gautama Buddha. In this way they will find salvation through the guidance of His Teaching. His Teaching will become a hope of the remote future for everybody. However, according to the Buddha devout religious people can gain this Nabbanic bliss at any time if they really work for it irrespective of whether a Buddha appears or not.
‘As long as my disciples lead a pure religious life, so long the world will never become empty of Arahantas.’
(Maha Parinibbana Sutta)