Milinda Panha

The Milinda Pañha (lit. 'Questions of Milinda') is a Buddhist text which dates from sometime between 100 BCE and 200 CE. It purports to record a dialogue between the Buddhist sage Nāgasena, and the Indo-Greek king Menander I (Pali: Milinda) of Bactria, who reigned in the 2nd century BCE.

The Milinda Pañha is regarded as canonical in Burmese Buddhism, included as part of the book of Khuddaka Nikaya.[1] An abridged version is included as part of Chinese Mahayana translations of the canon. The Milinda Pañha is not regarded as canonical by Thai or Sri Lankan Buddhism, however, despite the surviving Theravāda text being in Sinhalese script.

The Chinese text titled the Monk Nāgasena Sutra corresponds to the first three chapters of the Milindapanha.[2] It was translated sometime during the Eastern Jin dynasty (317–420).[3]

It is generally accepted by scholars[4] that the work is composite, with additions made over some time. In support of this, it is noted that the Chinese versions of the work are substantially shorter.[5]

The earliest part of the text is believed to have been written between 100 BCE and 200 CE.[6] The text may have initially been written in Sanskrit; von Hinüber suggests, based on an extant Chinese translation of Mil as well as some unique conceptulizations within the text, the text's original language might have been Gandhari.[7] However, apart from the Sri Lankan Pali edition and its derivatives, no other copies are known.

The oldest manuscript of the Pali text was copied in 1495 CE. Based on references within the text itself, significant sections of the text are lost, making Milinda the only Pali text known to have been passed down as incomplete.[8]

The book is included in the inscriptions of the Canon approved by the Burmese Fifth Council and the printed edition of the Sixth Council text.

Thomas Rhys Davids says it is the greatest work of classical Indian prose saying:

"[T]he 'Questions of Milinda' is undoubtedly the masterpiece of Indian prose, and indeed is the best book of its class, from a literary point of view, that had then been produced in any country."[9]

Although Moriz Winternitz maintains that this is true only of the earlier parts.

According to Oskar von Hinüber, while King Menander is an actual historical figure, Bhikkhu Nagasena is otherwise unknown, the text includes anachronisms, and the dialogue lacks any sign of Greek influence but instead is traceable to the Upanisads.[11]

The text mentions Nāgasena's father Soñuttara, his teachers Rohana, Assagutta of Vattaniya and Dhammarakkhita of Asoka Ārāma near Pātaliputta, and another teacher named Āyupāla from Sankheyya near Sāgala.

According to the Milindapanha, Milinda/ Menander, identified as Menander I,[12] embraced the Buddhist faith. He is described as constantly accompanied by a guard of 500 Greek (Yonaka) soldiers, and two of his counselors are named Demetrius and Antiochus.

In the Milindanpanha, Menander is introduced as the "king of the city of Sāgala in India, Milinda by name, learned, eloquent, wise, and able". Buddhist tradition relates that, following his discussions with Nāgasena, Menander adopted the Buddhist faith "as long as life shall last"[13] and then handed over his kingdom to his son to retire from the world. It is described that he attained enlightenment afterwards.[13]

The work has been translated into English twice, once in 1890 by Thomas William Rhys Davids (reprinted by Dover Publications in 1963) and once in 1969 by Isaline Blew Horner (reprinted in 1990 by the Pali Text Society).