I mean I don't know if they do but apparently private buddhas don't put forth a teaching, so my question is why can't they just tell people what they did to attain enlightenment.

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    The 3 Types of Buddhahood
    – ChrisW
    Commented Mar 18, 2015 at 0:26
  • It's possible that some, controversially, do (and in great detail): integrateddaniel.info/book
    – tkp
    Commented Oct 3, 2015 at 15:17
  • A naturally strong man took an ax, and with a single sweep fell a tree. Another man, having seen this, asked him how did he do that? The strong man said, this is what I did, and showed him what he did. The other man not being so strong, tried many times but couldn't. He asked the strong man again, and the strong man showed him again. After many unsuccessful attempts the weak man accused the strong man of being deceitful and miserly for not showing him how to fell a tree in a single sweep of an ax. Commented May 18, 2016 at 4:07
  • 1
    We prove, that no "private Buddha" shall teach you the dharma, with proof-by-finite-descent. Assume Bob and Alice are "private Buddhas". Because of reading this question Bob decides, to begin to teach, and thus to be no more "private". Next day, another Dude looks at Alice which is now the remaining "private Buddha" and is still not teaching. So what is, what he observes? That there is no "private Buddha" teaching... (Proof completed) Commented May 18, 2016 at 14:49

8 Answers 8


Because they themselves don't know. It's not like when you become enlightened you automatically understand what happened; the only necessary difference is that you no longer have any craving for anything. Actually understanding how you got there takes a much greater degree of wisdom.

It's much like having an epiphany - you realize something about your life, but you don't likely know what exactly you did to give rise to that realization.


They do know. They're just not comfortable with teaching.

In Chapter III, karika 94c of Abhidharmakosabhasya, Vasubandhu explains that Pratyekabuddhas do not teach others because teaching Dharma requires pushing the students "against the current" to "make them understand the profound Dharma", which "is a difficult thing" and causes "turmoil" to Pratyekabuddha, who finds pleasure in the peace of Jhanas and is averse to human contact with its trouble:

Why does he not apply himself to the conversion of others? He is certainly capable of teaching the Dharma: he possesses the comprehensions, he can remember the teachings of the ancient Buddhas. He is no longer deprived of compassion, for he manifests his supernormal power with a view to being of service to beings. He can no longer say that beings are "unconvertible" in the period in which he lives, for, in this period—the period of decrease of life—beings can detach themselves from The Realm of Desire by the worldly path. Why then does he not teach the Dharma?

By reason of his previous habit, he finds pleasure in, and aspires to absence of turmoil; he does not have the courage to apply himself to making others understand the profound Dharma: he would have to make disciples; he would have to conduct the multitude who follow the current against the current, and this is a difficult thing. Now he fears being distracted from his absorption and of entering into contact with humans.

My commentary:

A Pratyekabuddha has understood and pierced through his/her own obstacles (defilements, obscurations). He does know how he himself achieved Enlightenment. But in order to teach others one must pierce through the veils of million other combinations of karma and defilements that other beings may have. That's the difficult part.

Plus, because Enlightenment is non-conceptual, explaining it with concepts may seem like heaping further B.S. on top of existing heaps of B.S. Very burdensome and not always rewarding. Effectively, for the time you teach you have to step out of Nirvana and back into the pain of Samsara or at least on the edge.

For Pratyekabuddha teaching is both difficult and a pain in the butt, so it is absolutely not worth the effort.

  • 1
    "True compassion is ruthless."
    – user2341
    Commented Dec 21, 2015 at 0:36
  • "Effectively, for the time you teach you have to step out of Nirvana and back into the pain of Samsara or at least on the edge." How is this a thing? Isn't liberation irreversible?
    – John Doe
    Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 19:42
  • You feel pain on behalf of others.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 19:51

Also forgive me,I forgot where I read this but a pacekabuddha lacks the ability to teach like a supreme Buddha.Even the Buddha after his enlightened almost didn't teach the dhamma because he said it was too hard for us to understand.so I imagine it would have been much more difficult for a private Buddha to teach the dhamma.Especially when its never been heard before or not in a Buddha sasana.


There is another view on why private Buddha's cannot teach.

  • A disciple understands the fabrication pertaining to ones own aggregates
  • A private Buddha understand above plus fabrication of nature but not that of other beings (some private Buddhas realise Buddhahood through observing nature than oneself)
  • A fully enlightened Buddha also understands the fabrication pertaining to the aggregates of others also, hence is able to provide and set out proper guidance a tame others who are ready to be tamed.

If you do not understand how fabrication work pertaining to another being you cannot give advice on how to come out of the process of creating new fabrications and put a stop to it.

There are documented cases in what they did to realise Nirvana but many are not readily usable by any one who is not mature enough. E.g. looking at a leaf fall fall from a tree, looking at the flow of a stream, etc. It is unlikely anybody else utilise this kind of advice to gain benifit.


One difference between a Sammasambuddha and Paccekkabuddha is that, the former, at a point of been capable of achieving Enlightenment, postpones his Enlightenment so that he can become a Bodhisattva to instruct and inspire many beings during many life times, and thus help a large number of beings eradicate craving (the origin of suffering). Thus over the supposedly billions of lifetimes as a Bodhisatva the Bodhisatva gets to know and learns about the various tendencies of the multitude of beings s/he instructs, and thus is able to preach the dhamma accordingly. The latter had no such intention, and no such training in teaching. That is not to say that Paccekabuddhas are incapable of giving any instruction or inspiring others. However, the body of teaching is not comprehensive or complete like a Sammasambuddha.


If I remember well, in the gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism, private buddhas are synonymous with "small arhats", that have attained the "small nirvana", if they renounce it, they can go on and remove the first veil, at which time they become "aryas", and then the three others, at which time they become buddhas, alias fully awakened, alias "great arhats".

Somehow private buddhas blocked their sufferings without removing the causes, and their state is an intermediary stage for those who want to reach buddhahood for the benefits of others and themselves.


Great question !

I once attended a lecture where a story was told about a private Buddha. This particular one lived an entire life as a human, all the ups and downs of a normal average life for the time.

All for one encounter with another human on a bus, where in that encounter the private Buddha screamed angrily in the other persons face, and then got off the bus to live the rest of the life born into.

It was said that encounter led to a series of unfolding events that set the other human on the path towards liberation.

In contrast, if the private buddha had given a sermon on the bus it might not have had the same effects.


From a Mahayana perspective, the difference between a Pratyekabuddha private Buddha, (as well as the comparable Arhat) and a Samyaksambuddha (Fully Enlightened Buddha) is in the aspirations. Both already attained Nirvana and release from suffering, however the latter through their compassionate vows remained to teach others and further develop important skills in their ability to teach.

As the Sakyamuni Buddha stated, when he attained release he was initially content to rest and dwell at ease. If he had done so, he would be effectively a private Buddha.

If you look at the Paramitas:

  1. Dāna pāramitā: generosity, giving of oneself (in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese, 布施波羅蜜; in Tibetan, སབྱིན་པ sbyin-pa)
  2. Śīla pāramitā : virtue, morality, discipline, proper conduct (持戒波羅蜜; ཚུལ་ཁྲིམས tshul-khrims)
  3. Kṣānti pāramitā : patience, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, endurance (忍辱波羅蜜; བཟོད་པ bzod-pa)
  4. Vīrya pāramitā : energy, diligence, vigor, effort (精進波羅蜜; བརྩོན་འགྲུས brtson-’grus)
  5. Dhyāna pāramitā : one-pointed concentration, contemplation (禪定波羅蜜, བསམ་གཏན bsam-gtan)
  6. Prajñā pāramitā : wisdom, insight (般若波羅蜜; ཤེས་རབ shes-rab)

All six paramitas are required for release, and both Arhats and Pratyekabuddha have completed these perfections.

In the Ten Stages Sutra, four more pāramitās are listed:

  1. Upāya pāramitā: skillful means
  2. Praṇidhāna pāramitā: vow, resolution, aspiration, determination
  3. Bala pāramitā: spiritual power
  4. Jñāna pāramitā: knowledge

The last four perfections are what make it possible for a fully enlightened Buddha to be such an incomparable teacher. Having the resolve to teach beings and cultivating the skills necessary to teach all beings. Recall that many Arahants like Sariputta and Maha Moggallana had different abilities, and were not able to develop their psychic powers to the same degree nor have the same level of knowledge and wisdom as the Buddha.

The goal of Mahayana Buddhism is to exhort people not to be content with the goal of attaining deliverance, but cultivate the skills necessary to teach the way to the deliverance. As such a true Bodhisattva can exist in both Theravada and Mahayana traditions. And within Mahayana tradition there are plenty of people who behave as if they are a Hinayanist despite the label.

At the end of the Amitabha Sutra, it is stated that while it is difficult to attain enlightenment, it is even more difficult to teach it. (This part of the text is usually not translated correctly and I haven't found a satisfactory English translation).

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