illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)
Enlightenment is classically described as 'traceless'.
This is another way of describing selfless: it is not a 'separate' place from Nirvāṇa, there is no border ('trace'), and it is not the imposition of a 'separate' set of views onto the ordinary world…
It is not the cessation of engagement though (only the cessation of lust, aversion and ignorance!).
The engagement simply becomes "in accordance with causality" thus leaves no trace which could be 'attributed' to Enlightenment: traces / forms exist, but no one can distinguish the traces of causality from the traces of Enlightened engagement!
The Enlightened being performs its function without seeking praise, does what is required (for the benefit of all sentient beings) by the situation at hand, and moves on. What is required isn't always what people think or project it to be, nor what is popular.
You wouldn't necessarily know an Enlightened being had been around… unless you were yourself aware enough to earlier notice something to do (some wholesome response required by a situation), that you didn't do, only to later notice that "someone else" has done it.
« To study the Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by the ten thousand dharmas (or, we might say, to be at one with everything in the world). To be at one with the whole world is to drop off the body and mind of self and others. All trace of enlightenment ends and this traceless enlightenment continues forever. »
This is often misinterpreted (notably when only the first two sentences are quoted) as if "forgetting the self" meant the cessation of all forms. But 'emptiness' is 'form', and any real engagement has to take form.
'Traceless' means without force, without conflict, without ego (without « I'm right, you're wrong, » often the attitude of those who quote « To study the Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self » only to impose their views by the fallacy of a call to authority).
But it does not mean without causal wholesome impact; did the Buddha have no impact?
The traceless enlightenment continues forever; the bodhisattva's engagement continues forever (innumerable sentient beings, numberless Dharma gates, inexhaustible desires…).
Next time you walk by a beach, or even in the street, or use public transports… if you see some trash abandoned, don't think of yourself as "separate from others". You're the one here&now making the decision to leave the trash there, or to pick it up. This is not about the past decision of a past passer-by, not about traces of where the situation comes from, clues to get 'back' to the perpetrator. This is about your decision, your karmic responsibility, here&now, for the benefit of all (yourself and others). Traceless.
Image via (h/t )