The work of which a translation is here, for the first time, Presented to the English reading public, has had a strange and interesting history. Written in Northern Indian, at or a little after the beginning of the Christian era, and rather in Sanskrit itself or in the land of its origin, and (So far as is present Known) is not extant in any of the house of the various sects and schools of the Buddhists, excepts only in Ceylon, and in those countries which have derived their Buddhism from Ceylon. It is true that General Cunningham says’ that the name of Milinda ‘is still famous in all Buddhist countries’. But he is here drawing a very wide conclusion from an isolated fact. For in his noted he refers only to Hardy, who is good evidence for Ceylon, but who does not even say that the ‘Milinda’ was known elsewhere.
Preserved there, and translated at a very early date into Pali, it has because, in its southern home, a book a of standard authority, is put into the hands of those who have begun to doubt the cardinal points of Buddhist, has been long a popular work in its Pali from, has been translated into Sinhalese, and occupies a unique position, second only to the Pali Pitakas (and perhaps also to the celebrated work of Buddhaghosa, the ‘Path of Purity’) From the Ceylon it has been transferred, in its Pali from, to both Burma and Siam, and in those countries also it enjoys so high a repute, that it has been commented on (if not translated). It is not merely the only work composed among the Northern Buddhists which is regarded with reverence by the orthodox Buddhists of the southern schools; it is the only one which has survived at all amongst them. And it is the only prose work composed in ancient India which be considered, from the modern point of view, as a successful work of art.
The external evidence for these statements is, at present, both very slight and, for the most part, late. There appeared at Colombo in the year of Buddha 2420 (1877 A.D.) a volume of 650 Pages, 8 vols-the most considerable in point of size as yet issued from the Sinhalese press-entitled Milinda Prasnaya. It was published at the expense of five Buddhist gentlemen whose names deserve to be here recorded. They are Karolis piris, Abraham Liwera, Luis Mendis Mendis Amarasekara, and Charlis Armorist Mendis, Wijaya –ratna Amara-sekara. It is stated in the preface that the account of the celebrated discussion held between Minlinda and Nagasena, 500 years after the death of the Buddha, was translated into the Magadhi languages by ‘teachers of old’ (Purvacarin wisin); that that Pali version was translated, at the instance and under the parronage of King Kirtti Sri Raja Simha, who came to the throne of Ceylon in the year of Buddha 2290 (1747A.D.), by a member of the Buddhist Order named Hinatikumbure Sumangala, a lineal successor, in the line of teacher and pupil (anuslsya), of the celebrated Waeliwita Saranankara, who had been appointed Samgharaja, or Chief of the Order-that ‘this priceless book, unsurpassable as a means either for learning the Buddhist doctrine, or for growth in the knowledge of it, or for the suppression of erroneous opinions,’ had become corrupt by frequent copying that, at the instigation of the well-known scholar Mohotti watte Gunanands, these five had had the texts corrected and restored by several learned Bhikkhus ( Kipa namak lawa), and had had indices and a glossary added, and now published the thus revised and improved edition.
The simhalese translation thus introduces to us follows the pali throughout except that it here and there adds in the way of gloss extracts from one or other of the numerous pitaka texts referred to and also that it starts with a prophecy put into the mouth of the Buddha when on his death bed that this discussion would take place about 500 years after his death and that it insert further at the point indicated in the present version an account of how the simhalese translator came to write his version. His own account the mater adds to the detail given above that he wrote the work at the Uposatha arama of the Maha wihara near sri wardhana pura a place famous for the possession of a temple containing the celebrated tooth relic and a monastery which had been the residence of woeliwita sarnnkara the samgha raja and of the famous scholar and commentators daramiti pola dhamma rakkhita and Madhurasatota Dhammakkhandha.
As kirti Sri Raja simha reigned till 1781 this would only prove that our pali work was extant in Ceylon in its present form and there regard as of great antiquity and high authority towards the close of the last century. And no other mention of the work has as yet been discovered in any older simhalese author but in the present deplorable state of our ignorance of the varied and ancient literature of Ceylon the argument exsilentio would be simply of no value. Now that the Ceylon government have introduced into the legislative council a bill for the utilization in the interest of education of the endowments of the Buddhist monasteries it may be hoped that the value of the book written in those monasteries will not be forgotten and that a sufficient yearly sum will be put aside for the editing and publication of a literature of such great historical value. At present we can only deplore the impossibility of tracing the history of the question of milinda in other works written by the scholarly natives of its southern home.
I have first to notice a few points as to the history of the Milinda book which have either come to light since the former Introduction was written, or which I then omitted to notice.
Mr. Bunyiu Nanjio in his Catalogue of Chinese Buddhist Books mentions a Chinese book called Na-sien Pichiu Cin (that is ‘The Book of the Bhikshu Nagasena’ Sutra). I have been so fortunate as to receive detailed information about this book both from Dr. Serge d’Oldenbourg in St. Petersburg and from M. Sylvain Levi in Paris, Professor Serge d’Oldenbourg forwarded to me, in the spring of 1892, a translation into English (which he himself has been kind enough to make) from a translation into Russian by Mr. Ivan sky, of the Chinese Introduction, and of various episodes in the Chinese which seemed to differ from the pali, This very valuable aid to the interpretation of the Milinda, which the unselfish courtesy of these two Russian scholars thus to place at my disposal, was most unfortunately lost in the post; and I have only been able to gather from a personal interview with professor d’Oldenbourg that the Introduction was a sort of Jataka story in which the Buddha appeared as a white elephant.
By a curious coincidence this regrettable loss has been since made good by the work of two French scholars. Mons. Sylvain Levi forwarded to the Ninth International Congress of Orientalists, held in London in the autumn of 1892, a careful study on the subject by M. Edouard Specht, preceded by an introductory essay by himself.
It appears from this paper, which excited much interest when it was read, that there are, not one, but two separate and distinct works extant in China under the names of Na-sien pichiu works extant in Cin, the one inserted in the Korean collection made in that country in 1010 A. d., and other printed in the collection of Buddhist books published under the Sung in 1239. Neither the date nor the author of either version seems to be known, but Mr. Bunyiu Nanjio states of his work, which is probably one of the two, that it was composed between 317 and420 A. D. The Korean book gives much less of the matter contained in our books II and III than the later work in the Sung collection, the former containing only 13, 752 characters while the latter has 22,657. In the matter of the order of the questions also the later of the two Chinese books follows much more closely the order found in the present translation than does the work found in the Korean collection.
This paper has since been publication in the Proceedings of the Congress, and it given traditions of several episodes on questions in which the Chinese is said throw light on the Pali. Both M. Specht and M. Sylvain Levi seem to think that the Chinese books were translations of older recessions of the work than the one preserved in Pali. This argument does not seem to me, as at present advised, at all certain. It by no means follows that a shorter recession, merely because it is shorter, must necessarily be older than a longer one. It is quite as possible that the longer one rise gave rise to the shorter ones. The story of a discussion between Nagasena and Milinda is no doubt, if the arguments in the Introduction to Part 1 are of any avail, an historical romance with an ethical tendency. In constant repetition after it had become popular, it is precisely those parts which do not appeal so easily to the popular ear (because they deal, not with ordinary puzzles, but with dilemmas or with the higher mysteries of Archonship), that would be naturally omitted. I do not go so far as to say that it must been so. But I venture to think that for a critical judgment as a the comparative dates of the three works on the same subject, now known to exist, we must wait till translations of the whole of the two independence Chinese versions are before us. And further that the arguments must then turn on quite other considerations than the very ambiguous conclusions to be drawn merely from the length or shortness of the different treatment in each case. It is very much to be hoped therefore that M. Specht will soon given us complete versions of the two Chinese works in question.
At present it can only be said that we have a very pretty puzzle propounded to us, a puzzle much more difficult to solve than those which king Milinda put to Nagasena the sage. If the shorter version (or rather paraphrase, for it does not seem to be a version at all in our modem sense )-that from the Korea-be really the original, how comes it that the other Chinese book, included in a collection made two centuries later, should happen to differ from it in the precise parts in which it, the supposed original, differs from the Pali? Surely the only probable hypothesis would be that of the Chinese books, both working on the same original, the later is more exact than the earlier: and that we simply have here one more instance of an already well-known characteristic of Chinese reproductions of Indian books-namely, that the later version is more accurate than the older one. The later a Chinese 'translation' the better, in the few cases where comparison is possible, it has proved to be (that is, the nearer to our idea of what a translation should be); and Tibetan versions are better, as a rule, than the best of the Chinese.
Since the publication of this very interesting paper, M. Sylvain Levi has had the great kindness to send me an advance proof of a more complete paper, to be published in Paris, in which M. Speech and himself have made a detailed analysis of the three versions setting out over against the English translation of each question (as contained in the first volume of the present work) the translations of it as they appear in each of the Chinese versions. I have not been able by a study of this analysis to add anything to the admirable summary of the conclusions as t6 the relations of these two books to one another and to the Pali which are given by M.
Specht in his article in the Proceedings of the Ninth Congress. The later version is throughout much nearer to the Pali; but neither of the two give more than a small portion of it, the earlier does not seem to go much further than our Volume I (just where the Pali has the remark, 'Here end the questions of king Milinda'), and the later, though it goes beyond this point, apparently stops at Volume 1.
These details are of importance for the decision of the critical question of the history of the Milinda. The book starts with an elaborate and very skilful introduction, giving first an account of the way in which Nagasena and Milinda had met in a previous birth, then the life history, in order, of each of them in this birth, then the account of how they met. Throughout the whole story the attention is constantly directed to the very great ability of the two disputants, and to the fact that they had been specially prepared through their whole existence for this great encounter, which was to be of the first importance for religion and for the world. This introductory story occupies in my translation thirty-nine pages. Is it likely that so stately an entrance hall should have really been built to lead only into one or two small rooms?-to two chapters occupying only sixty pages more? Is it not more probable that the original architect had a better sense of proportion? As an Introduction to the book as we have it in these volumes the story told in those thirty-nine pages is very much in place; as an Introduction to the first two chapters only, or to the first two and a portion of the third, it is quite incongruous. And accordingly we find in the very beginning of the Introduction a kind of table of contents in which the shape of the whole book, as we have it- here, is foreshadowed in detail, and in due proportion. This will have to be taken into account when, with full translations of the two Chinese books before us, we shall have to consider whether they are really copies of the original statue, or whether they are interesting fragments.
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