The Khaggavisāṇa Sutta: A Rhinoceros Horn

Dhivan Thomas Jones has written an excellent article concerning the sutta entitled, Like the Rhinoceros, or Like Its Horn? The Problem of Khaggavisāṇa Revisited.

The Pāli expression khaggavisāṇakappo may either mean ‘like the rhinoceros’ or ‘like the horn of the rhinoceros’. It occurs in the refrain eko care khaggavisāṇakappo at the end of each stanza of the Khaggavisāṇa-sutta and its parallels, and the refrain has been translated by some as ‘one should wander alone like the rhinoceros’ but by some, including K. R. Norman, as ‘one should wander alone like the horn of the rhinoceros’….

Given the ambiguity of the compound khaggavisāṇa, it seems reasonable to suppose that the composer(s) of the Khaggavisāṇa-sutta may have intended the compound to be understood in both senses simultaneously, both as a tatpuruṣa meaning ‘rhinoceros horn’ and as a bahuvrīhi meaning ‘rhinoceros’.

Jones come to the conclusion that the discrepancy should remain ambiguous, with more of a slant towards “Like a Rhinoceros.” However, I like how he stipulates that an even better understanding for the sutta’s title means “the solitary-wandering horned rhinoceros and not just its single horn, since the horn can be single but cannot wander, as Prof. Norman himself acknowledges.” The Indian rhinoceros, also referred to as the greater one-horned rhinoceros, is a rhinoceros native to the Indian subcontinent. For me, the Rhino’s horn is symbolic of a one-solitary image, singularly displayed as a metaphor for the solitary contemplative.

Jones points out that “the lifestyle of the rhinoceros in fact provides a very apt simile for the lifestyle of the sage depicted in the Khaggavisāṇa-sutta, who is enjoined to wander alone, except to enjoy the company of a wise companion.” I take-issue, however, with the verb to wander. It implies a roaming-about, even at times aimlessly so. Of course, given the nature of the time-frame involved, it does reinforce those wandering ascetics—wandering for food, shelter, etc., but never staying in one place for long. Even today in India this tradition continues. In the USA certain “homeless ones” are much like this wandering enterprise. There are lines from one translation of the Dhammapada which states:

If one should find a wise companion
good to live and wander with, resolute,
overcoming every danger,
one should wander with them, mindful, satisfied.

If one cannot find a wise companion
good to live and wander with, resolute,
like a king leaving a conquered kingdom,
one should wander alone like the khaggavisāṇa.

I much prefer the verb, “to live”, as a substitute. Ria Kloppenborg, in her excellent resource, The Paccekabuddha: A Buddhist Ascetic A Study of the Concept of the Paccekabuddha in Pali Canonical and Commentarial Literature, offers a translation which reads for the refrain, one should live alone, like the horn of a rhinoceros. We will be predominantly using this translation, along with Thanissaro’s from time to time for comparison. The stanzas of the Sutta emphasizes a solitary and contemplative [life] style—the very mantle of renunciates themselves. In particular the lifestyle of the Pratyekabuddha, or solitary adepts. Kloppenborg’s study of the Pratyekabuddha (Sanskrit) or Paccekabuddha (Pali) is worth a series of its own, perhaps someday. Here’s a pertinent paragraph:

A Paccekabuddha, unable to overcome the thought that the teaching will be too difficult for others to understand, is not prepared to take up the burdensome work of finding disciples and of inciting them to go against the stream. Thus he finds it difficult to come out from his concentration in order to establish contacts with other people (Abhidharmakoṣa III 196). But he does feel inclined to help those who would eventually attain insight by themselves. This he does by giving them advice on secondary issues, by inciting them indirectly with an object of meditation, or by instructing them in the ethics and way of life of those who enter upon religious life. As it has been said in the Commentary on the Suttanipāta: “Paccekabuddhas are enlightened by themselves (but) do not enlighten others: they comprehend only the essence of meaning (attharasa), not the essence of the idea (dhammarasa), they are not able to put the supra-mundane dhamma into concepts and teach it” (Sn-a 51).

Stanzas from the Apadāna also reinforces this image of the Paccekabuddha:

They are great, with large Dharma-bodies,
lords of mind, who have crossed the flood of
all pain,
minds exalted, seeing the ultimate,
they are like lions, they are like khaggavisāṇas.

Returning now to my choice of “to live” over “to wander”, “to live” gives connotations of a broader spectrum of the solitary/contemplative enterprise—from every action and non-action (with an emphasis on non-action, or the Recollective Resolve in Deep Samadhis—Staying-power!), not just pejoratively wandering alone like in a dazed stupor. Wandering can even be considered as a most negative activity, as portrayed from verses of my Dhammapada In Light of the Unborn:

Wandering about through endless
kalpas with worlding-companions
who are blind to the Salvific Light of
the Unborn is like sailing across the
dark waters of hopelessness with
the boatman, Charon, who ferries
the self-condemned to the Isle of the

Better to awaken alone to the self-realization
of Noble Wisdom thus get off the spinning wheel of
samsara and set foot upon the firm
foundation of the Other Shore of

The fiery breath of passion spawns
the hatred of contempt as one
experiences the hunger pangs of
separation from the Unborn Resolve
thus obstructing the wholesome
bodhiflow that alone reroutes Mind
from ITs wandering samsaric
escapades through the self-realization
of antecedent awareness.

No longer being in or out of this
saha realm, those Valiant Light
Warriors (bodhisattvas) pierce the
darkness of the weary wanderers,
who are doomed to suffer the
ignoble fate of endless
transmigration, and lead them away
from the pitfalls of this Dharma
Ending Age and thus deliver them
from Mara the evil one.

No longer wandering aimlessly
about and experiencing endless
rebirth through untold kalpas the
former Slothful Wayfarer awakens to
the Great Tathatic Resolution THAT
precludes any karmic
predisposition, as IT remains
steadfast in the Uncreated Sphere of

Seeds of deathlessness
Align the weary samsaric course
Awake O’ Wanderer,You are United in the Source!

Rhino’s in general remind me of an overgrown armadillo with a single-horn. Retreating into its body like a monk being sheltered by his hood and habit.

This series will contrast this solitary-imperative vs. the numbingly socially-active/destructive forces in our weary-world.

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