The Questions of King Milinda

Book 4: The solving of dilemmas

Chapter 1

5.1.10. The Limit Of Three Months

‘Venerable Nāgasena, it has been said by the Blessed One: “The Tathāgata, Ānanda, has thought out and thoroughly practised, developed, accumulated, and ascended to the very height of the four paths to saintship, and so mastered them as to be able to use them as a means of mental advancement, and as a basis for edification—and he therefore, Ānanda, should he desire it, might remain alive for a Kalpa, or for that portion of a Kalpa which has yet to run.” And again he said: “At the end of three months from this time the Tathāgata will die.” If the first of these statements were true, then the limit of three months must have been false. If the second were true, Then the first must have been false. For the Tathāgatas boast not without an occasion, the Blessed Buddhas speak no misleading words, but they utter truth, and speak sincerely. This too is a double-headed dilemma, profound, subtle, hard to expound. It is now put to you. Tear in sunder this net of heresy, put it on one side, break in pieces the arguments of the adversary!’

‘Both these statements, O king, were made by the Blessed One. But Kalpa in that connection means the duration of a man’s life. And the Blessed One, O king, was not exalting his own power when he said so, but he was exalting the power of Saintship. It was as if a king were possessed of a horse most swift of foot, who could run like the wind. And in order to exalt the power of his speed the king were to say in the presence of all his court-townsfolk and country folk, hired servants and men of war, brahmins, nobles, and officers: “If he wished it this noble steed of mine could cross the earth to its ocean boundary, and be back here again, in a moment!” Now though he did not try to test the horse’s speed in the presence of the court, yet it had that speed, and was, really able to go along over the earth to its ocean boundary in a moment. Just so, O king, the Blessed One spake as he did in praise of the power of saintship, and so spake seated in the midst of gods and men, and of the men of the threefold wisdom and the sixfold insight—the Arahats pure and free from stain—when he said: “The Tathāgata, Ānanda, has thought out and practised, developed, accumulated, and ascended to the very height of the four powers of saintship, and so mastered them as to be able to use them as a means of mental advancement, as a basis for edification. And he therefore, Ānanda, should he desire it, might remain alive for a Kalpa, or the part of a Kalpa that has yet to run.” And there was that power, O king, in the Tathāgata, he could have remained alive for that time: and yet he did not show that power in the midst of that assembly. The Blessed One, O king, is free from desire as respects all conditions of future life, and has condemned them all. For it has been said, O king, by the Blessed One: “Just, O Bhikkhus, as a very small quantity of excrement is of evil smell, so do I find no beauty in the very smallest degree of future life, not even in such for the time of the snapping of the fingers.” Now would the Blessed One, O king, who thus looked upon all sorts and conditions of future life as dung have nevertheless, simply because of his power of Iddhi, harboured a craving desire for future life?’

‘Certainly not, Sir.’

‘Then it must have been to exalt the power of Iddhi that he gave utterance to such a boast.’

‘Very good, Nāgasena! It is so, and I accept it as you say.

Here ends the dilemma as to the three months.

Here ends the First Chapter.

Book 4 Chapter 2