Is "Buddha" or "Tathagata" ever applied to others?

Are these words or some form of them ever used to refer to or describe someone other than a Buddha themselves? I know of paccekabuddhas and that’s the only thing that comes to mind. Looking for sources in the early suttas but later works are fine.

According to later sources (commentaries, etc), the word "Buddha"and “Arahant” were used by all spiritual teacher in the Buddha’s time (i.e, 7 famous spiritual teachers mentioned in DN 2). But nowadays, we only know that Jainism (attributed to Nigantha Nathaputta in the suttas) used the same epithet for their teacher (Jina = the conqueror, which is also a epithet of the Buddha in Buddhism)

Saṃyutta Nikāya 22
Connected Discourses on the Aggregates
86. Anuradha

“But, Anuradha, when the Tathagata is not apprehended by you as real and actual here in this very life, is it fitting for you to declare: ‘Friends, when a Tathagata is describing a Tathagata—the highest type of person, the supreme person, the attainer of the supreme attainment—he describes him apart from these four cases: ‘The Tathagata exists after death,’ or … ‘The Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist after death’?”

“No, venerable sir.”

:slightly_smiling_face: The famous Pali translator Zhuang Chunjiang and Master Yin Shun wrote that the “Tathagata” here could only mean the atta or atman, ie. the true self or soul in Brahmanism.
But as far as I know, the word Tathāgata is totally a Buddhist word, which can only be found in Buddhism texts.

According to Pali commentaries, the word “Tathagata” here is denote to an Arahant which cannot be described as “exist”, “not exist”, “exist and not exist”, “neither exist nor not exist” after his/her Parinibbana.

So according to the commentaries, an arahant, i.e. one who has followed a Buddha’s teachings and realized the ultimate goal, is also considered a “Tathagata”? I’m curious if this can be supported by the suttas because all I can recall is that “Tathagata” is only used there in reference to a Buddha themselves. Similarly with “Buddha.”

I have read of tathagata being used to refer to arahants. Can’t remember where. I think Gombrich may have written it - a google search of tathagata + Gombrich might find you something. I think there are also other terms which are used not only for the Buddha… can’t remember what.


In the suttas, the only epithet of the Buddha (out of the traditional 9) that I recall ascribed to others is “arahant” and this only to arahants, obviously. Are arahants ever referred to with any of the other 8 epithets?

Yes, but it’s not from suttas, but commentaries. From DPPN, it explains:


An epithet of the Buddha, used by the Buddha in referring to himself.

The Commentaries (DA.i.59-67; AA.i.58-63; MA.39-43; UdA.128ff., etc.) give eight (sometimes expanded to sixteen) explanations of the word, which shows that there was probably no fixed tradition on the point.

The explanations indicate that the name can be used for any arahant, and not necessarily only for a Buddha.

The term was evidently pre-Buddhistic, though it has not yet been found in any pre-Buddhistic work.

Source: Tathāgata

Thanks. Interestingly, I was just reading Wikipedia’s “Tathagata” article and it mentioned this:

According to Fyodor Shcherbatskoy, the term has a non-Buddhist origin, and is best understood when compared to its usage in non-Buddhist works such as the Mahabharata.[6] Shcherbatskoy gives the following example from the Mahabharata (Shantiparva, 181.22): “Just as the footprints of birds (flying) in the sky and fish (swimming) in water cannot be seen, Thus (tātha) is going (gati) of those who have realized the Truth.”

So it sounds like Tathagata may have been used outside of Buddhism to refer to a fully enlightened being; “Buddha” and “arahant” might have been used similarly. Within the suttas, Tathagata and Buddha seem to only be used in reference to Buddhas themselves. With the commentaries, Tathagata is applied to both Buddhas and arahants.

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