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Milinda's Questions (Milindapañhā) [Вопросы Милинды (Милиндапаньха)] / Tr. from Pali, Introduction and Notes by Dr A.V.Paribok. Ed. by Dr V.G.Erman. Moscow 1989 (Памятники письменности Востока. LXXXVIII. Bibliotheca Buddhica. XXXVI). 485 p.


Milinda's Questions. This is the first translation of the book into Russian. It constitutes a unique monument of Buddhist and world culture. It is a remarkable sample of the Indian philosophic literature distinguished by great originality within its genre. Its ancient version (the original recension) of Book One and virtually the entire Book Two was composed in the 1st century A. D. in North-West India, and had acquired its present form some centuries later in Sri Lanka. MQ is the only work of the early Indian literature, which mentions the name of a real Greek, Milinda, the Graeko-Bactrian King Menander who ruled in the second half of the 2nd century В. С His questions of philosophic and religious problems of Buddhism are answered by a prominent Buddhist authority Nagasena. The story probably relies on the real encounter between Milinda and the Buddhist acarya.

The edition is addressed to two categories of readers. The translation is meant not only for the students of culture, but also for a wide section of educated readers. It attempts to convey the aesthetic indiosyncrasy of the original in the Russian language while strictly following its terminology. The translator believes that in the distinctive, self-sustaining early Indian culture, a specific concept, when expressed, cannot be isolated from the initial linguistic meaning, for the language form, expressing the concept, remains transparent and directly reaches the aesthetic plane of the mind. For this reason, the terms are motivated not only by the logic of the subject, to which they belong, but also by the universal logic of thinking, reflected in the language. But for few exceptions of the old Indian words, borrowed by the Russian language, virtually the entire terms of the Buddhist philosophy and psychology are rendered by plain Russian words. Their general meaning makes it possible to convey by means of them the Indian concepts that had no analogues in the European cultural code. In some instances, a number of new words were coined, to serve as equivalents of the Indian ones. The translation reconstructs thereby this writing as a phenomenon of the universal humanitarian culture. It simulates the linguistic environment in which it was created to show the Russian reader that MQ is comparable with Plato's dialogues and Cicero's treatises.

The commentary to the translation is addressed to specialists. It identifies the quotations and allusions of the Buddhist canon, often making use of a wider context. Some realities are explained and lists of terms are decoded. In some cases there are necessary philosophic, psychological, social and cultural explications. Texto-logical problems are also considered. Deviations fromTrenckner's edition on which the translation is made are noted. The interpretation of the text differs from earlier Western translations including: (1) colophon Nagasena-Milindaraja-panha nitthifa {Trenckner, p. 64) is interpreted as “The end of Nagasena's questions to King Milinda”. For this reason, this section is not considered to be the end of Book Two, and the total number of books makes six; (2) the dubious passage at the beginning of Chapter 3, Book Two (Trenckner, pp. 51-52) is tentatively reconstrudcted by collating it with the Chinese version according to P. Demieville.

In order to recreate the cultural background, constituted for the reader of the original by the Buddhist canon, a number of canonic translations, mentioned or discussed in MQ, are included in the appendices.

The foreword gives a short description of the monument, sums up the results of its study, and sets out the principles of translation. The article on the study of the monument considers, firstly, the problems of MQ genre, and secondly, the content of the writing in terms of cultural tradition. The main formal distinctions of the writing are as follows.

With the exception of Book One, which has a form of avadana, MQ is written as a didactic conversation between acarya Nagasena and student Milinda. The roles are established at the beginning of the conversation in Book Two, after Milinda's unsuccessful attempt to talk to Nagasena as an equal. Nagasena's explications are usually built according to a five-elements syllogism, akin to the nyaya syllogism. But its elements (avayava) are distributed as utterances of both participants. The third element is particularly different from the nyaya syllogism, because instead of udaharanam (an instance, an example of a general rule, known to the addressee) opammam (a pattern, a usual situation isomorphous to the one under consideration) is used. The explicated meaning itself is presented in the form of matrka, or a concise list, containing the result of immanent division of the concept.

In contrast with the canon, Book Two includes: (1) dialectical elaboration of the concept of becoming, done with virtually categorical thoroughness, (2) a number of dharma definitions, used for the first time ever, borrowed by later commentators of abhidharma. Also for the first time dharma is defined by means of laksana; (3) Buddha's accomplishment, according to the author, is the eleboration of the analytical study of integral psychological processes; (4) the discussion of the problem of purima koti (Trenckner, pp. 51-52) resembles the deliberations of the madhyamika school; (5) in arguing upon a chariot (beginning of Book Two) the speakers indirectly introduce important semiotic concepts.

The tenets in Book Two, conflicting with the Theravada school, in the framework of which the text was built, and a number of tenets, diverging from its principles in Book Three, raise the question about MQ affiliation to the Buddhist school. The analysis of controversial theses in MQ after A. Bareau's list of disparities among the early Buddhist school suggests the. only conclusion that MQ, as a theoretically consistent writing, belongs to the kasyapla school. This can hardly be verified because the school is scarcely known.

Book Three constitutes more than a half of the text. It is of interest from the viewpoint of its hermeneutics. The experience of comparing seemingly contradicting canonic quotations, differentiation of levels of meaning, adressees etc., should inevitably run counter to the tendency of creating a consistent Buddhist philosophy on the basis of canonic texts, for Buddha is claimed to be an expert teacher. It means that the hierarchy of meanings, as a basis of any taxonomy, cannot be substantiated. Thus the hermeneutics of Book Three inevitably leads to principles of Mahayana Buddhism: the priority of method over system and relativity of spoken words.

Book Four to Six were written later and are of less interest. Book Four presents an extended allegory of dharma and sangha as a city, which is an indication of gradual anticipation of tantric mandalas.

This edition has a glossary in addition to commentaries on individual sections of the text. The glossary explains technical terms of the text.


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Buddhist literature
Indian literature
Pāli literature

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