Growing up the first born son in a South Asian family, I got used to being quite the little prince. I wanted the privileges of primogeniture to carry on forever. When people asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I responded with the full spectrum of acceptable answers: Doctor! Lawyer! Accountant! Dentist! Quantity Surveyor! Secretly, though, I wanted to be a prince. From what I saw of the British royal family, it seemed a job that involved a great deal of adulation, cash, and cars, and not terribly much work.
I mention this because recently a trickle, and then a flood, of email has come asking me whether I’m Maitreya – the leader of a movement that might be able to save the planet from itself. Some swift Googling and dipping into strange forums informs me that Maitreya is a leader foretold in a range of religions. Those who think that I might be the new prince of peace have been reading things from Share International.
So what, according to Share International, does Maitreya do? Through a doctrine of sharing, fraternity, social justice and cooperation, he (and it does seem to be a he, not a she) brings humanity back from economic and ecological collapse through new forms of spiritual community.
As it happens, I do think that sharing, fraternity, justice and cooperation are terrific things. I also think that prioritising the needs of the poor, hungry and oppressed is a non-negotiable part of a sustainable future. There are other similarities. The picture of Maitreya above shows the Buddhist avatar holding a water bottle, and I’m never far from mine. Apparently, stuttering is the mark of something esoteric, though I’m not entirely sure what that is. Finally, just as foretold, I did indeed fly from India to London in 1977, although the plane ride was a return trip from a holiday with my family.
Unfortunately, from I think that’s where the resemblances end. It frustrates me only a little less than it might disappoint those looking for Maitreya that, in fact, I’m just an ordinary bloke. I always wanted to be a Prince of Something. But when opportunity comes knocking, it turns out it’s to get me to sign for a package for some other dude.
It’s sad, too, that the thinking I advocate is pretty straightforward. One doesn’t need a messiah to show how capitalism has damaged our relationships, society, ecology, body politic and future. We have to reclaim it through grassroots organizing against capital, a commitment to human rights, gender equality, redistribution, and shared democratic control of the world’s resources. It’s like the end of The Meaning of Life (skip to 4:17) in which, finally, the meaning of life is revealed to be
try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.
But that’s not the Monty Python scene that most immediately comes to mind. Instead, it’s this rather good bit from The Life of Brian, one that Python (Monty) productions granted me leave to quote from in my last book, Stuffed and Starved, and which I still think contains all one needs to know about how we need to create social change together.
Sadly, I’m not the Messiah. I’m just a very naughty boy.