No-self (anatta) in The Questions of King Milinda

Author: Sonia Sikka (University of Ottawa)

The Questions of King Milinda is an Indian Buddhist text probably written between 100 – 200 B.C. Its authorship is uncertain, and it is most likely a composite work.   The narrative is composed as a fictional dialogue between the Greek King Milinda (an Indianization of Menander) and the Buddhist Sage Nagasena. A portion of the dialogue presents the Buddhist doctrine of anatta or no-self. Using the analogy of a chariot, Nagasena demonstrates to Milinda that the person named “Nagasena” cannot be identified with any part of his body or consciousness nor with any sum of these parts, but also cannot be conceived as existing independently of his parts. The conclusion is that “Nagasena” is only a conventional term to name something that has no substantial existence, and that this is generally true of what we understand as the “self.”

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Carvaka school

Author: Sonia Sikka (University of Ottawa)

The Carvaka tradition offers an example of a pleasure-oriented this-worldly philosophy of life, based on a strictly empiricist epistemology and materialist metaphysics. Claiming that sense-perception constitutes the only reliable means of knowing, Carvaka thinkers reject the possibility of drawing inferences about what cannot be perceived, and some reject the validity of inferential reasoning altogether. They therefore argue that there is no afterlife, and that the mind is a product of matter. Consequently, they also deny the utility of priests and rituals, and question the caste system. They are represented as amoral hedonists by their opponents, but this portrait may not be entirely accurate.

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