[Buddha-l] Re: Nirvana si, bodhi no!

Richard P. Hayes rhayes at unm.edu
Fri May 20 15:26:02 MDT 2005

On Fri, 2005-05-20 at 14:48 -0400, Steven Lane wrote:

> Couple of questions on this. According to formal Buddhist doctrine can
> Pratyeka-buddhas arise when a Buddha exists in that particular eon.

As far as I know from the sources I am most familiar with,
pratyekabuddhas are those who attain awakening without ever hearing the
Buddha's teachings on Dharma. So a pratyekabuddha could exist in some
land to which the Buddha's teachings had never travelled.

> Wouldn't Hui-Neng have believed in them since he specifically states
> that a teacher is not required. 

I believe Huineng's claim is that no human teacher is required. He
himself, according to the Platform Sutra, attained awakening upon
hearing words ffrom the Diamond-cutter Sutra. So he heard the Buddha's
Dharma and immediately internalized it and recognized its value.
Moreover, he taught the Dharma, which no pratyekabuddha is (according to
Buddhist dogma) willing or able to do. 

There is, incidentally, quite a bit of textual evidence to support the
hypothesis that "pratyeka-buddha" is a mistranslation of the Pali term
"pacceka-buddha." The hypothesis is that "pacceka" was understood as
equivalent of "pratyayaka" rather than "pratyeka." A pratyayaka-buddha
is someone who becomes awakened solely through a rational understanding
of causes (hetu) and conditions (pratyaya). Some Chinese texts
translated "pacceka-buddha" as something like "condition buddha," which
would support this claim.

As I recall, Martin Wiltshire's hypothesis was that originally, before
Buddhism calcified into dogmatic interpretations of some of these key
terms, pacceka-buddhas were magicians known and often feared for their
thaumaturgical skills.

Only Nagarjuna knows what he meant when he used the term, but it sounds
as though he is thinking along the lines that were common in the
abhidharma systems of his day, most of which he accepted without
quibble. So that view is that the quality of awakening is exactly the
same in anuttara samyak-sambuddhas, pratyeka-buddhas and arhants.
Sambuddhas become awakened without every hearing the Dharma proclaimed,
and then they teach the Dharma. Pratyeka-buddhas become awakened without
hearing the Dharma proclaimed but cannot or will not teach it to others.
(Recall that according to the Vinaya, the Buddha Gotama nearly fell into
that category and probably would have been a pratyeka-buddha if the god
Brahma had not enabled him to see that some people would benefit from
his teaching of the Dharma, although most people would not benefit
much.) An arhant is exactly like a sambuddha in the quality of his
awakening, but unlike a pratyeka-buddha in two ways: a) the arhant
becomes awakened only after hearing the Dharma proclaimed (or reading
about it in a text), and b) the arhant can and does instruct others.

In answer to an earlier question asked by someone (I apologize for
forgetting who asked it) about why the number of awakened people does
not increase exponentially, the standard answer is that hearing the
Dharma proclaimed is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for
attaining nirvana. If it were necessary, there would be neither
sambuddhas nor pratyeka-buddhas. If it were sufficient, then anyone who
had ever heard a Buddhist sermon would attain nirvana. The vast majority
of people, however, just as Gotama predicted, are simply unwilling to
believe the Dharma when they hear it. Or at least they act that way, for
their lives go on as if they had never heard the Dharma taught. (I am
speaking here, of course, of people who do not read buddha-l; we are
rather exceptional.) Most people, according to the traditional
abhidharmic views, understand Dharma quite readily, but they refuse to
believe it is true. Why? Because they have so much attachment to the
routines of their lives that they are unwilling to take the risk of
changing from what is familiar. That sounds about right to me; that is,
this account of things seems the best explanation for my own experiences
with both teaching and studying Dharma. 

Richard Hayes
Department of Philosophy
University of New Mexico

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