Sanskrit: Pratyeka is a compound of two words: prati, prepositional prefix meaning "towards" or "for"; and eka, the numeral "one"; thus we can translate the compound by the paraphrase "each one for himself."
The Pratyeka Buddha, he who achieves buddhahood for himself, instead of feeling the call of almighty love to return and help those who have gone less far, goes ahead into the supernal light -- passes onwards and enters the unspeakable bliss of nirvana. Though exalted, nevertheless he does not rank with the unutterable sublimity of the Buddha of Compassion.
The Pratyeka Buddha concentrates his energies on the one objective -- spiritual self-advancement -- he raises himself to the spiritual realm of his own inner being, enwraps himself therein and, so to speak, goes to sleep. The Buddha of Compassion raises himself, as does the Pratyeka Buddha, to the spiritual realms of his own inner being, but does not stop there, because he expands continuously, becomes one with All, or tries to, and in fact does so in time. When the Pratyeka Buddha in due course emerges from the Nirvanic state in order to take up his evolutionary journey again, he will find himself far in the rear of the Buddha of Compassion. Compare the Pratyeka Buddha in some contrast with Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi, the Buddha's consummation of incomparable Enlightenment.
The transliteration of the Sanskrit pratyekabuddha is usually translated into Japanese as byakushibutsu and Chinese as yuanjiao ("enlightened by contemplation on dependent origination") and ("self-enlightened"). One of two kinds of lesser vehicle sages, the other being a 'hearer' (s`raavaka). This practitioner attains liberation without the direct guidance of a teacher by analyzing the principle of conditioned origination.
The following is extracted from G. De Purucker's Golden Precepts of Esotericism:
The Pratyeka Buddhas are very great men, very holy men, very pure men in every way, whose knowledge is wide and vast and deep, whose spiritual stature is great; but when they reach Buddhahood, instead of feeling the call of almighty love to return and help those who have gone less far, they go ahead into the supernal light -- pass onwards and enter the unspeakable bliss of nirvana -- and leave mankind behind. Such are the Pratyeka Buddhas.The Pratyeka Buddha, he who achieves Buddhahood for himself, does NOT do it selfishly, however; does not do it merely in order to gratify self, and he does no harm to others; if he did he could never reach even his solitary Buddhahood. But he does it and achieves nirvana automatically, so to speak, . . .
According to the most authoritative Mahayanists, the accepted view in respect to the Pratyeka Buddhas is the following:
Self-Enlightened (Skt. Pratyeka) Buddhas do not teach the Doctrine publicly, but merely do good to those who come into personal contact with them, whereas Omniscient Buddhas, of Whom was the Buddha Gautama, preach the Doctrine widely. . . .
And lastly, the following definition:
The holy sages Enlightened to conditions
Doze high on mountain peaks alone.
Springtime's flowers wither in the fall
In a cycle of twelve interconnecting links.
"'The holy sages Enlightened to conditions . . .' When there is a Buddha in the world, sages are called those 'Enlightened to conditions.' When there is no Buddha in the world, they are called 'solitary Enlightened ones' or Pratyekabuddhas, because they are able to become Enlightened by themselves.
"'Doze high on mountain peaks alone.' They prefer to doze
alone in the high desolate mountains. 'Springtime's flowers wither
in the fall in a cycle of twelve interconnecting links.' In the
spring the myriad things are born. Those Enlightened to conditions
watch the white blossoms open, and in the autumn they see the
yellow leaves fall. They awaken to the knowledge that all phenomena
are non-existent. They see that everything naturally gets born
and dies, and thus they become Enlightened to the twelve links
of conditioned co-production."
1) Skt. pratyekabuddha, pratyayabuddha
(rare); 2) Pali paccekabuddha, paticcabuddha;
3) Alternate translations: Sage Enlightened by Conditions, Solitary
Enlightened One, Solitary Realizers.
There is another Sanskrit term, Sannyasa, used primarily in relation with Hinduism that is similar in scope and its end meaning, but not necessarily "Solitary" in execution. Sannyasa is exemplified somewhat as such by the following saying:
Kamyanam Karmanam Nyasam Sannyasam Kavayo Viduh:
Sannyasa is the relinquishment of ego-centric processes.
Thus said, there are two forms of sannyasa:
The first (sannyasa-vidvat)(sometimes: Aparka Marg) comes upon a man of itself and, whether he likes it or not, he is seized by an inner compulsion. The light has shone so brightly within, that he has become blind to all 10,000 things of the world. As it is probably the best known case is that of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, although by no means is such an experience totally unique. Whether such a man should receive the formal initiation to sannyasa or not, matters very little. He has already become an avadhata, one who has renounced everything according to the primitive tradition which existed before any rules had even been thought of. This is that original sannyasa without the name, which was described in Brihadaranyakopanishad : "Once a man has come to know Him (the great unborn Atman), he becomes a muni. Desiring him alone as their loka, the wandering monks begin to roam. (4.4.22)
The other kind of sanyasa( vividisa-sannyasa) is taken by a man in order to get jnana (wisdom) and moksa (liberation). It is a sure sign of the greatness of Indian society that its tradition encourages a man to devote the last stage of his life to the sole quest for the Self, renouncing all else as if he were dead already. Sannyasa, when genuinely lived with all its implications, is certainly a man's most direct route for becoming a jnani and finding liberation. Even then it is clear that no one would ever take sannyasa unless he had already glimpsed the light in his own depths and heard the summons within.
"He has no desire for fame. To become anything of a public figure would be deeply distasteful to him; and so it may be that he is satisfied to lead his chosen life and be no more than just himself. He is too modest to set himself up as an example to others; but it may be he thinks that a few uncertain souls, drawn to him like moths to a candle, will be brought in time to share his own glowing belief that ultimate satisfaction can only be found in the life of the spirit, and that by himself following with selflessness and renunciation the path of perfection he will serve as well as if he wrote books or addressed multitudes."
W. Somerset Maugham, speaking of Larry Darrell in The Razor's Edge
Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.
THE AWAKENING EXPERIENCE IN THE MODERN ERA
ARAHAT VERSUS PRATYEKABUDDHA
FIVE VARIETIES OF ZEN