Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

by Gelongma Karma Migme Chödrön | 2001 | 940,961 words

This page describes “knowledge of the pratyekabuddhas” as written by Nagarjuna in his Maha-prajnaparamita-sastra (lit. “the treatise on the great virtue of wisdom”) in the 2nd century. This book, written in five volumes, represents an encyclopedia on Buddhism as well as a commentary on the Pancavimsatisahasrika Prajnaparamita.

Note: This subject has already been treated above, p. 1068–1069F

Question. – This, then, is the knowledge of the śrāvakas. Now what is the knowledge of the pratyekabuddhas?

Answer. – The knowledge of the pratyekabuddhas is the same as the knowledge of the śrāvakas with the exception of time (kāla), sharp faculties (tīkṣnendriya) and merits (puṇya).

1. Time (kāla). – When there is no Buddha in the world or, as well, when the Buddhadharma does not exist, the ascetic who, after a minor occurence (nidaṇa),[1] leaves home and obtains bodhi, is called pratyekabuddha.

2. Sharp faculties (tīkṣnendriya). – Pratyekabuddhas differ [from śrāvakas] by their keen faculties, but their manner of being (dharmatā) is similar (tulya). It is thanks to the depth of their knowledge (jñānagambhīratā) alone that the ascetic obtains the bodhi of the pratyekabuddha.

3. Merits (puṇya). – This is a matter of merits bringing the physical marks (lakṣaṇa): one mark, two marks, or up to thirty-one marks.[2]

If, when the Buddhadharma is still in existence, an ascetic has first of all obtained the quality of an ārya and then becomes arhat after the disappearance of the holy Dharma (saddharmavipralopa), he is also called pratyekabuddha but his body does not possess the physical marks.[3]

If the pratyekabuddha is very quick (kṣipra), his career (caryā) is four lifetimes; if he is slow (manda), it is prolonged even for as long as one hundred kalpas. Like the śrāvaka: if he is fast, three lifetimes; if he is slow, sixty kalpas.[4]

This has been fully described earlier (p. 1068–1069F).

Footnotes and references:


Such as the king who, seeing the wreckage of his garden, understood the futility of things and attained the state of pratyekabuddha: see p. 1068F.


Sharp faculties and physical marks are characteristic of the pratyekabuddhas living alone, like rhinoceroses (kaḍgaviṣāṇakalpa): see p. 1069F and n.


This is a question of the pratyekabuddha living in a group (vargacārin). These are former śrāvakas who entered the Path during the reign of a Buddha, but only accede to bodhi during a time when the Buddha and his Dharma have disappeared: cf. Kośa, III, p. 195.

Conversely, there are bodhisattvas who withdraw and become either śrāvakas or pratyekabuddhas: cf. Śūraṃgamasamādhi, transl., p. 240–241.


For the Vibhāṣā (T 1545, k. 83, p. 428b27–28), usually sixty kalpas are necessary in order to acquire the bodhi of the śrāvakas, one hundred kalpas to acquire that of the pratyekabuddhas, three incalculable periods to acquire that of the Buddhas. But there are exceptions.

On the lineage (gotra), the realizations (samudāgama), the abodes (vihāra) and the conduct (caritra) of pratyekabuddhas, see Asaṅga’s Yogācārabhūmi, Pratyekabuddhabhūmi, ed. A. Wayman, Journal of Indian and Buddhist Studies, VIII, 1960, p. 376–377 (T 1579, k. 34, 477c–478a).