catmoon wrote:Ok, but how do you reconcile "last rebirth" with the bodhisattva vow to remain until all sentient beings attain Buddhahood?
The idea of a "last birth" is reflective of Sravakayana and not the Mahayana Bodhisattvayana model.
The "last birth" refers to Shakyamuni's last birth before his attainment of Buddhahood. In the Vajrayana and I think all of Mahayana, Shakyamuni has already attained Buddhahood and was teaching in the Tushita Heaven prior to taking his final birth. Shakyamuni is an example of a Buddha who actually did take 3 uncountable eons to accomplish Buddhahood. After some time teaching in the Tushita Heaven he knew the time had come to take his final birth and to demonstrate the attainment of enlightenment in human form.
As for the Bodhisattva Vow - Shakyamuni Buddha is an example of a King-like Bodhisattva (there are three kinds of Bodhisattvas: King-like, Ferryman-like and Shepard-like: a King-like Bodhisattva attains Buddhahood and then all the people with an affinity to him follow his teachings to attain Buddhahood, a Ferryman Bodhisattva carries all his people across the river of samsara and they all attain Buddhahood together and a Shepard-like Bodhisattva directs his people to Buddhahood but he attains Buddhahood last just like a shepard moving his flock from one place to another).
Also, some teachings say that Padmasambhava is an emanation of Shakyamuni and that in innumerable worlds there have been innumerable Shakyamuni's in each world (this much reflects the Brahma Net Sutra) and in each a Padmasambhava follows Shakyamuni to spread the tantric teachings.
And we still very much have Shakyamuni's teaching in various forms so in this sense he has not left the world and when the teaching does eventually die out, since all compounded phenomena are impermanent, he will be followed by another Buddha (eventually up to 1001 Buddhas in this "Fortunate Eon").
And we have the constant blessings of Shakyamuni as well. And all the Buddhas are said to constantly send out emanations in order to benefit beings.
So when I was first delving deeply into Buddhist teaching I was put off by much of what I just mentioned as religious BS. I even asked a very traditional lama in the past few years about Padmasambhava and Shakyamuni abandoning their Bodhisattva Vows because we don't physically and recognizably see them around teaching. But in fact we do see them teaching in various forms and esp. in their blessings which are experientially real.