How truly good can Parinirvana be
if it is to be truly gone for ‘good’?
According to the lower schools of Buddhist thought, when a being, like Sakyamuni Buddha, attains mahaparinirvana and passes away, he ceases to exist, there is no further continuity of consciousness. Therefore, according to the Vaibhasika school, for example, after this point there is no more being, no more consciousness. Only the name remains. And yet, they believe that this being who has now disappeared can influence the course of those who follow him due to the virtues that he created in the past.
This is not accepted by the higher schools of thought, however, that instead believe that there are two kinds of bodies, those that are pure in nature and those that are impure. The latter is more gross, whereas a body that has been purified is more subtle. Now, for example, when Sakyamuni Buddha gave up his body, there still remained the more subtle one. So, according to these schools of thought, at the stage of Buddhahood, there are two bodies: a mental body and a physical one.
I don’t know whether the English word “body” is the most appropriate one. In Sanskrit, the words used to signify these two bodies of the Buddha are dharmakaya and rupakaya. The first is of the nature of mind, whereas the latter is material. So when the Buddha passes away, there is still this more subtle body, which is of the nature of mind, and since the mental continuum is also present, we can say that the personality is still there. Even today, the Buddha remains as a living being. I think this is better, don’t you?
Answers: Discussions with Western Buddhists by the Dalai Lama
Edited by Jose Ignacio Cabezon