The Rhinoceros Sutra (Pāli: Khaggavisāna-sutta) 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 monks or nuns).
The Rhinoceros Sutra has long been identified, along with the Aṭṭhakavagga and Pārāyanavagga as one of the earliest texts found in the Pali Canon. (Salomon, pp. 15-16) This identification has been reinforced by the discovery of a version in the Gandharan Buddhist Texts, the oldest Buddhist (and, indeed, Indian) manuscripts extant. It also exists in a Buddhist Hybrid Sanksrit version. The early date for the text along with its rather unusual (within community-oriented Buddhism) approach to monastic life have led some scholars to suggest that it represents a holdover from a highly primitive stage of Buddhism.
The sutra, which consists of a series of verses which discuss both the perils of community life and the benefits of solitude, and almost all of which end with the admonition that seekers should wander alone like rhinocerotes. The verses are somewhat variable between versions, as is the ordering of verses, suggesting a rich oral tradition that diverged regionally or by sect before being written down.
There is an ongoing dispute over whether the title, “sword-horn” sutra, is to be taken as a tatpuruṣa compound (a sword which is a horn) or as a bahuvrīhi compound (one who has a sword as a horn). In the former case, the title should be rendered “The Rhinoceros-Horn Sutra”; in the latter case, it should be rendered, “The Rhinoceros Sutra.” There is textual evidence to support either interpretation. (Salomon, pp. 11-12)
- Gandharan Buddhist texts
- Timeline of Buddhism
- Sutta Nipata I.3, Khaggavisana Sutta, A Rhinoceros Horn, Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, available at
- Salomon, Richard. A Gāndhārī Version of the Rhinoceros Sutra: British Library Kharoṣṭhi Fragment 5B Univ. of Washington Press: Seattle and London, 2000