FURTHER NECESSARY features in any religious revival are a steady succession of self-appointed messiahs, suspected Anti-Christs and apparent charlatans. Happily enough, I have recently discovered that within my own London town there resides a person or being that furiously divides increasing numbers of people as to which of the three categories he should properly be consigned. For those of you that don’t know (and how out of the loop can you possibly be) I am speaking of the Maitreya.
Maitreya and Brick Lane today
The full, public emergence of this Maitreya has been anticipated by his followers for a few decades now. Anyone that has already heard of him has probably done so through his spokesperson Benjamin Creme, a wealthy Scottish painter that travels the world imparting messages psychically communicated by the Maitreya himself. These tend on the side of Michael Jackson morality, an ethical key that runs through Creme’s Maitreya-fervid organisation Share International. One apparently mad but wealthy Scottish modernist may not impress anyone, but the funny thing is that this supposed Christ-cum-Buddha-cum-Mohammed etc (Creme claims that his boy is the second coming anticipated by all the major religions) apparently actually exists, which is to say that there is an actual person (or whatnot) making actual appearances as the Maitreya. You can go on the Share International website to observe photos from one broadly publicised performance at a large Kenyan evangelical congregation, the accounts of which wondrously depict crutch-twirling cripples miraculously healed on sight, mass recognition of this white-clad, Arabic looking fellow as Jesus incarnate, and other messianic hallmarks.
Once one investigates this bizarre and I think quite unique phenomenon, even the most rational conclusions look distinctly original. We could suppose, for instance, that this Creme figure is participating in some unprecedented global hoax. Of course religious demagogues are hardly unusual, but Creme doesn’t appear to be wielding his for the usual reason of immediate wealth and power. According to his numerous talks and appearances this has been and is still all in anticipation of the Maitreya’s ‘Day of Declaration’: on this day, explains Creme, “The Christ will come on the world's television channels, linked together by satellite. All those with access to television will see... [His face]. He will establish a telepathic rapport with all humanity simultaneously." This would definitely top the end of year television highlights! Creme talks of the new era of harmony and spiritual wisdom that this Maitreya will inaugurate, by the way, so on the surface this promised spectacular heralds good news for one and all. However, a growing number of evangelical Christians are increasingly convinced that this Maitreya is none other than the anti-Christ himself, and cite alleged connections between Share International and the UN (with whom Creme does indeed appear to have a ready audience) as evidence of a global Luciferean plot. We may assume that Richard Dawkins thinks absolutely everyone involved is off their rocker.
Now I had been aware of this information for some time, but I was unaware that the Maitreya was currently apparently residing in a suburb of Brick Lane. This shows an appalling disregard for fashionable mores, and if there are any pilgrimages going on in North London it is the warm river of fashionistas travelling away from the Shoreditch Axis towards Dalston, which has officially inherited the crown of cool so long held by its Eastern neighbour. Hipsters will no doubt be concerned that no number of miracles could lead them to worship at an alter presided over by a messiah so intransigently passé.
An odd recollection. A few months ago an English friend of Pakistani descent spotted former Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf at a Brick Lane curry house. Please drop me a line if any other odd figures have been spotted sampling the delights of that area’s free bottles of house white wine and poppadoms…
Well, I can hardly hope to write about the English Religious Renaissance and not visit its arguable Galilee can I? Perhaps I’ll bump into the Pope having a coffee with Tony Blair, waiting for an audience with the anti-Christ.
But Christ or Anti-Christ, I assume the Maitreya is tucked away somewhere pretty inconspicuous. My initial idea was of offering waiters generous tips for information (I don’t know, 25%). But one Indian meal usually leaves me horribly stuffed, and a succession would also leave me damn short of pocket. There is another rather prosaic reason for my reluctance to embark on this journalistic pilgrimage: good old fashioned English timidity, the ready blush that makes us such poor zealots.
“Excuse me mate,” I can see myself asking a local, with the usual cringe-worthy roughening of my middle-England vowels, “don’t suppose you know where I could find the, eh…” and here my voice will drop to a conspiratorial whisper, “….Maitreya do ya?”
“What’s that mate, a restaurant?” a second generation cockney voice will respond.
“No, eh, the Messiah…”
Or perhaps, in the style of a spy film…
“I’m looking for the Maitreya… Hey come back! Please.”
Or maybe another response still…
“No mate, and you’re the fifth person that’s asked me that today. Just ’cos I’m wearing a turban…”