As all Buddhas have unlimited compassion,
they will continue to guide unlimited beings,
until all attain unlimited compassion like all Buddhas.
Some have the notion that after the physical passing of the Buddha in Parinirvana, he is gone for ‘good’, forever. How can this be if we continue to take refuge in the Triple Gem of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha collectively, and that the Buddha never mentioned that refuge in him would expire? If the Buddha is not around any more, we would be taking refuge in absolute ‘nothing’ as the first aspect of the Triple Gem. The idea of ‘entering Parinirvana’ as a process of total shutting down is surely one of its most misleading and pointless ‘definitions’ ever, for Buddhahood is the attainment of absolute freedom from suffering in the cycle of birth and death by eradicating spiritual defilements, to transcend limited mind and matter. It is not the extinguishing of supreme enlightenment itself to become utter nothingness.
Buddhahood is the peaking of compassion and wisdom for all beings, with which they are expressed with the greatest diligence. How can it be, that the Buddha, having spent countless lives to perfect his compassion and wisdom, express them perfectly merely for 45 years after enlightenment? This would be likened to having spent many lifetimes schooling or training, while barely using one’s qualifications upon graduation. Having attained Buddhahood, compassion and wisdom would spring to greater heights in helping those who are not yet liberated. As the reach within 45 years is limited, this mission will continue in other ways across time and space. Even ancient Buddhas continue to re-manifest in forms appropriate to the karma of beings of various worlds to teach. Buddhas are, after all, perfected Bodhisattvas.
In the Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta, the Buddha taught that just as a fire that has run out of fuel cannot be said to have gone in any direction, likewise, as he has abandoned the defilements which fuel samsaric rebirths, he has done away with all fixed ‘positions’. Such is profound freedom, that is refined, boundless, unfathomable, to be personally experienced. In the Udana, the Buddha defined Nirvana to be an unconditioned dimension beyond physical and mental elements. He was surely not defining nothingness but a transcendental state beyond conceptualisation. As countless Buddhists continue to experience the Buddha’s blessings and the answering of their prayers, this bears testimony to his presence and ability to connect to us. It would be ridiculously self-limiting for any Buddha to cut himself from all.
Buddhas’ Nirvana is the extinction of the subtlest poisons of attachment, aversion and delusion, that further rebirth with suffering. It is not the relinquishment of the antidotes of generosity, compassion and wisdom for helping those still affected by the poisons. If post-Parinirvana is total extinction, the Buddha would had said so directly. In contrast, in the Mahaparinibbanna Sutta, it is recorded that his consciousness exited his body at the Fourth Jhana, which is the subtlest plane of form. Also in his last discourse, the Buddha remind us that he manifests various forms to attend hundreds of assemblies of humans and gods to guide them with the Dharma. There is absolutely no reason to believe he will not continue doing so after Parinirvana due to his boundless compassion.
In the same sutta, the Buddha stated that he could choose to retain his physical form till the end of this world cycle. However, as taught in the Lotus Sutra, he manifests his physical passing to urge all to treasure his teachings, by diligently practising them before our own passing in this life. His passing also reflected the collective karma of those in his time. Perhaps, it is also in case we dread the idea that a Buddha’s work is ‘endless’. Maybe he did not want us to dread becoming Buddhas, though to become Buddhas is to never have any dread, as we would be blissfully free from all suffering, even while guiding others to be likewise free. Everything the Buddhas do is out of pure motivation to benefit all – even their temporal ‘departures’ – as they are the living essence of perfect compassion and wisdom!
The end of Samsara for Buddhas
is the end of samsaric rebirth for them.
But as it is not the end of Samsara for us,
they manifest enlightened rebirths for us.
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The Buddha is Still Around
How to Attain Universal Freedom (The Four Seals)
The Middle Path Between Nihilism & Eternalism