Mythologist | Author | Speaker | Illustrator

November 2, 2023

First published October 22, 2023

 in Mid-Day

Solitary Buddha

Buddhism has the concept of pacceka-buddha, which is derived from the Sanskrit pratyeka-buddha. These are solitary Buddhas who arise in times between the different Buddhisms, when no teachers or monastic institutions exist. Remarkably, they have no teacher and they do not aspire to be teachers. They live solitary lives, and yet inspire people by their presence. They were never part of a teaching establishment and do not wish to be a part of a teaching establishment.

Such a concept is also found in Hindu traditions. For example, Dattatreya, the son of Atryea and Anasuya, is described as having no teachers. He learns from nature itself and never seeks to have students around him. Baba Balak Nath is worshipped in the hills of Himachal. He is venerated as a child sage, but does not want to be associated with the Nath Jogi Path (order of ‘split-ear’ of ascetics). He is visualised as an eternal child who rides a peacock and has all the Siddha powers, but is never listed with the other Siddha Yogis.

However, there are many stories of Pacceka Buddha, where the Pacceka Budha are enlightened people. For example, in the Sutta Nipata, we hear of a king called Brahmadatta who is visited by seven Pacceka Buddhas. The king asked them who they were, and they replied, they were very learned people. He asked them for knowledge, and they only told him one verse. The first one tells him that to be happy one has to destroy passion. The second says that to be happy one has to destroy hatred. The remaining five say that to be happy one has to destroy delusion, accept change, move on, give up clinging and craving. The king is a little upset that he has only heard seven lines. But when he meditates on the seven lines, he himself becomes a solitary Buddha, enlightened because he sees the world as it is.

In the Talapatra Jataka a young prince, a Bodhisattva asks a group of 500 solitary Buddhas, whether he is ever likely to be king, given that he has a large number of brothers. They advise him to seek another kingdom across the wilderness. But this wilderness they warn is full of yakshis, who ensnare the men passing by, appealing to their five senses. They will provide him with a bed, they will provide perfumes, food, beauty and song and then devour the captors. The prince moves through this forest with five companions, each of whom succumbs to these sensual temptations. Only the Bodhisattva passes through, reaches alive and finds a new kingdom. This is clearly a metaphor for crossing the sea of temptations.

Finally, in another story, similar to the story of Dattatreya in Bhagavata Purana, we are told how the sight of four natural observations turns a bodhisattva into a solitary Buddha. He sees a pigeon being caught and killed by a hawk and therefore, overcomes his desire. A snake in anger kills a bull and then regrets the pain he has caused. A jackal regrets his addiction that makes him eat a dead elephant’s flesh until he is trapped under the thick skin. Greed makes a bear enter a village, and he gets attacked by the villagers.

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