National Treasure #78
Three Kingdoms period, late 6th c.
Gilt bronze, 83.2cm (32.75in) high.
National Museum of Korea, Seoul

The Buddha of the Future is shown in a typical, pensive mood. He is contemplating mankind's need for salvation, which will induce him, in an unimaginably distant future, to descend from Tushita Heaven and reinstate Buddha's Law on earth. Until then, humanity can make do with Amitabha, Avalokiteshvara, and Ksitigarbha, who offer release in Heaven, Earth, and Hell respectively. In Korea during the Silla period, Maitreya was the devotional focus of the hwarang, a military organization of aristocratic young men who believed that their leader was an incarnation of this bodhisattva1.

This famous statue is especially praised for the delicate pose of Maitreya's right hand, and more generally for its air of sensitive introspection.

1Bodhisattvas are enlightened beings who selflessly postpone their personal entry into Buddhahood in order to work for the salvation of others. They are shown wearing crowns and jewels, which are absent in depictions of the buddhas. Maitreya is a bodhisattva until his future descent to earth, when his work of salvation will be complete and he himself can become a buddha.