Rhinoceros sutta by Paccekabuddhas?

The Rhinoceros sutta (Snp 1.3) is attributed to Paccekabuddhas by the commentaries.

But two verses seem to imply that the narrator lived in a world with a Buddha, hence the narrator could not be a Paccekabuddha:

The most obvious verse is the one mentionning the ‘Kinsman of the Sun’, which is a common designation of a Buddha:

Who loves to live in company
e’en timely freedom cannot find”;
so Kinsman of the Sun declared—
fare singly as the rhino’s horn.

Less convincingly but still relevant, the following verse speaks of a friend ‘deeply-learned’ knowing the ‘meaning’ - for me, this imply the existence of a fully developed Dhamma teaching by a Buddha (with the right phrasing and meaning). Also we could argue that it could be a teaching by a Paccekabuddha.

Follow that friend who’s deeply-learned,
Dharma-endowed and lucid, great,
knows meaning leading out of doubts,
fare singly as the rhino’s horn.

What are your views on this?

I know it is not of great importance to know the source of these verses, their content is what matters most. But still, saying that they come from Paccekabuddhas seem to relegate them to secondary teachings… at least it is the impression I had reading some people talking about this sutta.


I value Martin Wiltshire’s account, in his book Ascetic Figures Before and In Early Buddhism, of the origins and doctrinal evolution of the paccekabuddha concept in early Buddhist literature. This passage from the conclusion of the book gives a brief sense of his extended argument:

The paccekabuddhas might have been ancient and quasi-legendary munis and isis, in whose tradition the Buddha himself was self-consciously practicing, and some of whose teachings were preserved and passed down with the oldest parts of the Pali canon. This might account for some of doctrinal differences between parts of the Sutta Nipata, which are agreed to be very old, and later EBTs in other parts of the nikayas. It was only later on that the evolving devotional tradition felt the need to displace the paccekabuddhas into previous eras, and diminish their attainments in order to extol the Buddha’s even higher.

But, as you note, the speaker of the Khaggavisāṇa seems to be contemporaneous with the Buddha and a follower of his teaching. Perhaps some of the later commentators, who lived a settled and scholarly monastic life, were uncomfortable with the ideal of solitary wandering that seems so prevalent in earliest Buddhism, and so wanted to classify that kind of teaching as deficient in some way.


I agree, the attribution to paccekabuddhas should not be taken historically. These verses were clearly composed in the historical period of the EBTs.

The commentators, who lived in massive monasteries with thousands of monks, moved away from the lonely ascetic ideal found here and elsewhere. It’s not a one-and-done thing, not a deliberate conspiracy to suppress the early teachings, but a gradual distancing from certain aspects, which over time accrued a mythology, as these things do.