The word 'maitreya' is derived from the Sanskrit word for friendliness. Thus this bodhisattva is fundamentally said to embody the qualities of amiability and an attitude of well-meaning sympathy.
Maitreya may be considered either as a bodhisattva, according to the sutras, or as a Buddha, according to the tantras. In his iconographic representations, he is shown seated, but the legs, instead of being locked, are pendent. He is the only divinity in the Northern Buddhist pantheon represented seated in this European fashion. He has the signs of a Buddha such as long earlobes, the urna (the auspicious mark between the eyebrows, signifying superhuman qualities), and the ushnisha (cranial bump on the head, symbolizing wisdom), and he wears the robes of a monk.
Maitreya, also known as the future Buddha, who has still to come, is now thought to be waiting in Tushita Heaven for the right time to come down to earth. Tushita heaven is one of the thirty-three heavens over Mount Meru and is considered the special field of Maitreya. Tibetans believe that if someone chants the mantra "The Promise of Maitreya Buddha" in front of his image, that person will be reborn in Tushita Heaven after death.
The two distinctive marks of Maitreya are the stupa in his crown and the scarf wound and tied around his waist.
Shown with an extremely sweet and gentle countenance, he holds in his right hand, between the thumb and forefinger, the stem of a lotus flower. The bloom of this blossom supports the Buddhist wheel of spiritual instruction. His left hand similarly bears a vase at the shoulder level, signifying immortality.
The halo framing Maitreya's slim, perfectly proportioned body is deftly carved with the eight auspicious symbols of Buddhism (Ashtamangala). The throne is tapering and edged; his feet resting on a lotus base. The folds of the dhoti clinging to his legs are rendered realistically, in fact, the whole composition, from the flowing vegetative forms down to the expressive fingers, is a tribute to the masterly skill of the anonymous Newari sculptor whose creation this is.