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How can a lay person benefit from this beautiful sutta? It is about being reclusive as a key for good insight and enlightenment.

Does this sutta apply for short period of loneliness like Retreats? Or should it be taken literally and is only for monks?

"Laying aside all violence, respecting all beings,
never harming even one of them,
one should not wish for a son,
nor neither for any companion.
One should wander solitary as a rhinoceros horn.
... The considerations which exists for sons and wives is like
a spreading bamboo entangled, a solid web of bars,
Like a single young bamboo shoot up free, not caught up with others
One should wander solitary as a rhinoceros horn."

Khaggavisana Sutta

  • This was an early ideal-- the idea that regular society was so screwed up that it was better to leave it. Even people who liked the idea, still preferred to hang out together than to be alone. – MatthewMartin Sep 2 '14 at 1:52
  • hmmm interested point of view, I would like to hear other opinions about it, maybe it is more about attachments than how good/bad society is! – konrad01 Sep 2 '14 at 2:06
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According to Chogyam Trungpa, loneliness is the heart of Sila, Buddhist discipline. As such, the spirit of loneliness must permeate one's practice, whether one is ordained or not. Critically important at "hinayana-level", loneliness temporarily steps aside for the Mahayana phase, only to return with Vajrayana, this time to stay.

Loneliness begins with making commitment to the spiritual quest:

The refuge ceremony cuts the line that connects the ship to the anchor; it marks the beginning of an odyssey of loneliness. We are suspended in no-man's land in which the only thing to do is to relate with the teachings and with ourselves.

In terms of actual practice, loneliness translates to following guidelines:

  • Not looking for entertainment in any shape or form.
  • Giving up one's need for companionship, for relationships.
  • Relying on one's own resources, not waiting for help.
  • Taking a stance, however suboptimal, without confirming it with an external authority all the time.
  • Working towards one's goal (Enlightenment), instead of giving the entropy a free hand.
  • Learning to trust one's fundamental goodness.

A lonely person could still relate with other people. You could be lonely, alone, and living in the midst of society at the same time. Aloneness does not mean you have to be a mountain hermit.

This loneliness -- the feeling that no one is going to descent in a golden chariot to take you to Nirvana, help you, or even acknowledge your existence, and that therefore your Enlightenment is on you and you alone, is solely between you and the universe -- is what eventually develops into wakefulness, or Bodhi.

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Mr. Konrad,

as Andrei Volkov rightly quote, its actually the heart of Dhamma practice. And like many issues, there are no such as "this is only for Monks", "this Laypeople should not do". More over, a live of rhinoceros is not a required way according to the Vinaya. The mode of life like this, does even reduce the need to stay with certain rules and is most present in the practice of Dhutanga or forest monks.

Its simply a real well meant advice of mode of life and practice. It touches many topics and of course also the matter of "if there is no one equal or better, if there is no good friend: Walk alone", kalyanamitta

Its has been also the mode of the Bodhisatta, in many of his life times.

"Laying aside all violence, respecting all beings, never harming even one of them" for example, incl. renunciation are the three factors of right resolve/intention, the second path factor. So it comes right after right view.

And if you think of how the Buddha told to identify of what is Dhamma, and what not, you would also find the same aspects (look for the sutta named — Cv.X.5 in this document)

Don't forget, even you live in the midst of everything, you are always alone. So what seeks for engagement?

Maybe also an alternative translation with some introduction Khaggavisana Sutta: A Rhinoceros

Speaking about this topics is straight right speech and touches many of the 10 wholesome topic. Modesty Contentment Seclusion Non-entanglement Persistence Virtue

The hidden intention, like also have been mentioned here, to be back on stage again, as a hero, is a beloved one, but actually the Buddha adviced, if such is the case, it is not righteous to practice the Dhutangas. It has been also indicated, that if the Sangha does no more prefers this mode of live, that this is the end of the Sasana.

Every Stanza of this Sutta is worthy to talk about it and explain it. Some related essays:

  1. With Robes and Bowl: Glimpses of the Thudong Bhikkhu Life
  2. Recognizing the Dhamma: A Study Guide
  3. All of Us: Beset by birth, decay, and death
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I think that the sutta referred to simply says that being entangled in others' lives ("son or wife", or any other commitment) will result in having to make hard choices, and eventually: abandon the other person, die, they die, or they leave, which is only more suffering!

But on a daily basis it means spending time with that person or doing things for them which takes time away from your practice. Even just getting interrupted by the other person's activity or questions interrupts one's awareness of life and how we attempt to overcome enthrallment. You can only focus on one thing at a time, so if another person is there, they will usually have priority, else why would you choose to be with them?

So the sutta is simply advice to be aware that your choice to be with someone will affect the course of your life and realization.

I feel that relationships are valid experience and teaching, but they do impose a lot of "overhead". You can decide for yourself, and your answer can change over time. You are free.

  • Interesting perspective, thank you for sharing :) – Ryan Dec 29 '15 at 0:07
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Wikipedia makes the following claim, but unreferenced,

The Rhinoceros Sutra (Pali: Khaggavisāṇa-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 monastics. The goal of this was to become a pratyekabuddha, who wandered alone through the forest like a rhinoceros.

One modern book intended not for "solitary ascetics" but for laypeople is described in this answer, which says something like,

If you fail to find suitable associates it's better to be "like a solitary rhinoceros"

Note that chapter 23 of the Dhammapada makes this slightly modified claim, i.e.,

  1. If for company you find a wise and prudent friend who leads a good life, you should, overcoming all impediments, keep his company joyously and mindfully.

  2. If for company you cannot find a wise and prudent friend who leads a good life, then, like a king who leaves behind a conquered kingdom, or like a lone elephant in the elephant forest, you should go your way alone.

  3. Better it is to live alone; there is no fellowship with a fool. Live alone and do no evil; be carefree like an elephant in the elephant forest.

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