Aspiring to Be a Buddha and Life Before Liberation: The Colophons of the Siamese Questions of King Milinda
History of Religions of Eastern Origins
South and Southeast Asian Languages and Societies
This article presents the colophons of a Buddhist text, the Questions of King Milinda, as seen in manuscripts found mainly in Central Thailand. Through a survey of over seventy Pāli palm-leaf manuscripts and a Thai samut khoi (folding book), the colophons reveal information not only related to textual transmission, but also to the social and soteriological ambitions of the communities that created them. Inspired by the ideology of merit, which promises good karmic returns for presenting and preserving the Dharma in this world, donors and scribes produced various kinds of aspirations (Pāli: patthanā). These aspirations are recorded in colophons. In this group of manuscripts, it is not uncommon to find that the preferred path to Nirvana among stakeholders is to become a Buddha. This is somewhat contrary to the general assumption that the way of arhat is preferred for a community that upheld the Theravāda tradition. Moreover, the quest to be fully awakened and omniscient is shown not to be confined to kings or to the nobility, but shared by a wider layer of society. The colophon of the samut khoi was sponsored by the noble royal ladies (pavaranārī) from the court of Ayutthaya. It gives us a glimpse into what—in a past era—was considered good and righteous, both materially and spiritually, by the inner circle of the ruling establishment. Accordingly, colophons deserve special attention as they provide information not only about their respective manuscripts but also about the socio-cultural aspects of the community that preserved and transmitted them.