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Unformatted text preview: QUESTIONS OF KING MENANDER The biographers of The Shakyamuni used the format of a dialogue in order to explain especially difficult ideas by placing questions in the minds of people who approach the Buddha with their questions, In the dialogue that follows the question is cleared up or an issue expJained by the Buddha who often uses vivid metaphors and similes to illustrate his point. In the Buddhist narrative tradition one figure who approaches the Buddha repeatedly with his questions is the Greek King Menander, You might be surprised at this: what was a Greek king doing in India? Around 320 Be the Greeks, led by Alexander the Great, conquered North India. Alexander left behind him a sizeable Greek contingent of generals and tax collectors who then continued to ruJe Northwestern India for a few hundred years. There was a vigorous overland trade between India and the Greeks and cultural influences went both ways. So the idea of Greeks in India is not so unusual. But the Buddha died in 480 Be. This means that The Buddha never overlapped with the Greeks. Thus, we know that a dialogue like this cannot be read literally as a historically accurate account. It must, instead, be read figuratively. In reading it figuratively we must ask ourselves why did the authors of these dialogues choose to make the Buddha meet a Greek? And, furthermore, why did they make that Greek a king, and not, say, an ordinary person. We must also look for tropes that the authors use. In these dialogues King Menander approaches the Buddha with two questions that go right to the heart of Buddhist dharma: the doctrine of no-self (anatman) and the doctrine of nirvana. One of the points that the Buddha realized at the moment of his enlightenment in his thirty-fifth year was that we have no permanent, abiding self Catman), that our individual personalities have no underlying permanence like a soul, and that suffering is caused by our clinging to the illusion of a permanent self. It is these questions that perplexe King Menander, and forms the backbone of this dialogue. As you read the dialogue of the Simile of the Chariot ask yourself if you are convinced by the argument that the Buddha uses to illustrate that there is no such thing as the self. If you are not satisfied then make a note of where exactly in the dialogue you begin to disagree with the Buddha. THE BUDDHIST TRADITION &quot;Or would you support the rituals, shows. or festivals of other ascetics or brahmans?&quot; &quot;No, sir.&quot; &quot;Do you only declare what you have known and seen?&quot; &quot;Yes, sir.&quot; &quot;Well done, brethren! I have taught you the doctrine which is immediately beneficial, eternal, open to all, leading them onwards, to be mastered for himself by every intelligent man.&quot; [From Majjhima Nikiiya, 1.156 Ii] False Doctrines About the Soul The earJy Buddhists never ceased to impress upon their hearers the fact that the phenomenal personality was in a constant state of flux, and that there was no eternal soul in the individual in anything like...
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- Buddhism, King Menander, generally understood term, Reverend Nagasena