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The Questions Of King Milind(Greek)and Buddhist Scholar,Nagasena

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Posted by Glenn on April 29, 2004 05:50:20 UTC

Buddhists created the idea of reincarnation which then took hold in all eastern religions. But the Buddhists refuse to say what is reborn. Hindus claim it is the soul.

The original idea of the soul came from the Greek philosophers and was adopted by the Christians.

Speaking of Greek philosphers, In the land of the Bactrian Greeks, there was a city called Sagala, a great centre of trade. Rivers and hills beautified it, delightful landscapes surrounded it, and it possessed many parks, gardens, woods, lakes and lotus-ponds. Its king was Milinda, a man who was learned, experienced, intelligent and competent, and who at the proper times carefully observed all the appropriate Brahminic rites, with regard to things past, present and future. As a disputant he was hard to assail, hard to overcome, and he was recognized as a prominent sectarian teacher.

One day, a numerous company of Arhats, who lived in a well-protected spot in the Himalayas, sent a messenger to the Venerable Nagasena, then, at the Asoka Park in Patna, asking him to come, as they wished to see him. Nagasena immediately complied by vanishing from where he was and miraculously appearing before them.

And the Arhats said to him: "That king Milinda, Nagasena, constantly harasses the order of monks with questions and counter-questions, with arguments and counter-arguments. Please go, Nagasena, and subdue him!"

But Nagasena replied: "Nevermind just this one king Milinda! If all the kings of India would come to see me with their questions, I could well dispose of them, and they would give no more trouble after that! You may go to Sagala without any fear whatever!"

And the elders went to Sagala, lighting up the city with their yellow robes which shone like lamps, and bringing with them the fresh breeze of the holy mountains.

The Venerable Nagasena stayed at the Sankheyya hermitage together with 80,000 monks. King Milinda, accompanied by a retinue of 500 Greeks, went up to where he was, gave him a friendly and courteous greeting, and sat on one side. Nagasena returned his greetings, and his courtesy pleased the king's heart.

The Questions of King Milinda deals with some of the thorniest questions of Buddhism, religion and existence. The narrative proceeds in a cyclical fashion as the King proposes a difficult question of Nagasena, who responds typically with either a tale about the Buddha in some previous life, or an analogy. The book represents Southern Buddhism at an advanced stage of development. While difficult questions are addressed here, Milinda makes fascinating reading, as many of the issues are common to all religions.

Here are some of their dialogue which talks about rebirth:

1. The king said: 'Have you, N‚gasena, seen the Buddha?'

'No, Sire.'

'Then have your teachers seen the Buddha?'

'No, Sire.'

'Then, venerable N‚gasena, there is no Buddha 1!'

'But, great king, have you seen the river Řh‚ in the Him‚laya mountains?'

'No, Sir.'

'Or has your father seen it?'

'No, Sir.'

'Then, your Majesty, is there therefore no such river?'

'It is there. Though neither I nor my father has seen it, it is nevertheless there.'

'Just so, great king, though neither I nor my teachers have seen the Blessed One, nevertheless there was such a person.'

'Very good, N‚gasena!'


2. The king said: 'Is the Buddha, N‚gasena, pre-eminent?'

'Yes, he is incomparable.'

'But how do you know of one you have never seen that he is pre-eminent.'

'Now what do you think, O king? They who have never seen the ocean would they know concerning

p. 110

it: "Deep, unmeasurable, unfathomable is the mighty ocean. Into it do the five great rivers flow--the Ganges, the Jumna, the AkiravatÓ, the SarabhŻ, and the MahÓ--and yet is there in it no appearance of being more empty or more full!"?'

'Yes, they would know that.'

'Just so, great king, when I think of the mighty disciples who have passed away then do I know that the Buddha is incomparable.' [71]

'Very good, N‚gasena!'


3. The king said: 'Is it possible, N‚gasena, for others to know how incomparable the Buddha is?'

'Yes, they may know it.'

'But how can they?'

'Long, long ago, O king, there was a master of writing, by name Tissa the Elder, and many are the years gone by since he has died. How can people know of him?'

'By his writing, Sir.'

'Just so, great king, whosoever sees what the Truth 1 is, he sees what the Blessed One was, for the Truth was preached by the Blessed One.'

'Very good, N‚gasena!'


4. The king said: 'Have you, N‚gasena, seen what the Truth is?'

'Have not we disciples, O king, to conduct ourselves our lives long as under the eye of the Buddha, and under his command 2?'

'Very good, N‚gasena!'

p. 111

5. The king said: 'Where there is no transmigration, N‚gasena, can there be rebirth?'

'Yes, there can.'

'But how can that be? Give me an illustration.'

'Suppose a man, O king, were to light a lamp from another lamp, can it be said that the one transmigrates from, or to, the other?'

'Certainly not.'

'Just so, great king, is rebirth without transmigration.'

'Give me a further illustration.'

'Do you recollect, great king, having learnt, when you were a boy, some verse or other from your teacher?'

'Yes, I recollect that.'

'Well then, did that verse transmigrate from your teacher?'

'Certainly not.'

'Just so, great king, is rebirth without transmigration.'

'Very good, N‚gasena!'


6. The king said: 'Is there such a thing, N‚gasena, as the soul 1?'

'In the highest sense, O king, there is no such thing 2.'

p. 112

'Very good, N‚gasena!'


7. [72] The king said: 'Is there any being, N‚gasena, who transmigrates from this body to another?'

'No, there is not.'

'But if so, would it not get free from its evil deeds.'

'Yes, if it were not reborn; but if it were, no 1.'

'Give me an illustration.'

'Suppose, O king, a man were to steal another man's mangoes, would the thief deserve punishment?'


'But he would not have stolen the mangoes the other set in the ground. Why would he deserve punishment?'

'Because those he stole were the result of those that were planted.'

'Just so, great king, this name-and-form commits deeds, either pure or impure, and by that Karma another name-and-form. is reborn. And therefore is it not set free from its evil deeds?'

'Very good, N‚gasena!'


8. The king said: 'When deeds are committed, N‚gasena, by one name-and-form, what becomes of those deeds?'

'The deeds would follow it, O king, like a shadow that never leaves it 2.'

'Can any one point out those deeds, saying: "Here are those deeds, or there"?'


p. 113

'Give me an illustration.'

'Now what do you think, O king? Can any one point out the fruits which a tree has not yet produced, saying: "Here they are, or there"?'

'Certainly not, Sir.'

'Just so, great king, so long as the continuity of life is not cut off, it is impossible to point out the deeds that are done.'

'Very good, N‚gasena!'


9. [73] The king said: 'Does he, N‚gasena, who is about to be reborn know that he will be born?'

'Yes, he knows it, O king.'

'Give me an illustration.'

'Suppose a farmer, O king, a householder, were to put seed in the ground, and it were to rain well, would he know that a crop would be produced.'

'Yes, he would know that.'

'Just so, great king, does he who is about to be reborn know 1 that he will be born.'

'Very good, N‚gasena 2!'


10. The king said: 'Is there such a person as the Buddha, N‚gasena?'


'Can he then, N‚gasena, be pointed out as being here or there?'

'The Blessed One, O king, has passed away by that kind of passing away in which nothing remains which could tend to the formation of another

p. 114

individual 1. It is not possible to point out the Blessed One as being here or there.'

'Give me an illustration.'

'Now what do you think, O king? When there is a great body of fire blazing, is it possible to point out any one flame that has gone out, that it is here or there?'

'No, Sir. That flame has ceased, it has vanished.'

'Just so, great king, has the Blessed One passed away by that kind of passing away in which no root remains for the formation of another individual. The Blessed One has come to an end, and it cannot be pointed out of him, that he is here or there. But in the body of his doctrine he can, O king, be pointed out. For the doctrine 2 was preached by the Blessed One?'

'Very good, N‚gasena!'......

We can find the full context:


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