THEN drew near Milinda the king to where the venerable Ngasena was; and having drawn near he greeted the venerable Ngasena; and having passed the compliments of friendship and civility, he sat down respectfully at one side. And the venerable Ngasena returned the greeting; by which, verily, he won the heart of king Milinda.
Your majesty, I am called Ngasena; my fellow-priests, your majesty, address me as Ngasena: but whether parents give one the name Ngasena, or Srasena, or Virasena, or Sihasena, it is, nevertheless, your majesty, but a way of counting, a term, an appellation, a convenient designation, a mere name, this Ngasena; for there is no Ego here to be found.
Bhante Ngasena, if there is no Ego to be found, who is it then furnishes you priests with the priestly requisites,robes, food, bedding, and medicine, the reliance of the sick? who is it makes use of the same? who is it keeps the precepts? who is it applies himself to meditation? who is it realizes the Paths, the Fruits, and Nirvana? who is it destroys life? who is it takes what is not given him? who is it commits immorality? who is it tells lies? who is it drinks intoxicating liquor? who is it commits the five crimes that constitute proximate karma?1 In that case, there is no merit; there is no demerit; there is no one who does or causes to be done meritorious or demeritorious deeds; neither good nor evil deeds can have any fruit or result. Bhante Ngasena, neither is he a murderer who kills a priest, nor can you priests, bhante Ngasena, have any teacher, preceptor, or ordination. When you say, My fellow-priests, your majesty, address me as Ngasena, what then is this Ngasena? Pray, bhante, is the hair of the head Ngasena?
Are nails teeth skin flesh sinews bones marrow of the bones kidneys heart liver pleura spleen lungs intestines mesentery stomach faeces bile phlegm pus blood sweat fan tears lymph saliva snot synovial fluid urine brain of the head Ngasena?
Bhante, although I question you very closely, I fail to discover any Ngasena. Verily, now bhante, Ngasena is a mere empty sound. What Ngasena is there here? Bhante, you speak a falsehood, a lie: there is no Ngasena.
Your majesty, you are a delicate prince, an exceedingly delicate prince; and if, your majesty, you walk in the middle of the day on hot sandy ground, and you tread on rough grit, gravel, and sand, your feet become sore, your body tired, the mind is oppressed, and the body-consciousness suffers. Pray, did you come afoot, or riding?
Your majesty, although I question you very closely, I fail to discover any chariot. Verily now, your majesty, the word chariot is a mere empty sound. What chariot is there here? Your majesty, you speak a falsehood, a lie: there is no chariot. Your majesty, you are the chief king in all the continent of India; of whom are you afraid that you speak a lie? Listen to me, my lords, ye five hundred Yonakas, and ye eighty thousand priests! Milinda the king here says thus: I came in a chariot; and being requested, Your majesty, if you came in a chariot, declare to me the chariot, he fails to produce any chariot. Is it possible, pray, for me to assent to what he says?
Thoroughly well, your majesty, do you understand a chariot. In exactly the same way, your majesty, in respect of me, Ngasena is but a way of counting, term, appellation, convenient designation, mere name for the hair of my head, hair of my body brain of the head, form, sensation, perception, the predispositions, and consciousness. But in the absolute sense there is no Ego here to be found. And the priestess Vajir, your majesty, said as follows in the presence of The Beloved One:
It is wonderful, bhante Ngasena! It is marvellous, bhante Ngasena! Brilliant and prompt is the wit of your replies. If The Buddha were alive, he would applaud. Well done, well done, Ngasena! Brilliant and prompt is the wit of your replies.
2. Translated from the Visuddhi-Magga (chap. xviii)
Just as the word chariot is but a mode of expression for axle, wheels, chariot-body, pole, and other constituent members, placed in a certain relation to each other, but when we come to examine the members one by one, we discover that in the absoulte sense there is no chariot; and just as the word house is but a mode of expression for wood and other constituents of a house, surrounding space in a certain relation, but in the absoulte sense there is no house; and just as the word fist is but a mode of expression for the fingers, the thumb, etc., in a certain relation; and the word lute for the body of the lute, strings, etc.; army for elephants, horses, etc; city for fortifications, houses, gates, etc.; tree for trunk, branches, foliage, etc., in a certain relation, but when we come to examine the parts one by one, we discover that in the absolute sense there is no tree; in exactly the same way the words living entity and Ego, are but a mode of expression for the presence of the five attachment groups, but when we come to examine the elements of being one by one, we discover that in the absolute sense there is no living entity there to form a basis for such figments as I am, or I; in other words, that in the absolute sense there is only name and form. The insight of him who perceives this is called knowledge of the truth.
He, however, who abandons this knowledge of the truth and believes in a living entity must assume either that this living entity will perish or that it will not perish. If he assume that it will not perish, he falls into the heresy of the persistence of existences; or if he assume that it will perish, he falls into that of the annihilation of existences. And why do I say so? Because, just as sour cream has milk as its antecedent, so nothing here exists but what has its own antecedents. To say, The living entity persists, is to fall short of the truth; to say, It is annihilated, is to outrun the truth. Therefore has The Blessed One said:
O priests, gods and men delight in existence, take pleasure in existence, rejoice in existence, so that when the Doctrine for the cessation of existence is preached to them, their minds do not leap toward it, are not favorably disposed toward it, do not rest in it, do not adopt it.
Some are distressed at, ashamed of, and loathe existence, and welcome the thought of non-existence, saying, See here! When they say that on the dissolution of the body this Ego is annihilated, perishes, and does not exist after death, that is good, that is excellent, that is as it should be.
We may have, O priests, a priest who knows things as they really are, and knowing things as they really are, he is on the road to aversion for things, to absence of passion for them, and to cessation from them.
In the above case, Ananda, where it is said, Sensation is my Ego, reply should be made as follows: Brother, there are three sensations: the pleasant sensation, the unpleasant sensation, and the indifferent sensation. Which of these three sensations do you hold to be the Ego?
Whenever, Ananda, a person experiences a pleasant sensation, he does not at the same time experience an unpleasant sensation, nor does he experience an indifferent sensation; only the pleasant sensation does he then feel. Whenever, Ananda, a person experiences an unpleasant sensation, he does not at the same time experience a pleasant sensation, nor does he experience an indifferent sensation; only the unpleasant sensation does he then feel. Whenever, Ananda, a person experiences an indifferent sensation, he does not at the same time experience a pleasant sensation, nor does he experience an unpleasant sensation; only the indifferent sensation does he then feel.
Now pleasant sensations, Ananda, are transitory, are due to causes, originate by dependence, and are subject to decay, disappearance, effacement, and cessation; and unpleasant sensations, Ananda, are transitory, are due to causes, originate by dependence, and are subject to decay, disappearance, effacement, and cessation; and indifferent sensations, Ananda, are transitory, are due to causes, originate by dependence, and are subject to decay, disappearance, effacement, and cessation. While this person is experiencing a pleasant sensation, he thinks, This Accordingly, Ananda, it is not possible to hold the view, Verily, sensation is not my Ego; my Ego has no sensation.
In the above case, Ananda, where it is said, Verily, neither is sensation my Ego, nor does my Ego have no sensation. My Ego has sensation; my Ego possesses the faculty of sensation, reply should be made as follows: Suppose, brother, that utterly and completely, and without remainder, all sensation were to ceaseif there were nowhere any sensation, pray, would there be anything, after the cessation of sensation, of which it could be said, This am I?
From the time, Ananda, a priest no longer holds the view that sensation is the Ego, no longer holds the view that the Ego has no sensation, no longer holds the view that the Ego has sensation, possesses the faculty of sensation, he ceases to attach himself to anything in the world, and being free from attachment, he is never agitated, and being never agitated, he attains to Nirvana in his own person; and he knows that rebirth is exhausted, that he has lived the holy life, that he has done what it behooved him to do, and that he is no more for this world.
Now it is impossible, Ananda, that to a mind so freed a priest should attribute the heresy that the saint exists after death, or that the saint does not exist after death, or that the saint both exists and does not exist after death, or that the saint neither exists nor does not exist after death.
Because, Ananda, after a priest has been freed by a thorough comprehension of affirmation and affirmations range, of predication and predications range, of declaration and declarations range, of knowledge and knowledges field of action, of rebirth and what rebirth affects, it is impossible for him to attribute such a heretical lack of knowledge and perception to a priest similarly freed.
Note 1. Translated from the Srasangaha, as quoted in Trenckners note to this passage:By proximate karma is meant karma that ripens in the next existence. To show what this is, I [the author of the Srasangaha] give the following passage from the Atthnasutta of the first book of the Anguttara-Nikya:It is an impossibility, O priests, the case can never occur, that an individual imbued with the correct doctrine should deprive his mother of life, should deprive his father of life, should deprive a saint of life, should in a revengeful spirit cause a bloody wound to a Tathgata, should cause a schism in the church. This is an impossibility. [back]