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puruṣa (P. purisa; T. skyes bu; C. ren/shifu/shenwo 人/士夫/神我), is a commmon name for an individual being or self in India literature.[1] This term is typically translated as "person," "being," etc.

In non-Buddhist Indian literature, particularly in the Samkhya tradition, puruṣa "often refers to the imperishable self that persists from lifetime to lifetime."[1]

In Buddhist literature, this term tends to function as a synonym for pudgala; that is the "person" associated with the five aggregates in a particular lifetime, "which is the product of past actions (karma) and devoid of a perduring self (atman)."[1]

Three types of persons based on capacity

In The Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment (Bodhipathapradīpa), Atisha identifies three types of person (puruṣa) based on capacity. Atisha states:

Know that there are three kinds of persons—
Lesser, middling, and supreme.
I shall write clearly distinguishing
Each of their characteristics.[2]

Regarding the above verses, the commentary by Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye states:

In general the word “person” (puruṣa) can refer to any sentient being. In this context, however, the Sanskrit word for person is puruṣa, which can mean either performing a purpose or capability. People are called such because they have the capability to accomplish the purposes of the next and following lifetimes. Because their intellect that can analyze what to do and what not to do for the next and following lives, they are called humans (manuṣya).[3] “Person” or “human” here does not mean those who are only interested in this life. As it says in the Handbook:
Give up misdeeds from fear of the lower realms in the future.
From remembering the faults of samsara and wanting freedom,
Enter the three trainings by way of the four truths.
From fear of the Foundation vehicle, train in bodhichitta.
Such is the conduct of a human.
Other conduct is not anything.
The path that leads to unexcelled enlightenment has three paths: the lesser path to higher states, the common middle path to true excellence, and the supreme path of buddhahood itself. Thus it should be known that there are three paths for the three persons.[2]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. puruṣa.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Atisha & Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye 2017, Section: "A brief presentation of the three persons.
  3. fn. by David Karma Choephel states: "This is an explanation of the Sanskrit word for humans, mānuṣa, which refers to intelligence."