Critical evaluation of Milindapanha

Milindapanha is not without some flaws.
Please share your thoughts in this forum.

I would suggest we try to evaluate it from the perspective of what it is and what it is not.

What it is?

It is said to be a record of a debate between a Bactrian king and a bhikkhu who is believed to have been fully successful in the fulfillment of the four noble truths’ respective ennobling tasks (i.e. an arahant).

The name of the bhikkhu was Nāgasena and he is believed to have been an adept of Sarvastivadan thought.

The name of the king was Menander I Soter and some see as confirmation of his conversion to Buddhism the fact that after his death several Indo-Greek rulers started to adopt on their coins the Pali title of “Dharmikasa”, meaning “follower of the Dharma”.

While it lies beyond our capabilities to confirm how factual the account is, it is a relatively early text and probably is related to an actual conversation between a buddhist monk and a king of a realm situated where nowadays Pakistan’s city of Sialkot is.

It is found nowadays in two canonical forms: a Pali and Chinese form. Both have English translations available in SuttaCentral:

Pali - Khuddaka Nikāya’s Milindapañha

Chinese - Nāgasena Bhikṣu Sūtra (T 1670b)

While both Chinese and Pali share many things in common, some chapters are found uniquely in one of the two versions.

What it is not?

It is not a record of the views and doctrines of the earliest days of Buddhism. It is believed to have been put in writing between 100 BCE and 200 CE.

To put things in context, the first Buddhist Council is believed to have occurred around 483 BCE. The 283-383 years gap between things is equivalent to the amount of time separating us nowadays to the events of renaissance in Europe!

Hence, the views found in it should not be seen as fully compatible or consistent with either the views of the earliest strata of the canon (what we tend to call here EBTs…) or the views of contemporary Theravadin thought.