Contemporary discourses often emphasize the divide, if not the confrontation, between an East and a West, as if the long-standing exchanges between Europe and Asia had never existed. Textual witnesses of this encounter are quite rare. One of these is The Questions of Milinda, which presents a dialogue between a Buddhist monk, Nāgasena, and a Greek king, Milinda or Menander, who actually lived in the second century BCE. The talk will briefly present this text and focus on one of its most famous arguments about the counterintuitive Buddhist idea of no-self, namely, the claim that we do not, in fact, have selves, despite our most natural instinct. What does this claim entail for the possibility of dialogue? This philosophical question touches on the romanticization of the notions of “East” and “West,” and on the political implications they have for us today.
Pierre-Julien Harter received his PhD from the University of Chicago in the philosophy of religions program in 2015. He specializes in Buddhist philosophy in India and Tibet, as well as in Indian philosophy.