Angulimala - Conversion from Murderer to Saint
Angulimala was one of the disciple of Lord Buddha who used to be a murderer. Angulimala bowed down when he listen to Lord Buddha explained to him about his knowledge.
Angulimala is one of the important figures in Buddhism as well as the lifetime of Lord Buddha. The story of Angulimala is described in many sutras of Buddhism especially in the Theravada Sutras. Among all the important disciples of Gautama Buddha, Angulimala had the most terrible background.Angulimala was popularly known as Daku Angulimala since he was a ruthless killer and his name means “finger necklace or garland ”. The story of Angulimala holds quite a significant part because his story tells us how a ruthless murderer became saint when he met Lord Buddha and was accepted in the monastic order of Sangha.
The life of Angulimala can be explained three parts, his life as a student, as a ruthless murderer and life as a monk.
As a Student
Angulimala was born in a Brahmin family and his father was a chaplain to the king of Kosala, King Pasenadi . According to Buddhist texts and scripture, when Angulimala was born, bad omens occurred like the flashing of weapons and appearance of the constellation of thieves. So his father asked the king to name his son. King Pasenadi named him “ Ahimsaka ” which means harmless one in order to change the dark fate occurred during Angulimala birth. Ahimsaka was sent to a well-known Brahmin Guru in Taxila for his study. He was very good in his studies and was the Guru’s favorite. So he got a special privilege to stay inside the Guru’s house.
But other students were jealous of him and they made a plan to turn the Guru against him. They were successful in turning Guru against him by making a scene that Ahimsaka was seducing Guru’s wives and stating that Ahimsaka was proud and was wiser than the Guru. Thus, the Guru in rage demanded Ahimsaka the Dakshina or final gift since he can’t use physical violence since it is believed that Ahimsaka was as strong as seven elephants. The Guru demanded that Ahimsaka would bring 1000 human fingers from different victims. Scared of such demand, horrified Ahimsaka returned to his home in Kosala and started living in the forest.
As a Murderer
After hearing such demand, Ahimsaka was quite half-hearted and started living reluctantly in the forest. But after living some time in the forest, he started attacking the lone travellers, killing them and cutting their fingers and started living in their possessions. At first he hung all the fingers on the branch of the tree but birds started picking the flesh of fingers. So he tied the fingers on a cord and wore them as a necklace. That’s how Ahimsaka got the name “ Angulimala ”. In ancient India, dead bodies were not burnt but thrown away in the barren land. Murdering the lone travellers and cutting the fingers of casted dead bodies, he was able to collect 999 human fingers.
Then the villagers of Kosala requested the king to get rid of Angulimala. King Pasenadi vowed to hunt down Angulimala. In fear and love of his son’s life, Angulimala’s mother planned to go to the forest to talk to him. Buddha knew about this since he can perceive with his “ divine eye ”. Then Lord Buddha quickly left Jetavana and set out to find Angulimala. The travellers in the Jalani forest warned him of murderer and yet Buddha continued on the journey to find Angulimala. When Angulimala saw Lord Buddha, he decided to kill Buddha instead of his mother whom he saw first and decided to make his victim. Then he ran to kill Buddha as fast as he could but he couldn’t catch up to Buddha. Angulimala gave up and called Buddha to stop. But the Blessed One replied that it is Angulimala who should stop. Hearing such answer, Angulimala begged to hear more from Buddha. After hearing Buddha explanation, he vowed to change his ways and later joined the order of Sangha.
As a Monk
After some time of becoming a Buddhist monk, King Pasenadi set out to hunt down Angulimala. In this journey, King Pasenadi met Lord Buddha and explained about his quest. Then Lord Buddha asked King how the king would react if Angulimala had changed and became a monk. King Pasenadi replied that he would salute Angulimala and offered to provide him various offerings. When King Pasenadi saw shaved Angulimala, he was astounded and offered to donate robe materials as he promised.
The famous verse known as Angulimala Paritta, recite the work of Angulimala to help delivered a young woman who was having difficulties to give birth. According to this verse, Angulimala came across a young woman who was having a difficult labor. Then Angulimala went Buddha and asked what he could do to ease that young woman labor.
“Sister, since I was born with the noble birth (became a monk), I do not recall intentionally killing a living being. Through this truth may there be wellbeing for you, wellbeing for your fetus.”
This was the revised statement after Angulimala pointed some mistake in the first statement.
“Sister, since I was born I do not recall intentionally killing a living being. Through this truth may there be wellbeing for you, wellbeing for your fetus.”
Then the woman safely delivered and gave birth to her child.
Even though being an arahant, Angulimala had to repay for his evil karma , evil deeds he performed in his life. The people who lost their loved ones by Angulimala still wanted to avenge their loved ones. When Angulimala went in Savatthi to ask for alms, he got attacked by those angered people. But with warning and words of Buddha, they stopped their anger.
According to Theravada and Mahayana, Angulimala story had proved that even the worst kind of people can repent for their sins and evil karma and can become saint and follow on the path of Dharma showed by Lord Buddha.