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pratisaraṇa [alt. pratiśaraṇa] (P. paṭisaraṇa; T. rton pa; C. yi 依) is translated as "reliance," "support," etc. In the Sanskrit tradition, a set of four reliances (Skt. catvārī pratisaraṇānī) are relied upon as criteria for interpreting a given teaching.[1][2]

These four reliances are:[1][2][3]

  1. rely upon the teachings (dharma), not on the person (pudgala) delivering the teaching;
  2. rely upon the meaning (artha), not on the words (vyañjana);
  3. rely upon a discourse that can be taken literally (nītārtha), not on one that must be interpreted (neyārtha);
  4. rely upon direct cognition (jñāna), not on discursive cognition (vijñāna).


First reliance

Dzogchen Ponlop states:

When the Buddha says, “Rely on the teaching, not the person,” this means that we shouldn’t be fooled by appearances. The teacher may be very attractive, come from an illustrious family, and ride in a limousine with many attendants. Conversely, he or she may look quite ordinary and live in humble circumstances. Whether the teacher is Asian or Western, male or female, young or old, conventional or unconventional, famous or unknown, you can judge how qualified and reliable a teacher is by looking at the quality and effectiveness of his or her instructions, degree of insight and realization, and lineage connections. This is important, because there have been many worthy teachers whose appearance and lifestyles didn’t match their students’ expectations. Therefore, you should rely more on the teaching than on what you think or feel about the person who gives it.[4]

Second reliance

Dzogchen Ponlop states:

Here the Buddha’s message, “Rely on the meaning, not the words,” is that we should rely for guidance on the meaning that’s being pointed out and not just on our conceptual understanding of the words. Meaning is carried by words but is not the words themselves. If we get caught at the level of words, we may think that our conceptual understanding is ultimate, a true experience of realization. But we should understand that words are like the finger that points at the moon. If we look only at the finger, we remain at the level of concept. We will only fully understand the meaning of the words when we stop looking at the finger and turn toward the moon. We do this by reflecting deeply on what we’ve heard, until our reflections carry us beyond the words to a more direct and personal experience of their meaning. You’ll only know what Earl Grey tea is by drinking the tea in your cup. You’ll only know what emptiness is by discovering the experience within yourself.[4]

Third reliance

Dzogchen Ponlop states:

With “rely on the definitive meaning, not the provisional meaning,” the Buddha is pointing out that we need to know not only the meaning of words but also when a meaning is “definitive” and when it is “provisional.” That’s another way of saying that some meanings are ultimate and some are relative. An ultimate meaning is final and complete—that’s the way it truly is, and there’s nothing more to be said about that topic. A relative meaning may be an important and powerful understanding, but it’s not final or complete; it’s something that’s intended to lead us further. We learn many relative truths on our way to understanding the ultimate truth.[4]

Fourth reliance

Dzogchen Ponlop states:

Here the Buddha is saying that in order to directly experience and comprehend the definitive, or ultimate, meaning we’re talking about, we need to rely on wisdom—mind’s capacity to know in a nonconceptual way—and not on our dualistic consciousness. When we say, “consciousness,” we’re talking about relative mind: the appearances of the five sense perceptions and the conceptual, thinking mind. What is their relationship to wisdom? They’re the manifestation and play of wisdom itself. As vivid as they are, these appearances have no solid existence. However, until we recognize that, it can be difficult to see the wisdom inherent in all our experiences, especially our thoughts and emotions.[4]

Traditional textual sources

Contemporary scholar Lin Qian states:

... the four reliances are not found in the Chinese Āgamas and Pāli Nikāyas, and, as observed by La Vallée Poussin (1988) and Lamotte (1988b), they only occur in texts pertaining to the Sarvāstivāda-Vaibhāṣika and Mahāyāna traditions.[2]

The four reliances are presented in the Four Reliances Sutra (Catuḥpratisaraṇasūtra).[2][3]

They are also referenced in other sutras, such as the The Teaching of Akshayamati and the Sutra of the Questions of the Naga King Anavatapta. They are commented upon in works such as Asanga's Stages of Spiritual Practice.[5]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. pratisaraṇa.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Lin 2015, section 2.4.7.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Westerhoff 2018, Chapter 2.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Dzogchen Ponlop 2010, Chapter 14.
  5. RW icon height 18px.png Four reliances, Rigpa Shedra Wiki


External links