1. At first I didn’t believe that they actually were here in the world, and then I came to realize that’s what Master Hsuan Hua is saying. Would they appear different from us? Would we know one if we saw one? I think that they would not want to be known to others.
1. Buddhas and Bodhisattvas could appear in the world in the form of response bodies. For example, a Bodhisattva could be cultivating in the Western Bliss Pure Land. Let’s say that conditions have ripened such that Amitabha will remind the Bodhisattva to be reborn to our Saha world again in order to draw near and save his husband from a former life. In this case, he goes through birth like a regular human being. Ordinary people will not be able to recognize them. There are a lot of people such as this in our world right now.
2. Another possible scenario is that they only manifest temporarily like a reflection of the moon on the water surface to teach and then leave. A multitude of such examples abound in the Buddhist folklore where Bodhisattvas come to our world as lay people or left home people. They are never confused because they do not go through birth and death.
3. Under the above scenario of #1, these already enlightened beings have nothing to worry about. For example, they grow up and eventually encounter a Buddhist teacher, cultivate and eventually become enlightened in our world. They could then leave the home life and teach the Dharma. I believe Master Xuan Hua belongs to this category.
4. Once enlightened, always enlightened.
That is why we advocate trying to obtain rebirth to the Western Bliss Pure Land and not come back before you are enlightened over there. Should they come back like in scenario #1, they are so blessed that they may be initially confused through the birth process but they are no longer confused by the time they die, meaning that they will be able to successfully carry out their plans or fulfill their past vows.