The Milindapañha-aṭṭhakathā: Nonnormative Pali, Psychic Powers, and Control of the Canon in Mid-Twentieth-Century Burma


The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Dissertation Fellowships in Buddhist Studies


Buddhist Studies


In 1948, Burmese monk Mingun Jetavana Sayadaw (1868-1955) published his Milindapañha-aṭṭhakathā (Mil-a)—the only aṭṭhakathā on the Questions of Milinda (Milindapañha)—and the first composition of this genre in a millennium. An aṭṭhakathā is the most authoritative Pali exegesis, sensu Buddhaghosa and Dhammapāla, yet the nascent Burmese state confiscated the first edition of this extraordinary text in 1949, and allegedly passed legislation in response. This project uncovers how the controversy was ignited by the admixture of a nonnormative, perhaps spoken-form of Pali, the Mingun’s discussion of contemporary access to psychic powers (iddhi) and higher-knowledges (abhiññā), and his purported claims to attainments (paṭivedha) achieved through vipassanā meditation, which together maginified any textual or doctrinal claims in the commentary itself. I thus explicate the inside and outside of a modern Pali commentary, revealing tensions between orthodoxy, practice, and a state struggling to control both the canon and the public perfomance of arahantship.