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Pratyekabuddha is a solitary Buddha, individually self-enlightened one. The term is derived from prati, meaning ‘towards’ or ‘for’ and eka, the numeral ‘one’; together pratyeka means single, individual, personal, private, “each one for himself.’ It is literally translated as the “solitary enlightened one”. It describes one who has attained enlightenment through one’s own effort and only for oneself. In early Buddhism, the various modes of practice or yanas, or ways of enlightenment, included those of the ravakas, Pratyekabuddhas and Bodhisattvas, all of which are only temporary expedients, made necessary by the diversity of temperament among the disciples, as well as by their varying degrees of spiritual development. Strictly speaking, there is only one, Buddha Vehicle.

Pratyekabuddha is a Buddha for himself alone who, unlike the arhat, has achieved enlightenment through his own efforts without instructions or aid from others, thereby being free of the cycle of birth and death but who, at the same time, is distinct from Buddha (sammasam Buddha) in that he is not omniscient nor capable of enlightening others not possesses the Great Compassion. Pratyekabuddha, or the “solitary realized,” is one who has not yet reached Buddhahood but is endowed with superior wisdom, and his path is called the pratyekayana, the path of personal rest, utter peace, bliss and living in the divine.

Pratyekabuddha makes his obeisance, but to himself, caring nothing for the woes of mankind or to help it. He does not do it to gratify himself but achieves nirvana automatically, following the lofty impulses of his being. He does not harm anyone, but also does not help anyone. Even the Pratyekabuddhas persevere in their purpose, their merit and wisdom are said to be limited, because their effort are “for their sake alone”, in contradistinction to Buddha who bears “the altruistic mind of enlightenment.”