I found this to be an interesting tale and well deserving for a post here on the blog. The story goes that once a great king of India asked some fundamental questions about the basic teachings of the Buddha. The text is preserved as a dialogue between King Milinda and Nagasena, a representative of Buddhism. I might add that according to Buddhist tradition, King Milinda (c.155 b.c.) was a local ruler of a province in India that had been part of the conquests of Alexander the Great. Archaeological evidence indicates that Buddhism had reached some degree of official status under King Milinda. Popular Buddhist legend recounts that in his constant search for new truths, King Milinda asked a number of questions about how man should live a good life and meet a good death.. Here is the story:
King Milinda said: “I will grant you, Nagasena, that Nirvana is absolute ease, and that nevertheless one cannot point to its form or shape, its duration of size, either by simile or explanation, by reason or by argument. But is there perhaps some quality of Nirvana which is shares with other things, and which lends itself to a metaphorical explanation?”
“Its form, O king, cannot be elucidated by similes but its qualities can.”
“How good to hear that, Nagasena! Speak then, quickly, so that I may have an explanation of even one of the aspects of Nirvana! Appease the fever of my heart! Allay it with the cool sweet breezes of your words!”
“Nirvana share one quality with the lotus, two with water, three with medicine, ten with space, three with the wishing jewel, and five with a mountain peak. As the lotus is unstained by water, so is Nirvanan unstained by all the defilements. As cool water allays feverish heat, so also Nirvana is cool and allays the fever of the passions. More over, as water removes the thirst of men and beasts who are exhausted, parched, thirsty and overpowered by heat, so also Nirvana removes the craving for sensuous enjoyments, the craving for further becoming (the craving for reincarnation), the craving for the cessation of becoming (the craving for the end of reincarnation). As medicine protects from poison, so Nirvana protects from the torments of the poisonous passions. Moreover, as medicine puts an end to sickness, so Nirvana to all sufferings. Finally, Nirvana and medicine both give security. And these are the ten qualities which Nirvana shares with space.
Neither is born, grows old, passes away, or is reborn; both are unconquerable, cannot be stolen, are unsupported, are roads respectively for birds and Arhats (Someone who is or is becoming a Buddha) to journey on, are unobstructed and infinite. Like the wishing jewel, Nirvana grants all one can desire, brings joy, and sheds light. As a mountain peak is lofty and exalted, so is Nirvana., As a mountain peak is inaccessible, so is Nirvana inaccessible to all the passions. As no seeds can grow on a mountain peak, so the seeds of all the passions cannot grow in Nirvana. And finally, as a mountain peak is free from all desire to please or displease, so is Nirvana.”
“Well said, Nagasena! So it is, and as such I accept it.!
from Buddhist Texts, Throughout the Ages. (New York: Harper & Row 1964), pp.97-100