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Tipitaka >> Sutta Pitaka >> Khuddaka Nikaya >> Milindapanha >> Book II: The Distinguishing Characteristics of Ethical Qualities - Lakkhana Panha Chapter 3


Translated by T. W. Rhys Davids


1. The king said: 'What is the root, Nâgasena, of past time, and what of present, and what of future time?'

'Ignorance. By reason of Ignorance came the Confections, by reason of the Confections consciousness, by reason of consciousness name-and-form, by reason of name-and-form the six organs of sense , by reason of them contact, by reason of contact sensation, by reason of sensation thirst, by reason of thirst craving, by reason of craving becoming, by reason of becoming birth, by reason of birth old age and death, grief, lamentation, sorrow, pain, and despair. Thus is it that the ultimate point in the past of all this time is not apparent.'

'You are ready, Nâgasena, in reply!


2. The king said: 'You say that the ultimate point of time is not apparent. Give me an illustration of that.'

'Suppose, O king, a man were to plant in the ground a tiny seed, and that it were to come up as a shoot, and in due course grow, develope, and mature until it produced a fruit. And then the man, taking a seed from that fruit, were again to plant it in the ground, and all should happen as before. Now would there be any end to this series?'

Certainly not, Sir.'

'Just so, O king, the ultimate point in the past of the whole of this time is not apparent.'

'Give me a further illustration.'

'The hen lays an egg. From the egg comes a hen. From the hen an egg. Is there any end to this series?'

'No.'

'Just so, O king, the ultimate point in the past of the whole of this time is not apparent.'

'Give me a further illustration.'

Then the Elder drew a circle on the ground and asked the king: 'Is there any end to this circle?'

'No, it has no end.'

4 Well, that is like those circles spoken of by the Blessed One . "By reason of the eye and of forms there arises sight , when these three come together there is touch, by reason of touch sensation, by reason of sensation a longing (Tanhâ, thirst), by reason of the longing action (Karma), and from action eye is once more produced ." Now is there any end to this series

'No.'

Then setting out a precisely corresponding circle of each of the other organs of sense (of the ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind ), he in each case put the same question. And the reply being always the same, he concluded:

'Just so, O king, the ultimate point of time in the past is not apparent.'

'You are ready, Nâgasena, in reply.'


3. The king said: 'When you say that the ultimate point is not apparent, what do you mean by "ultimate point"?'

'Of whatsoever time is past. It is the ultimate point of that, O king, that I speak of.'

'But, if so, when you say that it is not apparent, do you mean to say that of everything? Is the ultimate point of everything unknown?'

'Partly so, and partly not.'

'Then which is so, and which not?'

'Formerly, O king, everything in every form, everything in every mode, was ignorance. It is to us as if it were not. In reference to that the ultimate beginning is unknown. But that, which has not been, becomes; as soon as it has begun to become it dissolves away again. In reference to that the ultimate beginning is known .'

'But, reverend Sir, if that which was not, becomes, and as soon as it has begun to become passes again

away, then surely, being thus cut off at both ends, it must be entirely destroyed ?'

'Nay, surely, O king, if it be thus cut off at both ends, can it not at both ends be made to grow again ?'

'Yes, it might. But that is not my question. Could it grow again from the point at which it was cut off?'

'Certainly.'

'Give me an illustration.'

Then the Elder repeated the simile of the tree and the seed, and said that the Skandhas (the constituent elements of all life, organic and inorganic) were so many seeds, and the king confessed himself satisfied.


4. The king said: 'Are there any Confections which are produced?'

'Certainly.'

'Which are they?'

'Where there is an eye, and also forms, there is sight , where there is sight there is a contact through the eye, where there is contact through the eye there is a sensation, where there is sensation there is a longing , where there is longing there is a grasping , where there is grasping there is a becoming,

where there is becoming there is birth, and at birth old age and death, grief, lamentation, pain, sorrow, and despair begin to be. Thus is the rise of the whole of this class of pain.--Where there is neither eye nor form there is no sight, where there is not sight there is no contact through the eye, where there is not contact there is no sensation, where there is not sensation there is no longing, where there is not longing there is no grasping, where there is not grasping there is no becoming, where there is not becoming there is no birth, and where there is not birth there is neither old age nor death nor grief, lamentation, pain, sorrow, and despair. Thus is the ending of all this class of pain.

'Very good, Nâgasena!'


5. The king said: 'Are there any Confections (qualities) which spring into being without a gradual becoming?'

'No. They all have a gradual becoming.'

'Give me an illustration.'

'Now what do you think, great king? Did this house in which you are sitting spring suddenly into being?'

'Certainly not, Sir. There is nothing here which arose in that way. Each portion of it has had its gradual becoming--these beams had their becoming in the forest, and this clay in the earth, and by the moil and toil of women and of men was this house produced.'

'Just so, great king, there is no Confection. which has sprung into being without a gradual becoming. It is by a process of evolution that Confections come to be!'

'Give me a further illustration.'

'They are like all kinds of trees and plants which, when set in the ground, grow, develope, and mature, and then yield their fruits and flowers. The trees do not spring into being without a becoming. It is by a process of evolution that they become what they are. just so, great king, there is no Confection which has sprung into being without a gradual becoming. It is by a process of evolution that Confections come to be!'

'Give me a further illustration.'

'They are like the pots of various kinds which a potter might form when he has dug up the clay out of the earth. The pots do not spring into being without a becoming. It is by a process of evolution that they become what they are. just so, great king, there is no Confection which has sprung into being without a gradual becoming. It is by a process of evolution that Confections come to be!'

'Give me a further illustration.'

'Suppose, O king, there were no bridge of metal on a mandolin , no leather, no hollow space, no frame, no neck, no strings, no bow, and no human effort or exertion, would there be music?'

'Certainly not, Sir.'

'But if all these things were there, would not there be a sound?'

'Of course there would.'

'Just so, great king, there is no Confection which has sprung into being without a gradual becoming. It is by a process of evolution that Confections come to be!'

'Give me a further illustration.'

'Suppose, O king, there were no fire-stick apparatus , no twirling-stick , and no cord for the twirling-stick, and no matrix , and no burnt rag for tinder, and no human effort and exertion, could there be fire by attrition?'

'Certainly not.'

'But if all these conditions were present, then might not fire appear?'

'Yes, certainly.'

'Just so, great king, there is no Confection which has sprung into being without a gradual becoming. It is by a process of evolution that Confections come to be!'

'Give me one more illustration.'

'Suppose, O king, there were no burning glass, and no heat of the sun, and no dried cow-dung for tinder, could there be fire?'

'Certainly not.'

'But where these things are present there fire might be struck, might it not?'

'Yes.'

'Just so, great king, there is no Confection which

has sprung into being without a gradual becoming. It is by a process of evolution that Confections come to be!'

'Give me another illustration.'

'Suppose, O king, there were no looking-glass, and no light, and no face in front of it, would there appear an image?'

'No.'

'But given these things, there might be a reflection?'

'Yes, Sir, there might.'

'Just so, great king, there is no Confection which has sprung into being without a gradual becoming. It is by a process of evolution that Confections come to be!'

'Very good, Nâgasena!'


6. The king said: 'Is there, Nâgasena, such a thing as the soul ?'

'What is this, O king, the soul (Vedagu)?'

'The living principle within which sees forms through the eye, hears sounds through the ear, experiences tastes through the tongue, smells odours through the nose, feels touch through the body, and discerns things (conditions, "dhammâ") through the mind--just as we, sitting here in the palace, can look out of any window out of which we wish to look, the east window or the west, or the north or the south.'

The Elder replied: 'I will tell you about the five

doors , great king. Listen, and give heed attentively. If the living principle within sees forms through the eye in the manner that you mention, choosing its window as it likes, can it not then see forms not only through the eye, but also through each of the other five organs of sense? And in like manner can it not then as well hear sounds, and experience taste, and smell odours, and feel touch, and discern conditions through each of the other five organs of sense, besides the one you have in each case specified?'

'No, Sir.'

'Then these powers are not united one to another indiscriminately, the latter sense to the former organ, and so on. Now we, as we are seated here in the palace, with these windows all thrown open, and in full daylight, if we only stretch forth our heads, see all kinds of objects plainly. Can the living principle do the same when the doors of the eyes are thrown open? When the doors of the ear are thrown open, can it do so? Can it then not only hear sounds, but see sights, experience tastes, smell odours, feel touch, and discern conditions? And so with each of its windows?'

'No, Sir.'

'Then these powers are not united one to another indiscriminately. Now again, great king, if Dinna here were to go outside and stand in the gateway, would you be aware that he had done so?'

'Yes, I should know it.'

'And if the same Dinna were to come back again, and stand before you, would you be aware of his having done so?'

'Yes, I should know it.'

'Well, great king, would the living principle within discern, in like manner, if anything possessing flavour were laid upon the tongue, its sourness, or its saltness, or its acidity, or its pungency, or its astringency, or its sweetness ?'

'Yes, it would know it.'

'But when the flavour had passed into the stomach would it still discern these things?'

'Certainly not.'

'Then these powers are not united one to the other indiscriminately. Now suppose, O king, a man were to have a hundred vessels of honey brought and poured into one trough, and then, having had another man's mouth closed over and tied up, were to have him cast into the trough full of honey. Would he know whether that into which he had been thrown was sweet or whether it was not?'

'No, Sir.'

'But why not?'

'Because the honey could not get into his mouth.'

'Then, great king, these powers are not united one to another indiscriminately .'

'I am not capable of discussing with such a reasoner. Be pleased, Sir, to explain to me how the matter stands.'

Then the Elder convinced Milinda the king with discourse drawn from the Abhidhamma, saying: 'It is by reason, O king, of the eye and of forms that sight arises, and those other conditions--contact,

sensation, idea, thought, abstraction, sense of vitality, and attention --arise each simultaneously with its predecessor. And a similar succession of cause and effect arises when each of the other five organs of sense is brought into play. And so herein there is no such thing as soul (Vedagu) .'


7. The king said: 'Does thought-perception arise wherever sight arises ?'

'Yes, O king, where the one is there is the other.' And which of the two arises first?'

'First sight, then thought.'

'Then does the sight issue, as it were, a command to thought, saying: "Do you spring up there where I have? or does thought issue command to sight, saying: Where you spring up there will I."'

'It is not so, great king. There is no intercourse between the one and the other.'

'Then how is it, Sir, that thought arises wherever sight does?'

'Because of there being a sloping down, and because of there being a door, and because of there being a habit , and because of there being an association.'

'How is that? Give me an illustration of mind arising where sight arises because of there being a sloping down.'

'Now what do you think, great king? When it rains , where will the water go to?'

'It will follow the slope of the ground.'

'And if it were to rain again, where would the water go to?'

'It would go the same way as the first water had gone.'

'What then? Does the first water issue, as it were, command to the second, saying: "Do you go where I have?" Or does the second issue command to the first, saying: "Whithersoever you go, thither will I"?'

'It is not so, Sir. There is no intercourse between the two. Each goes its way because of the slope of the ground.'

'Just so, great king, is it by reason of the natural slope that where sight has arisen there also does thought arise. And neither does the sight-perception issue command to the mind-perception, saying: "Where I have arisen, there do thou also spring up;" nor does the mind-perception inform the sight-perception, saying: "Where thou hast arisen, there will I also spring up." There is no conversation, as it were, between them. All that happens, happens through natural slope.'

'Now give me an illustration of there being a door.'

'What do you think, great king? Suppose a king had a frontier city, and it was strongly defended with towers and bulwarks, and had only one gateway. If a man wanted to leave the city, how would he go out?'

'By the gate, certainly.'

'And if another man wanted to leave it, how would he go out?'

'The same way as the first.'

'What then? Would the first man tell the second:

[paragraph continues] "Mind you go out the same way as I do"? Or would the second tell the first: "The way you go out, I shall go out too"?'

'Certainly not, Sir. There would be no communication between them. They would go that way because that was the gate.'

'Just so, great king, with thought and sight.'

'Now give me an illustration of thought arising where sight is because of habit.'

'What do you think, great king? If one cart went ahead, which way would a second cart go?'

'The same as the first.'

'But would the first tell the second to go where it went, or the second tell the first that it would go where it (the first) had gone?'

'No, Sir. There would be no communication between the two. The second would follow the first out of habit.'

'Just so, great king, with sight and thought.'

'Now give me an illustration of how thought arises, where sight has arisen, through association.'

'In the art of calculating by using the joints of the fingers as signs or marks , in the art of arithmetic pure and simple , in the art of estimating the probable

yield of growing crops , and in the art of writing, O king, the beginner is clumsy. But after a certain time with attention and practice he becomes expert. just so is it that, where sight has arisen, thought too by association springs up.'

And in response to similar questions, the Elder declared that in the same way thought sprang up wherever there was hearing, or taste, or smell, or touch: that in each case it was subsequent to the other, but arose without communication from the natural causes above set out.

8. The king said: 'Where thought (mental perception ) is, Nâgasena, is there always sensation?'

'Yes, where thought arises there is contact, and there is sensation, and there is idea, and there is conceived intention, and there is reflection; and there is investigation .'


9. 'Reverend Sir, what is the distinguishing characteristic of contact (Phassa)?'

'Touch , O king.'

'But give me an illustration.'

'It is as when two rams are butting together, O

king. The eye should be regarded as one of those two, the form (object) as the other, and the contact as the union of the two.'

'Give me a further illustration.'

'It is as when two cymbals are clashed together. The one is as the eye, the other as the object, and the junction of the two is like contact.'

'Very good, Nâgasena!'


10. 'Reverend Sir, what is the characteristic mark of sensation (Vedanâ)?'

'The being experienced, great king, and enjoyed .'

'Give me an illustration.'

'It is like the case of the man on whom the king, pleased with a service he has rendered him, should bestow an office. He while living, through that appointment, in the full possession and enjoyment of all the pleasures of sense, would think: "Formerly I did the king a service. For that the king, pleased with me, gave me this office. It is on that account that I now experience such sensations."--And it is like the case of the man who having done good deeds is re-born, on the dissolution of the body after death, into some happy conditions of bliss in heaven. He, while living there in the full possession and enjoyment of all the pleasures of sense, would think: "Formerly I must have done good deeds. It is on that account that I now experience such sensations." Thus is it, great king, that the being experienced and enjoyed is the characteristic mark of sensation.'

'Very good, Nâgasena!'

11. 'What is the distinguishing characteristic, Nâgasena, of idea (Saññâ)?'

'Recognition, O king . And what does he recognise?--blueness and yellowness and redness and whiteness and brownness.'

'Give me an illustration.'

'It is like the king's treasurer. O king, who when he sees, on entering the treasure, objects the property of the king, of all those colours, recognises (that they have such). Thus it is, great king, that recognition is the mark of idea.'

'Very good, Nâgasena!'


'What is the distinguishing characteristic, Nâgasena, of the conceived purpose (Ketanâ)?'

'The being conceived, O king, and the being prepared .'

'Give me an illustration.'

'It is like the case of a man, O king, who should prepare poison, and both drink of it himself, and give of it to others to drink. He himself would suffer pain, and so would they. In the same way some individual, having thought out with intention some evil deed, on the dissolution of the body after death, would be reborn into some unhappy state of woe in purgatory, and so also would those who followed his advice.--And it is like the case of a

man, O king, who should prepare a mixture of ghee, butter, oil, honey and molasses, and should both drink thereof himself and give of it to others to drink. He himself would have pleasure, and so would they. In the same way some individual, having thought out with intention some good deed, will be reborn, on the dissolution of the body after death, into some happy state of bliss in heaven, and so also would those who follow his advice. Thus is it, great king, that the being conceived, and the being prepared, are marks of the conceived purpose.'

'Very good, Nâgasena!'


12. 'What, Nâgasena, is the distinguishing characteristic of perception (Viññâna)?'

'Recognition , great king.'

'Give me an illustration.'

'It is like the case of the guardian of a city who, when seated at the cross roads in the middle of the city, could see a man coming from the East, or the South, or the West, or the North. In the same way, O king, he knows an object which he sees with his eye, or a sound which he hears with his ear, or an odour which he smells by his nose, or a taste which he experiences with his tongue, or a touchable thing which he touches with his body, or a quality that he recognises by his mind. Thus is it, great king, that knowing is the mark of perception.'

'Very good, Nâgasena!'


13. 'What is the distinguishing characteristic, Nâgasena, of reflection (Vitakka).

'The effecting of an aim .'

'Give me an illustration.'

'It is like the case of a carpenter, great king, who fixes in a joint a well-fashioned piece of wood. Thus is it that the effecting of an aim is the mark of reflection.'

'Very good, Nâgasena!'


14. 'What is the distinguishing characteristic, Nâgasena, of investigation (Vikâra)?'

'Threshing out again and again .'

'Give me an illustration.'

'It is like the case of the copper vessel, which, when it is being beaten into shape , makes a sound again and again as it gradually gathers shape . The beating into shape is to be regarded as reflection, and the sounding again and again as investigation. Thus is it, great king, that threshing out again and again is the mark of investigation.'

'Very good, Nâgasena!'


Here ends the Third Chapter .


15. The king said: 'When those conditions (whose marks you have just specified) have run together, is it possible, by bending them apart one to one side and one to the other , to make the distinction between them clear, so that one can say:,' This is contact, and this sensation, and this idea, and this intention, and this perception, and this reflection, and this investigation "?'

'No: that cannot be done.'

'Give me an illustration.'

'Suppose, O king, the cook in the royal household were to make a syrup or a sauce, and were to put into it curds, and salt, and ginger, and cummin seed , and pepper, and other ingredients. And suppose the king were to say to him: "Pick out for me the flavour of the curds, and of the salt, and of the ginger, and of the cummin seed, and of the pepper, and of all the things you have put into it." Now would it be possible, great king, separating off one from another those flavours that had thus run together, to pick out each one, so that one could say: "Here is the sourness, and here the saltness, and here the pungency, and here the acidity, and here the astringency, and here the sweetness "?'

'No, that would not be possible . But each flavour would nevertheless be distinctly present by its characteristic sign.'

'And just so, great king, with respect to those conditions we were discussing.'

'Very good, Nâgasena!'


16. The Elder said: 'Is salt, O king, recognizable by the eye?'

'Yes, Sir, it is.'

'But be careful, O king.'

'Well then, Sir, is it perceptible by the tongue?'

'Yes, that is right.'

'But, Sir, is it only by the tongue that every kind of salt is distinguished?'

'Yes, every kind.'

'If that be so, Sir, why do bullocks bring whole cart-loads of it? Is it not salt and nothing else that ought to be so brought?'

'It is impossible to bring salt by itself. But all these conditions have run together into one, and produced the distinctive thing called salt . (For instance): salt is heavy, too. But is it possible, O king, to weigh salt?'

'Certainly, Sir.'

Nay, great king, it is not the salt you weigh, it is the weight.'

'You are ready, Nâgasena, in argument.'

Here ends the questioning of Nâgasena by Milinda .

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