Please explain why it is important to search for the incarnations of the various Buddhas in modern times? Some adjunct questions: Is it traditional for reincarnated Buddhas to announce themselves as a reincarnation of a Buddha? Or must someone else find them and confirm their Buddhahood? Where can I find lists of qualities of each Buddha in order to determine if someone is a Buddha? What are the qualities of Guru Rinpoche by which one can identify him in this age? Can an adult announce or claim he is an incarnation of a Buddha, or must this be done when the Buddha is still a child?
Many people ask why the Buddha did not appoint a successor. But can any one appoint another to take the place of the Supreme Enlightened One? Attaining Buddhahood is the highest of all achievements that only the wisest man can reach. He is the flower of mankind. To attain this highest position, one must have the qualification such as self-training, self-discipline, moral background, supreme knowledge, and extra-ordinary compassion towards every living being. Therefore, a person himself must take the trouble to qualify himself in order to attain Buddhahood. For example, a doctor cannot appoint even his own son as doctor unless the son has qualified himself to be a doctor. A lawyer cannot appoint another person as a lawyer unless that person obtains the necessary qualifications. A scientist cannot appoint another person as a scientist unless that person possesses the knowledge of a scientist.
Therefore, the Buddha did not appoint a successor. On the other hand, even if He had done that, the person who was to succeed Him would not have the real qualities of the Buddha and would certainly misuse the authority and mislead the public.
Authority over a religion must be exercised by a person or persons possessing a clear mind, proper understanding, perfection and leading a holy life. Authority should not be exercised by worldly-minded people who have become slaves to sensual pleasures or who crave for worldly material gain or power. Otherwise the sacredness, freedom and truth in a religion could be abused.
‘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.'(In Buddhavamsa, 28 names of the previous Buddhas are mentioned, including Gautama the Buddha.)
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 Nibbanic 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)