“The existence that characterizes such things as your body, your possessions, and the world around you … is the interplay of the grasping and the grasped of [transcendental] consciousness (ālayavijñāna). … Meditation, meditator, and object of meditation … are nothing but [mental] projections. … Nirvāṇa is the cessation of [transcendental] consciousness that projects [phenomena].” — Laṅkāvatārasūtra
“When [consciousness] no longer seizes on any object whatever, then [consciousness] is established in [consciousness-in-itself] (vijñānamātratva). When there is nothing that is grasped, that is [consciousness-in-itself], because there is no grasping. That is the supreme, world-transcending knowledge (jñana), without mind (acitta) and without support or object. From the abandonment of the two-fold faults, there occurs the revulsion of [transcendental] consciousness (ālayavijñāna). That alone is the pure realm (dhātu), unthinkable, good, unchanging, blissful, the liberation body (vimuktikāya), the dharma-body (dharmakāya), so-called, of the great sage.” — Vasubandhu
“[T]he purity of [consciousness-in-itself] (dharmakāya) is attained through turning away from and destroying [transcendental] consciousness (ālayavijñāna).” — Vasubandhu
“[I]t is the buddhahood that is characterized by being pure [consciousness-in-itself] (tathātā).” — Vasubandhu
As we know from the variety of experiences — from “normal” to “mystical” — reported by men throughout the ages, there are two empirically real and yet relative perspectives of one Consciousness: individual existence (saṃsāra) and consciousness-in-itself — the nondual Light (nirvāṇa).
“[The dharmakāya has] the characteristic of inconceivability because pure [consciousness-in-itself] (tathātā) is to be personally experienced, is without example in the world, and is not the sphere of dialectics.” — Asaṅga
The one who self-transcends into the Light (consciousness-in-itself, nirvāṇa, śūnyatā, tathātā, tathāgatagarbha, dharmakāya, etc.) ceases to be an individual and becomes the Light, and then miraculously becomes an individual again. This “mystical” transition is the change of relative perspectives of Consciousness from temporal individual existence to nontemporal consciousness-in-itself and back to temporal individual existence. There is no intermediate perspective between the two; hence, “buddhahood” is either a special state of individual existence (saṃsāra) or it is consciousness-in-itself (nirvāṇa) which transcends all attributes of individual existence (saṃsāra).
“Some say that there is no complete passing into nirvāṇa for buddhas, while some other factions of followers of the śrāvakayāna say that [buddhas] do completely pass into nirvāṇa. … Since buddhas are liberated from all afflictive and cognitive obscurations, it is because of this [underlying] intention that [it is held that] they do completely pass into nirvāṇa. [On the other hand,] since their deeds are not fully completed, that is, since they still need to mature those who have not been matured yet and liberate those who have been matured, it is with the [underlying] intention of their [incomplete] deeds that [it is held that] they do not completely pass into parinirvāṇa. Otherwise, if they completely passed into parinirvāṇa like the śrāvakas, their aspiration prayers [as bodhisattvas] would be without result.” — Vasubandhu
“[Buddhas] bring about great awakening through both making aspiration prayers for the welfare of all sentient beings and practicing [for this welfare]. Therefore, it is not suitable for them to completely pass into parinirvāṇa because then those aspiration prayers and practices would be meaningless.” — Asaṅga
“[U]nlike worldly people and śrāvakas, [buddhas] do not abide in saṃsāra or nirvāṇa. … [Buddhas] abide in the fundamental change as in a formless [realm]. Neither do they provide any opportunity for afflictions, because they possess the distinctive feature of prajñā, nor do they reject saṃsāra, because they are dependent on their compassion.” — Asvabhāva
“Buddhahood … is at least to some extent a samsaric state, because it involves renouncing the absolute release from suffering which is attained with the nirvana of total extinction. The Buddha’s nirvana is sublime and pure in relation to our own experience, of course, but it nevertheless belongs to the conditioned realm of experience and is therefore impure and samsaric in relation to the nirvana of total extinction of the Arhat.” — Thomas E. Wood
Therefore, buddhahood is not arhathood of total extinction — parinirvāṇa — in the Light, but an elevated state of individual existence (saṃsāra), it is not ontologically identical with consciousness-in-itself; hence, it is not ontologically different with bodhisattvahood.
“[T]he character of the [buddhas] and [consciousness-in-itself] (dharmadhātu) is not different. …[Consciousness-in-itself] is one, and since [consciousness-in-itself] is one, [the buddhas] are also to be regarded as being one.” — Vasubandhu
The tendency of Buddhists to pose buddhahood as identical and yet as not identical with consciousness-in-itself, and as oneness and yet as multiplicity, is a self-contradictory logical inconsistency that arises out of the need to preserve the fundamental religious dogma of Buddhism: the buddhas’ identity with nontemporal consciousness-in-itself and yet their temporal agency in the intersubjective world. This dogma is a nonsensical myth.
“Despite being followers of the mahāyāna, some who have the expanse of the nirvāṇa without any remainder of the skandhas in mind, assert that buddhas do completely pass into parinirvāṇa. Some [others], having the expanse of the nirvāṇa with some remainder of the skandhas in mind, assert that [buddhas] do not completely pass into parinirvāṇa. [However,] both [positions] are not acceptable. Buddhas neither do completely pass into parinirvāṇa nor do not completely pass into parinirvāṇa. Rather, it is with a certain [underlying] intention that [it is said that] they do completely pass into parinirvāṇa. With a certain [other underlying] intention, [it is said that] they do not completely pass into parinirvāṇa. Since they are liberated from all obscurations, they do completely pass into parinirvāṇa. Since their deeds are not completed, they do not completely pass into parinirvāṇa.” — Asvabhāva
“[L]iberated [bodhisattvas] are free to act according to their will. Their liberation is not like the liberation of śrāvakas, which resembles a beheading because of their final peaceful stay in parinirvāṇa.” — Vasubandhu
From what we read in Asaṅga and Vasubandhu — the greatest philosophers of Mahāyāna Yogācāra/Vijñānavāda Buddhism — about bodhisattvahood and buddhahood we see no ontological difference between such states, they are the elevated states of individual existence (saṃsāra), and hence the buddhas’ “nirvāṇa” is not parinirvāṇa but merely transient “mystical” experiences of consciousness-in-itself.
Within the framework of individual existence, there is a broad spectrum of states — from animal states through human “normality” and “altered” sane/insane states to the state of bodhisattvas/buddhas liberated from the imprisoning constraints of intersubjective causal structures (karmic seeds, in Yogācāra terms); consequently, there is no reason to differentiate buddhahood and bodhisattvahood, for they are individual existence elevated from the darkness and unfreedom of human “normality”. Considering that the term “buddhahood” is radically mythologized, from now on we will stick to the term “bodhisattvahood”.
As for the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama wasn’t a buddha in the mythical sense, he was merely an individual who attained the “enlightenment” of the “mystical” experience of the Ultimate Realm, became the leader of a new sect, gave lessons of philosophy and meditation, and died in old age supposedly due to food poisoning. And just like Jesus Christ after his death was mythologized by his followers, Siddhartha Gautama after his death was radically mythologized, though both men in their teachings emphasized their human nature to be seen as an example of what each of us can and must become — a bodhisattva.
“[I]t takes three incalculable eons to pass into nirvāṇa. Thus, this is how long it takes for bodhisattvas to become [fully] delivered at the end of [the process of having perfected] nonconceptual [wisdom].” — Vasubandhu
There is no reason to believe that arhathood of parinirvāṇa compared by Vasubandhu to a beheading — the complete and irreversible decomposition of one’s individual existence in the Light — is possible, for it seems nonsensical that Consciousness might allow the termination of one of its relative perspectives in favor of the other, saṃsāra and nirvāṇa are two inseparable and forever interchanging perspectives of one Consciousness. Hence, “three incalculable eons” means “never”.
From all reported “mystical” experiences of the Light we know that Consciousness always restores the perspective of individual existence even after the latter’s complete surrender to the Light. This fact teaches us that we, individual transcendental subjects, exist for a reason, and our real goal is not nirvāṇa. What is our real goal? The Light experienced as the absolute truth, freedom, love, and beauty, and glimpsed as our conscience, answers this question clearly: our goal is the eternal Path of truth, freedom, love, and beauty towards the unreachable skyline of Perfection. Therefore, nirvāṇa is not the goal but the beacon.
And now we look at what we, empirical subjects, are and what our intersubjectively constituted phenomenal world of suffering is, and we see clearly: we have lost our Path, and we are lost as much as other denizens of this particular infernal realm are. We are poisoned and trapped, and we have to get out of this miserable state as soon as possible — we have to become the liberated bodhisattvas.
“Freedom is thus: not being liberated from saṃsāra and yet not being afflicted in it. … Bodhisattvas do not abide like worldly people, who abide in the extreme of saṃsāra, or śrāvakas, who abide in the extreme of nirvāṇa. Thus, their abiding through nonabiding is to be regarded as the approach that is appropriate.” — Vasubandhu
“For childish beings, with true reality being obscured, what is not true reality appears everywhere. Having eliminated that, for bodhisattvas, true reality appears everywhere. It is to be understood that [for them] the unreal does not appear and the real appears. This fundamental change is liberation because of transformation as they wish. When the knowledge of the sameness of saṃsāra and nirvāṇa has arisen, at that point, in them, therefore saṃsāra itself becomes nirvāṇa. For that reason, saṃsāra is neither abandoned nor not abandoned. Consequently, nirvāṇa too is neither attained nor not attained.” — Asaṅga
“The truth indeed has never been preached by the Buddha, seeing that one has to realize it within oneself.” — Asaṅga