"Pratyaya" Buddha

In the Lotus Sūtra, which is not an EBT, we find a curious construction in the Chinese:

世尊法久後, 要當說真實。
The Bhagavān’s dharma over a great many years has been taught, the locus shall be spoke in ultimate truth.

告諸聲聞眾, 及求緣覺乘
Speaking to the myriad śrāvaka masses, and to those who solicit pratyayasaṃbodhiyāna, I say:

『我令脫苦縛, 逮得涅槃者。』
“I cause to be severed, duḥkha’s binds, to be seized and obtained, parinirvāṇa.”

Now, if you know Mahāyāna, saying “I say X when speaking to śrāvakāḥ” means that an formerly esoteric teaching that complicates the old Buddhavacana is about to be delivered, but this particular Mahāyāna discourse is not the subject of this post (although, if anyone is interested, for the sake of contextualization, the LS is going to have the Buddha expound a dharma of non-abiding nirvāṇa and identify himself as ‘primordial’, or more controversially, as ‘eternal’).

The intent of this post, instead of asking a question about the LS, is to inquire about the curious word 緣覺乘 (“cause-awakening-vehicle” or “cause-awakened-vehicle”, or if readers will forgive me my poor Sanskrit, likely *pratyayabodhiyāna or *pratyayasaṃbodhiyāna). This term (without the vehicle/乘/yāna added at the end) actually predates the LS by quite a bit, appearing in some, at least 19, of the āgamāḥ hosted here at SuttaCentral. Going back further from the date of the Chinese translations hosted here, in Jain literature, for instance, we find (rare) references to “pratyayajina” rather than “pratyayabuddha” on occasion.

*pratyaya(saṃ)bodhiyāna is likely a ‘mistranslation’ of “paccekabuddha vehicle”.

Buddha --> bodhi is a rather easy change to understand, but pratyeka --> pratyaya is a bit more mysterious to me.

Some people link the construct pratyayabuddha with the ascendence of Gāndhārī, citing a regular confusion between K’s & Y’s as well as between A’s and E’s in that language, but I don’t know much about Gāndhārī. Is this reasonable?

What is the history of the specifically “pratyaya” Buddha, as it exists as a piece of terminology?


KR Norman discussed this at length, and proposed that the original term was in fact pratyaya, corrupted by the Pali tradition to pacceka. It’s a long time since I read his article, but I recall not being terribly convinced at the time.

The derivation is pretty straightforward. In Pali/Sanskrit, aya is equivalent to e, and both may be enhanced forms of i. Normally we take pacceka as derived from pati- + eka (= “one”) in the sense of “alone, personal, individual”, a sense that is well attested in contexts outside this particular term. Here’s a few examples of pacceka in the suttas:

  • paccekaṃ gāthaṃ bhāseyyāma
    Let’s each recite our own verse.

  • bhikkhu panuṇṇapaccekasacco hoti
    A mendicant has eliminated idiosyncratic interpretations of the truth.

Regarding a monk convicted of serious offences; this is an obscure phrase:

  • na kismiñci paccekaṭṭhāne ṭhapetabbo
    They must not be put in an isolated place.

  • kulesu paccekādhipaccaṃ kārenti
    they rule their own clan

Paccaya, on the other hand, is derived from pati- + i (= “go”) in the sense of “go back to, rely on, depend on”. If we just add the very common secondary suffix -ka we get paccayaka or pacceka, without necessarily affecting the meaning.

I couldn’t say if there’s any connection with Gandhari; it doesn’t seem necessary to me.

I’ve never been able to really understand why paccaya would be used in this context, it seems unidiomatic and obscure to me. On the other hand, as per examples above, pacceka makes perfect sense, and enables the Buddhist tradition to keep a connection with the Indic idea of the wild, solitary sage.

I’m not sure of the exact dates here, but are the translations of the agamas necessarily later than the translation of the Lotus Sutra? Most of the agamas were translated about 400 CE or a little later.


There was a Jan Nattier paper I was reading a while ago, and in it there is identified a few distinct layers of Buddhist Chinese matching the Buddhism being spread at the time into China.

She identifies an older layer originating in the works of a Dharmarakṣa (竺法護) dating to 265-309 CA approximately. On the Database of Chinese Buddhist texts he is listed as having either 11 āgamasūtras or 11 small collections of āgamas hosted in the Taishō Tripiṭaka (I can’t quite understand the page yet).

He is a bit earlier than Kumārajīva, 344–413, from whom modern Mahāyāna Buddhists get the ‘definitive’ editions of many Mahāyāna sutras, but it seems Dharmarakṣa also translated texts like the Lotus Sūtra, albeit translations that never reached the range of circulation that Kumārajīva’s did.

Then the layer originating with Guṇabhadra (求那跋陀羅) from ~435-443.

So the layer from 265-309 has the same somewhat eccentric occasional appearance of something ‘like’ *pratyayabodhi/pratyayabuddha (緣覺) as the 344–413 layer. I got the 19 figure from checking what I believe to be mostly the 435-443 layer hosted here at this site, but I may have been checking all of the layers and inflating the number. This is in contrast to 獨覺, paccekabuddha, lit. “lone Buddha”, which also appears interspersed throughout these layers, it seems, although I have yet to see a text that contains both usages inside of itself.

The layer of Guṇabhadra is more contemporaneous with Kumārajīva (from whom modern Mahāyānis get many ‘definitive’ editions of their translations), although they all seem to be have perhaps been working on translating the same Indian texts.

I need to find the paper to I was reading to substantiate what I am talking about better (as this is mostly secondhand information being presented), which I will do shortly, but the theory I was citing seems to suggest *pratyaya being a corruption produced after the translation of (some) Prākrit Buddhist texts into Gāndhārī and then into Chinese, or, then backward-translated into Sanskrit (this is incorrect, see below). I will find a citation that will better explain it, so that its merits can be judged, rather than my presentation of it:

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I found it again. Nattier’s A Few Good Men: The Bodhisattva Path according to the Inquiry of Ugra (Ugraparipṛcchā) 342. We’ll see if it holds up.

I was not remembering things 100% accurately (surprise surprise!) :sweat_smile:.

The passage is commenting on an eccentric spelling of Maitreya that can apparently be seen occasionally, Maitraka, and on this, it has this to say:

The apparent alternation between -eya (in the standard Sanskrit form) and -aka (in the >Prakrit) offers an interesting parallel, though not an exact one, to the fluctuation between ->aya and -eka in the name of the second vehicle of Buddhis practice, that of the >pratyekabuddha […].


For another example of the confusion between intervocalic -k- and -y- in the Gāndhārī language see Brough 1962, pp. 45-48, where the term udaya “arising” is confused with udaka “water” with ludicrous results.

It seems that this -y-/-k- confusion goes both ways?

Wikipedia cites a hard-to-find 1999 phonological study of Gāndhārī by Mark Barnard, which is likely a paper of his on these four Gāndhārī saṃyuktāgamasūtrāṇi.

On page 114, he notes a phonological peculiarity, where K’s are often dropped altogether in Gādhārī when they are retained in other Prākrits, particularly in medial position.

Compare this with ‘Standard’ English ever --> e’er in Scots. But Scots does this occasionally with the V instead of the K like Gāndhārī seems to.

That is fertile ground for meagre speculation, I think at least, since it seems I have already misremembered altogether a paper citing Gāndhārī as the reason for pacceka --> pratyaya.

So I think that it is rather well-established (for the sake of another source: Allon 2001, 79) that Gāndhārī apparently regularly drops both K’s and Y’s where they are preserved in other parallel Prākrits.

I may be wrong, that is what all of the charts cited here and above seem to say though, k -> ⊘ & y -> ⊘, intevocally, as the first most common change §§§, moreso than k -> h even, which is a very common sound change, generally speaking. This would create a lot of ambiguities (either way, k -> y or y ->k), I imagine, in lines of transmission that run through Gāndhārī, like many believe about the Chinese texts mentioned in the OP.

§§§ this doesn’t mean that this change does happen in Gāndhārī, it means that if a change occurs, this one is the most likely. In order to find out, one would have to look at the Gāndhārī, which I cannot, meaning this is all speculation.

*pracceka or *pacceẏa (proposed/speculated Prākrit?, *pacceẏa based on Levman 2010, 58) -> *pace’a (proposed/speculated Gādhārī? applying the sound changes from the two papers) -> misunderstood as pratyaya when translators try to reconstruct it in older times? Producing 緣- and pratyaya-?

I don’t know what I’m talking about, though, so this is all somewhat moot. This is what the papers by the professionals seem to suggest, though, IMO.

I cannot view the page on Google Books, but the aforementioned Four Gāndhārī Saṃyuktāgama Sūtras has, on page 247, this preview:

  1. yasa-pacea: yathd-pratyaya: yathd-paccayam; “as one pleases”

“yathd” look like some error in text rendering, as I have never seen that consonant cluster in any Indic language before, maybe I am poorly exposed, though.

Does this imply a Gāndhārī *pace’a for both *pratyaya and *paccayam? As in, they are homonyms in Gāndhārī?

Alternatively, the Gāndhārī Dhammapada, as translated and analyzed by John Brough, has *pacaġa, but that apparently is in a Sanskrit portion of the Kurram Casket Kharoṣṭhī manuscript (Brough, The Gāndhārī Dhammapada, 91)

If anyone else can see this text and get more context, that would be wonderful, and free, and I assume legal, since this information is available to anyone who uses Google?

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Thanks for the info. So it seems the appearance of paccayabuddha in the Chinese texts is quite early.

Just a note on changes involving y. In Pali/Sanskrit (and I guess other Indic languages) aya is essentially identical with e. There are probably some rules that describe which one is to be used where, but in Pali, anyway, it seems pretty much arbitrary in practice; perhaps best to just treat e as a colloquial pronunciation of aya. Thus paccaya(ka)=pacce(ka).

In addition, consonant conjunctions (ty) in Sanskrit are often simplified to doublets in Pali (cc), and further to singletons in Gandhari and Prakrit (c).

So combining these rules, paccaya can easily become pace’a in Gandhari.

My point here is simply that loss or change in intervocalic y is a standard and expected feature of Indic languages; k not so much. But obviously k is dropped in Gandhari. So perhaps a variation that simply required a change in y would not necessarily be connected with Gandhari, but one involving a k is more likely to.

This all leaves my basic problem unaddressed: what is pacceyabuddha even supposed to mean?

As a more general note, in Christian theology they talk about approaching the Bible from “below” via text-criticism, archaeology, etc., and from “above” via religious or spiritual understanding. Obviously one of the benefits of scholarly work is to counteract the excessively credulous and uncritical attitudes that come with a purely “top-down” approach.

But it is, I think, a mistake to imagine that a purely “bottom-up” approach is somehow more scientific or accurate. It is merely another point of view, not a better one. The reality is that these texts have always existed in a culture with certain ideas, values, and expectations, and having a sympathetic understanding of this context is essential to understanding the texts as a whole.

K.R. Norman claimed, with a little hyperbole, to know nothing about Buddhism; that is, he worked entirely from below. That approach has resulted in a lot of valuable findings. But it also results in a lot of misunderstandings that are self-evident to anyone who does understand Buddhism both as theory and practice.

So this is why, although I appreciate the linguistic possibility, I’m reluctant to accept this proposed interpretation, without some more compelling evidence, including an appreciation for what this idea meant to the people involved. We know what a “solitary” Buddha means to the Buddhist people: but what does “condition” Buddha mean?


I am really enjoying this exchange!

So, did my simple mind interpret it right so far: there is still no solid explanation for what pratyayabuddha/ pacceyabuddha means?

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We know what the words mean, we just don’t know what the words mean.


(correction to previous post ,
ie it’s different translations of paccekabuddha).


Can you offer a source for this @Apeiron?

Now that I have a little more grounding on the subject matter I find myself a bit better to explain the suggestion I was putting forth, hardly one that stands on highly firm grounding, but a suggestion nonetheless.

K Norman argues this “caused Buddha”-like reading as the original based on -k-/-y- alternation and -e-/-a- alternation in some manuscripts.

I’ve never actually read this work firsthand so I don’t know if he addresses Gāndhārī sources.

Basically the suggestion that some others have, who seem to be running parallel theses to his, is that an “original” pratyaya gets confounded into pacceẏa and then into pacceka.

Paccayabuddha is *praceẏabudha in Gāndhārī (Brough gives prace’a instead of praceẏa, I am adjusting his romanization to match the other scholars’): this is a non-scholarly reconstuction combined from instances on page 304 of Brough’s Gāndhārī Dharmapada where it gives prace’a for pratyaya and on page 139 where budhaśaśaṇe is given for buddhasāsane.

Paccekabuddha, on the other hand, is *pracagabudha, based on the same unsolid methods and a substantiation on page 82.

But Gāndhārī hardly has stable orthography. Pracegabudha can easily be found via an internet search as another way of spelling this word. A citation would be page 263 of this text.

K Norman’s argument that pacceka is likely a misunderstanding of pratyaya relies on an argument that “the translator interpret[ed] the intervocalic -y- as a substitute for a missing stop” (page 193 here). The *pacceẏa manuscript form of pratyaya discussed above from Levman’s paper is a substantiation similar to Norman’s proposal.

Honestly, to me, it seems like it could have gone either way. Many are speculating that a lot of Chinese Mahāyānasūtrāṇi were translated from Gāndhāri.

Pratyayabuddha would like praceẏabudha. Pratyekabuddha would be like pracegabudha. Very, very similar. Lines of transmission that run through Gāndhārī may be highly confused as to how to reconstruct *prace(ẏ/g)abudha, with either one potentially having been the original.

In short, I don’t think that Dr Norman might have considered that pratyaya might be the incorrect reconstruction.

I am wondering how the recently discovered Gilgit Gāndhārī Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra has the word recorded.

In the Nepalese recension, I am still looking at Ven Kumārajīva’s, there is an interesting and strange little etymology given for pratyekabuddhaḥ in chapter 3, the Aupamyaparivartaḥ:

ātmaparinirvāṇahetorhetupratyayānubodhāya tathāgataśāsane ‘bhiyujyante, ta ucyante pratyekabuddhayānam ākāṅkṣamāṇās

Notice that little hetupratyaya in pratyekabuddha’s folk etymology given within.


Are there any specific examples of this?

Look on page 85 here, “ka” & “ya” can look very similar in Kharoṣṭhī script!

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Interesting discussion. Below is the linked paper by Norman.

The Pratyeka-Buddha in Buddhism and Jainism – K.R. Norman


My above post is very long and I am a somewhat indirect speaker, unfortunately. I should have done a tl:dr:

The suggestion is that a severe consonant lenition, which we know is common to Gāndhārī phonetics generally, something like “k --> g --> ɣ --> y” ( aside from that last mutation, this sound change is called “sonorization” and is a somewhat common sequence globally) was mistaken as the original. Perhaps.

Lastly, something that I don’t think anyone considers a lot, is that confusions like these could predate the literacy of the material in a given language. Maybe this is something silly to suggest. In the process of writing down these texts, if a speaker had a strong regional accent, whether speaking a regional Prākrit or trying to pronounce Pāṇini’s Sanskrit (of which no one was a native speaker), a manuscript error could easily be introduced due to directly (mis)hearing the material being recited to them.

Gāndhārī seems to be the French of the Prākrits. The things French does to Latin, phonetically, Gāndhārī likes to do to Middle Indic.

@Javier posted a link to a Gāndhārī linguist’s video that had this development attested:

Sansk: upāsaka
Gāndh: uasao

It reminded me of

Latin: digitum
French (IPA): dwa (spelled doigt, though!)

But that is a purely personal observation. The French re-added that G, which is not pronounced, into their spelling, to try to have their spelling better reflect the Latin roots of the language. This is like the initial Sanskritization of Gāndhārī presented in @Javier’s video , a little bit.


Returning to this, it is tempting to see little ‘signs’ like this, a etymology that seems to match up with pratyayabuddha being assigned to pratyekabuddha.

There is also this, it is the opening exposition of the ekayāna teaching of the sūtra, the notion that the Buddha appears to teach three vehicles, but only teaches one. The doctrinal development is unrelated to our points here, though. Look at how the yānāni, vehicles, are assigned:

yaduta śrāvakāṇāṃ caturāryasatyasaṃprayuktaṃ pratītyasamutpādapravṛttaṃ dharmaṃ deśayati sma jātijarāvyādhimaraṇaśokaparidevaduḥkhadaurmanasyopāyāsānāṃ samatikramāya nirvāṇaparyavasānam| bodhisattvānāṃ ca mahāsattvānāṃ ca ṣaṭpāramitāpratisaṃyuktamanuttarāṃ samyaksaṃbodhimārabhya sarvajñajñānaparyavasānaṃ dharmaṃ deśayati sma||

My Sanskrit is too poor to properly parse jātijarāvyādhimaraṇaśokaparidevaduḥkhadaurmanasyopāyāsānāṃ.

That is from the Nepalese, the Kumārajīva has:

“For the sake of those seeking to become voice-hearers he responded by expounding the doctrine of the four noble truths, so that they could transcend birth, aging, sickness, and death, and attain nirvana. For the sake of those seeking to become pratyekabuddhas he responded by expounding the doctrine of the twelve-linked chain of causation. For the sake of the bodhisattvas he responded by expounding the six paramitas, causing them to gain supreme perfect enlightenment and to acquire the wisdom that embraces all species.
(tr Burton Watson)

How closely does the Nepalese match the Chinese, likely from a Gāndhārī original?

Would it be possible for both words’ meanings to have been intended? Like “Awakened to isolated conditions” or “Vehicle of isolated conditions”, to mean conditions that are isolated from what they condition, while retaining the symbolism of the lone and wild “retreating” Buddha.

Since Paccekabuddhas are said only to exist when there is no Buddha, Dharma or Sangha, and then their apparent function is to be isolated far from populations, and not be “apparent” at all, could the question of their apparent non-existence conceivably be tied up in that same symbolistic language?

FWIW, according to Gandhari.org:

S. pratyaya => G. pracaya.
S. pratyeka => G. paḍega or pracega.
S. pratyekasaṃbuddha => pracegasaṃbudha.

The -k- doesn’t turn into a -y- in attestations.

I’ve always understood the 緣 in 緣覺 to be a functional translation. I.e., a pratyeka buddha awakens to dependent origination on their own without the help of a teacher but doesn’t teach anyone. So, the Chinese translations of 緣覺 and 獨覺 are different references to this explanation.