Buddhist Saints in India: A Study in Buddhist Values and Orientations

By Reginald A. Ray | Go to book overview
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The Solitary Saint, the Pratyekabuddha

The pratyekabuddha 1 (P., paccekabuddha; "solitary Buddha" or one "enlightened on his own" 2) is frequently mentioned in Indian Buddhist texts. 3 Pāli tradition, for example, attributes several characteristics to him. First and foremost, he 4 is like a buddha, an enlightened being by virtue of having comprehended the four noble truths on his own, without the help of any teacher ( Mp 105 [T.R. 1890-94, 1:158]). However, he does not have the capacity to proclaim the dharma to others and is not a teacher, and this separates him from a buddha. In addition, the pratyekabuddha cannot coexist in the same time period with a buddha and thus does not arise in the era when the teaching of a perfect buddha is known ( Nyanatiloka 1980, 140). 5 In terms of his personal style, the pratyekabuddha enjoys solitude and speaks little ( La Vallée Poussin 1908-27c, 152). Among the well- known and frequently appearing triad of arhant, pratyekabuddha, and buddha, 6 he is superior to an arhant but inferior to a buddha ( Mn 3:254 [Hn., 3:302]). 7 Sometimes, he is closely linked with the buddhas, whereas the arhant seems to stand off to the side as a markedly lower ideal. 8 The Sarvāstivādin definitions follow closely upon the Pāli. 9

The Mahāyāna accepts the major features of the Nikāya definitions, setting them within a characteristically Mahāyāna framework. 10 Candrakīrti, for example, remarks,

Pratyekabuddhas. . . , owing to their merit and knowledge, are greater than the śrāvakas. But, as they lack the equipment of merit and knowledge (of the perfect Buddhas), the great compassion, the universal knowledge, they are inferior to the perfect Buddhas. They are intermediary. And as knowledge (i.e., knowledge that brings nirvāṇa) is born in them without a teacher, as they are Buddhas by themselves, isolated and acting for their own sake, they are pratyekabuddhas. 11

In the Mahāyāna, although the pratyekabuddha retains precedence over the arhant, he and the arhant tend to be put together as two self-centered ideals of the "Hīnayāna," strictly inferior to the Buddha and also to the bodhisattva, who is on the way to buddhahood. 12 Thus, the Mahāyāna sometimes sees the pratyekabuddha and śrāvaka as members of the same vehicle ( La Vallée Poussin 1908-27c, 153). 13 Both Nikāya and Mahāyāna definitions of the pratyekabuddha tend to be abstract,


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Buddhist Saints in India: A Study in Buddhist Values and Orientations


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