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NAGASENABHIKSHU SUTRA - A COMPARATIVE STUDY
(Through Pali and Chinese sources)
BHIKKHU THICH MINH CHAU
B. E. F. E. O. : Bulletin d' Ecole Francaise d' Extreme
C. 60b, 6-10, means Chinese text, page 60b, lines 6 to 10.
The title Milindapanha, a combination of foreign and Pali word, indicates that the treatise was primarily meant for the people, who were cognizant of, or associated with the name of King Menander. Many of them were evidently non-Indians, who had a critical mind and were not inclined to accept, out of veneration for the great Teacher, all the views and sayings attributed to Him.
The first problem discussed in the text is one of the most controversial doctrines of the Buddhists. In this, the question of relation through Kamma between one existence and another of a being was taken up. It may be mentioned here that this is also the first problem taken up in the Kathavatthu, an Abhidham-ma text (Puggalo upalabbhati).
The Buddhists were the only school of thought to advocate the transference of Kammic effects from one existence to another without admitting the existence and/or transmigration of a Soul (puggala).
In the Pre-Christian eras, logic was in its elementary stage and so, most of such tough problems were solved with the aid of similes and not by logical arguments. The similes were also of the popular type, and were very likely meant not for the intelligensia but for the common people among whom there must have been many Indo-Greeks and Indo-Bactrians.
The arguments found in the Kathavatthu, which is a much earlier text than the Milinda-panoha, is of a higher order. The latter, though written in a popular style, with similes of everyday life, offers a clear exposition of the fundamentals of the Buddhist doctrines, disciplinary rules and moral teachings.
As early as 1860, the learned editor of the Milindapanoha, V. Trenckner, assigned the text to the 1st century A.D. and came to the conclusion on the basis of the use of the phrase "Tam yatha nusuyata" instead of the usual Pali words "Evam me sutam" that the original text was in Sanskrit and was composed in N.India, where King Menander had his dominion, and that it could have no connection with Ceylon.
This view, I think, still holds good not withstanding the tradition that Gunabhadra (393-468) carried with him a copy of this text to China from Ceylon, as referred to by Prof. Demieville (vide BEFEO. XXIV. 1924). There are eleven versions of this text in Chinese, the translations having been made from the 6th to 13th Century A.D. (1) The Chinese translated the Sanskrit Tripitaka, mostly found in N. India and Central Asia, which were the centres of the Sarvastivadins and the Dharmaguptas, who compiled the Tripitaka in Semi-Sanskrit.
In fact, there are no Chinese translations of the Pali text except perhaps the Samantapasadika, and the Vimuttimagga, about the exact relation of which to the Visuddhimagga of Buddhaghosa has not yet been ascertained.
On a comparison of the available text of the Sanskrit Tripitaka with their Pali counterparts and Chinese translation, it appears that there was a considerable difference between the Sanskrit and the Pali versions while there was close agreement between the Sanskrit texts and Chinese translations. Hence, it cannot be expected that the Chinese versions of the Milindapanoha would faithfully correspond to the Pali version. The present editor Dr. Thich Minh Chau has amply corroborated this fact by his close examination of the Pali and Chinese versions of the Milindapanoha as also of other Sutras of the Nikayas.
In Chinese translation are available only the first three parts of the Milindapanoha. According to the opinions of Dr. Thich Minh Chau as also of the Japanese and European scholars, these three chapters formed the original, and the other portions are later accretions from century to century as was the practice with the Indian authors and commentators of the early days. It is very likely that the Chinese translation followed the Sanskrit original closely.
In BEFEO (XXIV), Prof. Demieville briefly compared the introductory chapters and surveyed the contents of the Pali and Chinese versions and translated the Chinese version into French. He made critical study of Menandre, Sakala, Nagasena as an arhat, a schismatic and author of the Trikayasastra, etc.
In the present work, the author filled up the gap left by Prof. Demieville. He compared the Pali and Chinese versions line by line and pointed out the marked differences between the two versions exhaustively.
He mentioned incidentally that there was a difference in approach to the Buddhist texts by the Indian and Chinese thinkers and writers. On a close comparative study of the two versions, he arrived at the conclusion that the present available Pali text is an enlarged version of an earlier Pali text, which was a translation of the original text, and the latter actually formed the basis of the Chinese versions, and that the remaining four parts of Trenckner's edition were added later by the compilers of the Pali text.
In the chapter on "Probe into the anteriority and fidelity of the Pali and Chinese versions", he adduced forceful arguments, which haved a value of their own.
The author has dealt with the following topics :
(i) Previous lives of Nagasena and Millinda;
The author, a monk of Vietnam, mastered both Pali and Chinese languages and gave finishing touch to his knowledge of Pali at the Nalanda Pali Institute. Being well-versed in the two languages, he could compare the two versions in original, problem by problem, and point out their agreements and differences. His findings, therefore, are very valuable.
His presentation of the materials is clear and impressive. By this work, he has rendered a distinct service to the cause of Buddhistic studies, in which the present day scholars are getting more and more interested. I hope he will carry on such further comparative studies of Pali and Chinese texts, and open up a new vista in our knowledge of the history of Buddhism in Asia.
29, Ramananda Chatterjee Street,
Here I have selected the Milindapañho, the Pali text edited by V. Trenckner to use in my comparative study. For the C text, I have to adopt the Japanese Hsu ts'ang edition, case Ts'ang as it is handy and the T'ai sho edition is not available at Nàlanda. I wish that the Nàlandà authorities would remedy this deplorable lacuna, because the T'ai sho edition has been widely used by scholars all over the world; and references to another edition, as I have done in this work, are not much welcomed by scholars in general.
The C Na-hsien-pi-ch'iu-ching has two texts, one of two volumes, mentioned in my work as K. E. (Korean Edition), and the other of three volumes. I have opted for the three-volume one, as the former text is too much corrupted, with 17 dialogues missing, and with the order of some dialogues altered although in some passages, it stands closer to the P version. But in my comparative study, all the main differences between the two Chinese texts are quoted so as to enlighten the readers of any great differences between the two versions.
When I had finished the comparative study of the P Milindapañho with the C Na-hsien-pi-ch'iu-ching, but not yet the introduction, I received the Japanese book "On the Recensions of Milindapanho" by Dr. Kogen Mizuno, sent to me by a Japanese scholar, Mr. Egaku Malda.
Mr. Nagasaki, a Japanese scholar of the Nava Nàlandà Mahàvihàra was kind enough to translate this book into English for me, and I am quite happy to find that Mr. Kogen Mizuno's conclusions quite tally with my own, and what is more gratifying, he has brought out some new and convincing proofs as to the anteriority of the two texts.
So in recognition of his competent scholarship, I have quoted some of his findings in my work to support my view, at the same time, I try to bring some portions of this valuable work to the notice of the readers at large.
My heartfelt thanks are hereby conveyed to the three above Japanese scholars, who have contributed much to the improvement of my present work. I am much indebted to Prof. Nalinaksha Dutt, former Head of the Pàli Department, Calcutta University, who has been kind enough to write a foreword to this work, thus enhancing its prestige and quality by his enlightened scholarship.
My thanks go out also to Prof. P. V. Bapat of Poona who has gone through my work with the conscientiousness of a seasoned scholar and has offered many valuable suggestions and rectifications. His knowledge of both the Pàli and the Chinese languages is really a precious asset that commands respect and makes his advice highly valuable.
As always, the Nava Nàlandà Mahàvihàra with its peaceful atmosphere and its rich library offers me a veritable sanctuary where I can devote all my time to research works and studies, undisturbed and unhindered. May its Director, its staff and its inmates receive here the expressions of my thanks.
Bhikkhu Thich Minh Chau
About the Author, Venerable Bhikkhu Thich Minh Chau
Most Venerable Thich Minh Chau was born in 1920 in Quang Nam province (Central Viet Nam), the fourth son of a great and learned family in the Northern province of Nghe An.
In 1936, he already learned much Buddhist studies and was appointed Secretary General of the Vietnam Buddhist Organization, the headquarter of which was located in Hue at that time. By this function, he played an outstanding role in the propagation of the Dhamma over the 17 provinces in Central Viet Nam.
He was one of the first founders of Vietnamese young Buddhist societies influencing positively several generations of Vietnamese young Buddhist.
In 1946, he entered Tuong Van pagoda, under the guidance of Most Venerable Thich Tinh Khiet, the first Patriarch of the Vietnam Buddhist Congregation.
In 1948, he became a Bhikkhu.
In 1951, he was appointed Principal of the Bo-De Buddhist High School in Hue.
In 1952, he went to Srilanka and India for furthering his studies and then achieved the following results:
- Saddhammacariyas at Dhammadutan Ashrama Vidylaya Institute Maradana
In 1961, in Nalanda, he wrote and edited three treatises titled : "A compartive study of the Pali Milindapanha the Chinese Nagasena Bikkhu Sutra" and "Hsuan Chang, the Pilgrim and scholar" and "Fa Shien".
Soon after, he came back to Vietnam. From 1965 to 1975 he was the Rector of Van Hanh Buddhist University in Saigon.
In 1985, he was appointed :
- Rector of the Vietnam Buddhist research Institute.
He has been keeping the above mentioned post until now. Especially, he started translating the Pancanikàya, from Pali into Vietnamese, in 1964, and completed his translation in 1984. This is his noblest work for the service of the propagation of Dhamma in Vietnam.
In addition to the above, he has participated several International Buddhist Conference and symposiums for the long lasting peace for the world and the good cooperation between this Buddhist sect or organization and others.
Sincere thanks to Venerable Thich Tam Hai for making this digital version available (Binh Anson, 02-2001)
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last updated: 01-06-2005