From Encyclopedia of Buddhism
(Redirected from Milindapanha)
Jump to navigation Jump to search
King Milinda in discussion with Nagasena.

The Milindapañha ("Questions of Milinda") is a text from the Pali Canon that records a dialog between the Buddhist sage Nagasena and Bactrian-Greek King Milinda (Menander).

Composed around the beginning of the Common Era, and of unknown authorship, the Milindapañha is set up as a compilation of questions posed by King Milinda to a revered senior monk named Nagasena. This Milinda has been identified with considerable confidence by scholars as the Greek king Menander of Bactria, in the dominion founded by Alexander the Great, which corresponds with much of present day Afghanistan. Menander's realm thus would have included Gandhara, where Buddhism was flourishing at that time.
What is most interesting about the Milindapañha is that it is the product of the encounter of two great civilizations — Hellenistic Greece and Buddhist India — and is thus of continuing relevance as the wisdom of the East meets the modern Western world. King Milinda poses questions about dilemmas raised by Buddhist philosophy that we might ask today.[1]

In his dialog with the King, the monk Nagasena uses the now famous simile of the chariot to explain the Buddhist concept of the not-self (anatman). Just as the chariot is not one singular independent thing, but it is composed of parts, in the same way, that which we call the "self" (atman) is not a singular independent entity, but it is likewise composed of parts. Just as the chariot comes into being based on mulitple causes and conditions, so does the "self."


The Milinda Pañha is included in the the Khuddaka Nikaya of the Burmese version of the Pali Canon.[2]

The text is not included in the Thai or Sri Lankan versions of the Pali Canon. However, the surviving Theravāda text is in Sinhalese script.

An abridged version is included in the Chinese Canon. The Chinese text titled the Monk Nāgasena Sutra corresponds to the first three chapters of the Milindapanha.[3] It was translated sometime during the Eastern Jin dynasty (317–420).[4]


Portrait of Menander I.

It is generally accepted by scholars[5] 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.[6]

The earliest part of the text is believed to have been written between 100 BCE and 200 CE.[7] 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.[8] 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.[9]

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."[10]

Although Moriz Winternitz maintains that this is true only of the earlier parts.[11]

King Malinda

Kind Malinda has been identified as the Indo-Greek king Menander I of Bactria, who reigned from Sagala (modern Sialkot, Pakistan).

Menander I

Indian-standard coinage of Menander I. Obv ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΣΩΤΗΡΟΣ ΜΕΝΑΝΔΡΟΥ "Of Saviour King Menander". Rev Palm of victory, Kharoshthi legend Māhārajasa trātadasa Menandrāsa, British Museum.[12]

According to the Milindapanha, Milinda/ Menander, indentified as Menander I,[13] 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 "[k]ing 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"[14] and then handed over his kingdom to his son to retire from the world. It is described that he attained enlightenment afterwards.[14]


The contents of the Milindapañhā are:

  1. Background History
  2. Questions on Distinguishing Characteristics : (Characteristics of Attention and Wisdom, Characteristic of Wisdom, Characteristic of Contact, Characteristic of Feeling, Characteristic of Perception, Characteristic of Volition, Characteristic of Consciousness, Characteristic of Applied Thought, Characteristic of Sustained Thought, etc.)
  3. Questions for the Cutting Off of Perplexity : (Transmigration and Rebirth, The Soul, Non-Release From Evil Deeds, Simultaneous Arising in Different Places, Doing Evil Knowingly and Unknowingly, etc.)
  4. Questions on Dilemmas : Speaks of several puzzles and these puzzles were distributed in eighty-two dilemmas.
  5. A Question Solved By Inference
  6. Discusses the Special Qualities of Asceticism
  7. Questions on Talk of Similes

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.[15]

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.


The following English translations are available:

SuttaCentral presents an edited translation, based on the Rhys Davids translation:

Abridgements include:


  1. Access to insight icon 50px.png Milindapañha: The Questions of King Milinda (excerpts), translated by John Kelly, Access to Insight
  2. Kelly 2005.
  3. Rhys Davids 1894, pp. xi-xiv.
  5. von Hinüber 2000, pp. 83-86, paragraph 173-179.
  6. According to Hinüber (2000), p. 83, para. 173, the first Chinese translation is believed to date from the 3rd century and is currently lost; a second Chinese translation, known as "Nagasena-bhiksu-sutra," (那先比丘經 Archived 2008-12-08 at the Wayback Machine.) dates from the 4th century. The extant second translation is "much shorter" than that of the current Pali-language Mil.
  7. von Hinüber 2000, pp. 85-86, paragraph 179.
  8. von Hinüber 2000, p. 83, paragraph 173.
  9. von Hinüber 2000, pp. 85, paragraph 178.
  10. Rhys Davids 1894, p. xlvi.
  11. Winternitz 1920, p. 141.
  12. Gardner & Poole 1886, pp. 50, XII-7.
  13. Halkias 2014, pp. 90-91.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Rhys Davids 1894, p. 374.
  15. von Hinüber 2000, p. 83, paragraph 172.


External links

This article includes content from Milinda Panha on Wikipedia (view authors). License under CC BY-SA 3.0. Wikipedia logo