Rhinoceros Sutra

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The Rhinoceros Sutra (Pāli: Khaggavisāna-sutta; Sanskrit: Khaḍgaviṣāṇa Gāthā; Gāndhārī: Khargaviṣana-sutra) is a very early Buddhist text advocating the merit of solitary asceticism for pursuing enlightenment (as opposed to practicing as a householder or in a community of monks or nuns).


The Rhinoceros Sutra has long been identified, along with the Aṭṭhakavagga and Pārāyanavagga, as one of the earliest texts found in the Pāli Canon. (Salomon, pp. 15-16) This identification has been reinforced by the discovery of a version in the Gandhāran Buddhist texts, the oldest Buddhist (and, indeed, Indian) manuscripts extant. It also exists in a Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit version. The early date for the text along with its rather unusual (within community-oriented Buddhism) approach to monastic life have led some scholars to suggest that it represents a holdover from a very early stage of Buddhism.


The sutra consists of a series of verses which discuss both the perils of community life and the benefits of solitude, almost all of which end with the admonition that seekers should wander alone like rhinoceros. The verses are somewhat variable between versions, as is the ordering of verses, suggesting a rich oral tradition that diverged regionally or by sect before being written down.

Association with pratyekabuddhas[edit]

Traditional commentaries on the text have unanimously associated the Rhinoceros Sutra with the Buddhist tradition of pratyekabuddhas.[1]

In the 4th century Mahāyāna abhidharma work Abhidharmasamuccaya, Asaṅga describes followers of the Pratyekabuddha Vehicle (Skt. pratyekabuddhayanika) as those who dwell alone like the horn of a rhinoceros, or as a solitary conquerors (Skt. pratyekajina) living in a small group.[2] Here they are characterized as utilizing the same canon of texts as the śrāvakas, the Śrāvaka Piṭaka, but having a different set of teachings, the Pratyekabuddha Dharma.[2]

Naming controversy[edit]

There is an ongoing dispute over whether the title, "sword-horn" sutra, is to be taken as a tatpuruṣa compound (a sword which is a horn) or as a bahuvrīhi compound (one who has a sword as a horn). In the former case, the title should be rendered "The Rhinoceros-Horn Sutra"; in the latter case, it should be rendered, "The Rhinoceros Sutra." There is textual evidence to support either interpretation.[1]

In general, the Mahāyāna traditions in India took the title to refer to the image of an Indian rhinoceros, which is a solitary animal. The Theravāda tradition tended toward the "rhinoceros horn" interpretation, but there is some variance between Theravāda commentators, with some referring to the image of a rhinoceros rather than a rhinoceros horn. (Salomon, p. 13)

Location in Buddhist canons[edit]

In the Pali Suttapitaka, this sutta is the third sutta in the Khuddaka Nikaya's Sutta Nipata's first chapter (Uragavagga, or the "Snake Chapter," named after the chapter's first sutta), and thus can be referenced in the Pali canon as "Sn 1.3."[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Salomon, Richard; Glass, Andrew Stuart (2000). A Gāndhārī Version of the Rhinoceros Sutra: British Library Kharoṣṭhi Fragment 5B. University of Washington Press. pp. 10–13. ISBN 9780295980355. 
  2. ^ a b Rahula, Walpola; Asanga (2001). Abhidharma Samuccaya: The Compendium of Higher Teaching. pp. 199–200. ISBN 978-0895819413. 
  3. ^ Thanissaro Bhikkhu (trans.) (1997). "Sutta Nipata I.3, Khaggavisana Sutta: A Rhinoceros Horn". Archived from the original on July 4, 2008. Retrieved April 14, 2015.