Nagasena was a Shravastivadan Buddhist born in Kashmir, who happened around 150 BCE. In Northwest India, the Indian Greek king Minander was ruled at that time. The name of this king is found in ancient Pali texts. Some historical documents show that Milind had asked a lot of questions to Nagasena to learn the esoteric mysteries about Buddhism, and Milind had become a Buddhist influenced by Nagasena’s answers. But the interesting aspect is that when you come to know that there was no such Buddhist monk named Nagsen!
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What is this secret?Was there really no monk named Nagasena? Or is it an elusive story? There are two ways to answer this question. Firstly, some information about Nagasen is found in Milindpanho Granth. According to him, Nagsen had acquired the knowledge of Tripitaka from the great Buddhist monk Dharmaksharta. Nagsen Arhats were made with this knowledge near Patna. In Buddhist tradition, Arhat is called one who recognizes his existence and attains the state of nirvana.
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Apart from Milindapanho, Nagasena is also mentioned in some other Buddhist literature such as his father’s name was Sonusad and the name of Guru was Rohan, Asgatta and Vataniya while Ayupala was his Gurumata. Nagsen is also considered one of the 18 arhats of the Mahayana branch of Buddhism. In ancient paintings, he was shown wearing a khadkha in one hand and a chadnuma tangka in the other hand. In some modern crafts, a wood was stuck in Nagsen’s ear, which means that the Buddhist monk should not listen to stupid things, but should always be ready to hear the truth.
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Now the other aspect associated with Nagasena is that he is considered a consciousness. In the Cross Cultural Encyclopedia associated with the holy people of the world, Nagasena states that he was not a real person, but appeared as a consciousness to dispel the doubts which arose in the mind of King Milind and Milind After calming his mind, he disappeared. This reason has also been told that there is no history of Nagasen after that and even before the dialogue with Milind, there is not much history of Nagasen, just more legends.
Interesting facts related to Nagasena
Nagsen is said to have traveled from India to Thailand. According to this legend, the ancient name of Patna was Pataliputra, where for the first time in 43 BCE, gem-studded Buddha statues were composed, in which Buddha is seen meditating in Padmasana. Nagsen had reached Thailand with these idols and since then the tradition of such Buddha statues started there.
The Emerald Buddha statue is often golden and also studded with gems.
Whatever details of Nagasena are found, they are only in Milindapanho Granth. There are also wonderful and interesting stories of dialogue between Raja and Nagasena in this book. Two of them tell you the prevalent and knowable context.
Story of nagasen and chariot
This interesting story is often mentioned to understand the teachings of Buddhism. When Milind asked the name of the Buddhist monk, Nagsen told his name and said, ‘Rajan, it is just a name, it is not me.’
Confused, Milind asked him: ‘Bhante, how did you come to this palace?’
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Nagsen pointed to the chariot and asked Milind what the chariot is, then Milind also showed him the chariot with a hint. Then Nagsen explained to Milind.
“Rajan, the chariot is a collection of some things like wheels and asanas. I am also made up of many things like this, named Nagasen. Just as a chariot has postures, wheels, halts and horses, in the same way a human has a head. There are organs like arms, heart, lungs and legs etc. Man is also the owner of all these, but the thing to understand is that human beings exist only as long as all these organs work together. No soul is separated. “
Picture of the conversation between Raja Milind and Nagasen, courtesy of Wikicommons.
When there was a conflict between the two!
There was some tension in the dialogue between Milind and Nagasena, and then an interesting incident occurs. Milind, after getting the answer to a riddle, asked Nagsen if he would talk any more. Then Nagsen said, ‘If Rajan talks like a scholar, then there will be more talk, but if he behaves like a king, no’. After this, Milind asked Nagasen to know the difference between the two situations, then Nagasen said:
After this answer, Milind had said that he would discuss like a scholar and talk to him without fear.