His vigilant eyes never strayed from the narrow path that ran across the jungle. He was perched on a tree, waiting for his next prey. He could wait for hours without flinching a muscle. Patience was one of his virtues, and he had many of them. Unfortunately, the world knew none of them. Instead, he was known for his brutality and his inclination to kill. He killed
mercilessly; he killed for fun.
His destiny was to kill.
The jungle was dreadfully quiet, just as he liked it. This way, the sound of trampled, brittle leaves traveled far. Spotting his prey was easier, considering he oversaw a substantial area. Not long ago, this part of the wilderness was alive with the cacophony of the local fauna, the original inhabitants. They lived in harmony, adhering to the laws of the jungle. The order changed almost overnight with his arrival. Initially, they had no discomfort with his presence. However, when they watched him hunt, it scared the living hell out of them. They sensed it was safer to stay out of his way. Soon, the metallic and pungent stench of dried blood and rotting carcasses nauseated them. They quietly relocated to a more peaceful area. He now ruled this part of the jungle. Only the scavengers sneaked in the darkness of the night to enjoy their feast. Even they squirmed in his presence. None dared venture here in daylight. Yet, he found his prey.
He was thrilled in anticipation of his next kill. He knew he would not have to wait long. The jungle separated two major cities of the Kosala kingdom. People had no option but to cross it to get to the other side. More often than not, travelers lost their way and meandered into his lair. Once spotted, he would stalk them like a tiger and wait for the right time to attack. He felt an adrenaline rush when he struck his targets and a gush of heightened ecstasy when he watched them plead for their lives. He was not interested in their gold; he was interested in their lives! Man, woman or child, he didn’t care.
His destiny was to kill.
Finally, I hold my son in my arms. What is this? Why are the stars aligned in an unusual pattern? I must draw the birth charts of my son.
Bhaggava, a priest and a confidante of the king of Kosala was alarmed by the ominous signals and devastated when he interpreted them. Torn between love for his child and his sense of duty, he decided to inform the king.
“What bothers you, Bhaggava?”
“Your Majesty, my child will grow up to be a brutal brigand.”
“A leader of a band?”
“No, a lone bandit, but feared by all.”
“I have faith in you. I will spare his life. He shall be known as Ahimsaka,” the king declared.
“Mantani, as Ahmisaka’s parents, we have immense responsibility on our shoulders. We cannot permit our son to become wayward. I will ensure that he learns all the scriptures and that he learns them well. You will teach him compassion, patience, honesty, and loyalty. It’s our responsibility to rear him into a benevolent human being. Maybe we can change his destiny.”
“Mantani, Amhisaka is growing up to be intelligent and compassionate, just like we wanted him to be. I have taught him everything I know. It’s time we send him to Taxila to learn under a renowned teacher.”
“Bhaggava, your son is intelligent, diligent, and hard-working. He is patient. He is one of my best pupils ever. He is progressing well.”
He sat counting his unusual treasure, his prized possessions. The two-inch pieces would not give him any monetary gains. Yet, he had collected 999 of them, and there was only one more to go. He recollected the time he had set out on his quest. He had begged, pleaded with many. They shooed him away, thinking he had lost his mind. His frustration was tearing him apart. He had a clear goal but no means to achieve it. He was well built and strong. His mind asked him to attain by force what he couldn’t attain by appeal.
“Stranger, I have a request. I want something that belongs to you. Will you give it to me?”
“What? Have you lost it? Do you know what you are seeking? No living person will give it to you. Maybe you can ask a corpse.”
“Why not make a corpse of you?”
Thus began his killing; thus began his reign of terror.
He killed and collected his prize. For days after that incident, he ran a fever and threw up at random. He couldn’t eat or drink without thinking of those petrified eyes. But he knew he couldn’t rest. He had a thousand to collect; he focused on the task at hand.
By the time he got his tenth victim, he had become adept in killing. Slowly, he started enjoying it. He felt immense power when he held a weapon in his hand and brought it down on his victims. He felt powerful and invincible. With every kill after that, he became ruthless. The venom of hatred, inflated ego, and anger overpowered his many virtues. He became a brigand. After all, none can fight destiny.
His destiny was to kill.
He glanced at the treasure that adorned his neck one last time. The little fingers of his victims were strewn together in a garland. He was no longer Ahmisaka; he was Angulimala, one who wore a wreath of fingers.
Sonpur was buzzing with activity. After ages, the people of the city had something to anticipate. The king had heard their pleas. A regiment of 500 soldiers was on its way to capture the dreaded outlaw. More importantly, the Buddha was visiting. Murmurs of his prowess filled the atmosphere.
“He is the omniscient – he knows all.”
“He can alleviate us of all suffering.”
“He has a solution for every problem.”
“He never forces his teachings on anyone.”
“Those who follow his path are peaceful.”
“Mantani, the stars are never wrong. The king has ordered the execution of Angulimala. A regiment is on its way to Sonpur. Soon, it will be the end of our son. Have you seen anyone more helpless than me?”
“You stay here feeling helpless. I will meet my son and ask him to surrender. I will do my best to save his life. Nothing can stop me, now that I know where to find him.”
People thronged to welcome the Buddha and his disciples. Along with the entourage, a frail, determined woman entered the city hoping to make a man of a devil.
As usual, the Buddha settled in a gazebo on the outskirts of the city. The people were waiting to hear him speak, and when he did, there was pin-drop silence; they listened in rapt attention. Usually, at the end of the public discourse, the Buddha offered a private audience. However, that evening none wished to stay back after the sermon.
“It’s not that we don’t have problems. We fear for our lives. We will be back tomorrow. It is not safe to stay away from our homes at night. Angulimala often raids the city. He is merciless. He kills,” the people explained as they sought his permission to leave.
In a few minutes, the crowd dispersed. While all of them steered towards the city, a lone woman moved towards the jungle.
“Mother, stop. Please come here,” the Buddha called out to Mantani.
“I know why you are here. Your son is not the one you raised. His vices overpower him. If you step into that jungle, you will be his next victim. Then, none can rescue him, not even I. Allow me. Trust me.”
Mantani fell at the Buddha’s feet weeping. “Please save him; he is all I have.”
The Buddha was here for a purpose, and he set out to achieve it.
Many tried dissuading him, many others pleaded with him, but he kept trudging deeper and deeper into the jungle with a smile on his face.
It was evening, and Angulimala was getting restless.
My most anticipated kill is taking forever. I have waited patiently for three days, and now my patience is running out. My hands are itching to wield the sword; my fingers are tingling in anticipation of holding the chopped pinkie. I want to finish the task today. If none ventured into the jungle in the next hour, I have no option but to raid the city.
His ears caught the crackling of the twigs and the rustling of the desiccated leaf litter.
Someone is sauntering this way. I must take my position.
Crunch! Crunch! Crunch!
Who is this man with a divine appearance! This stranger is unlike anyone I have encountered. The glow on his face is blinding. He is not carrying any lantern, but there is light on his path. Why do I feel a strange calm enveloping me? I must focus. I mustn’t let him get away.
Am I not loud enough? He didn’t stop. Usually, people tremble on hearing my voice. Probably he is new to this area. I will run a little ahead and attack him from the front.
“I have stopped Ahimsaka. When will you?”
How does he know my name? No one calls me by that name anymore. Oh, that glow on his face weakens my resolve. Those eyes! They are so magnetic. I see an ocean of compassion. I wish to drown in them. No!! I can’t forget my quest.
“It appears you are new to this area. I am Angulimala, the dreaded bandit. People shiver at my sight. I have killed 999, and you are next. Get ready to die, stranger.”
“Why do you kill Ahimsaka? What is it that you truly seek?”
Here I am threatening to take his life, but he isn’t bothered by it. He speaks in a calm voice. No one has spoken to me so kindly in years. Why do I feel like sharing my woes with him? Ugh! I will not allow this man to overpower me with his smooth talk.
“Stop, I said.”
He dares to continue walking? How audacious can he be? I can strike his head off from here, but some visible power binds my hands; they no longer listen to me. Why?
“Stop. If you don’t, I will fling this sword at you. You will die a slow, painful death.”
“If my life can give you peace, take it. I offer it to you willingly!”
What! He is not afraid to die. Those eyes say it all. He offers his life, but I don’t want to kill him
anymore. What has this stranger done to me? Who is he?
“You didn’t answer me, Ahimsaka. Why do you kill?”
“I kill for the power I feel; I kill for excitement. I kill to seek revenge. I kill to satisfy my anger.”
“Go on, don’t stop, share your agony, get to the root cause of your anger.”
“I was the most loved pupil of the Guruji and Guruma. Envious of my popularity, the others did everything in their power to tarnish my reputation. I never cared; I focused on learning. Those were happy days. Imagine my disbelief when Guruji asked for 1000 fingers from different people, as Gurudakshina. I couldn’t say yes; I couldn’t say no. I clearly remember what Guruji said to me that day. He reminded me of the omens at the time of my birth. How can I fight my destiny? The first kill was brutal. A part of me died. By the time I killed ten, my heart had become cold. I learned how to kill swiftly. Soon, I started enjoying it. In every man I killed, I visualized those who led me to this path.”
“Do you feel powerful when you slay? When you kill, you have taken something with your power. However, when you spare someone whom you can destroy, you have given a chance at life. Who do you think is powerful? The one who takes life or the one who gives another chance at life?
Angulimala realized he had done a despicable act. He wanted to justify his actions.
“I killed because this is my destiny, and I cannot fight it.”
“There is nothing called pre-determined destiny. Did anyone ask you to kill? The killing was your choice. You believed in a prophecy that made you a killer, and your actions made it come true. However, today when I offered you my life, you didn’t take it. Again, you acted by your choice. Actions of today will determine what one becomes tomorrow. You write your destiny.”
Angulimala slumped and started to cry. He could feel the weight of all the souls he carried on his head. The garland, which was his pride, now seemed a burden. He ripped it apart and flung it on the ground.
“I can see that you are repenting your actions. All is not lost yet, Ahimsaka; you have a choice to change your life.”
“Forget your past. Look ahead. The moment you decide to do the right thing, a new day will begin for you.”
“Not one or two; I have killed so many. Will I ever be forgiven? Will I ever be able to atone for my sins?”
“Don’t let the killings weigh on you. These are equations of your past life. Whatever we give the universe, we get it back in the same proportion. It is a simple equation. Sometimes the equation is settled in this birth, and sometimes it is carried forward to the next. Humans can’t decide the lifespan of others.”
“Please help me, Oh great one. Please save me.”
“I cannot save you; only you can save yourself. I can help. I can show you the right path, but you must walk it yourself.”
“You will come with me as my disciple; you will follow my path to salvation.”
A few days later, King Pasenadi Kosala and his regiment of 500 soldiers arrived at Sonpur. When the king was made aware of the Buddha’s presence, he went to visit him.
“What brings you here, great king?”
“A bandit named Angulimala is making the life of my subjects miserable. I am here to get him.”
“What if I told you that Angulimala the bandit is no more. He is no longer a bandit; he is reformed and is one of my disciples?”
“I would bow to you for achieving what no one else could and return to oversee my other responsibilities.”
“There, the third one on the right is Angulimala.”
The king could not believe his eyes. The person in question had shaved his head, worn saffron clothes, and was seated in meditation. To test him, he offered him many riches.
Angulimala politely refused.
“I have no use of any material things, your majesty. I only seek the Buddha’s grace. Inside the jungle, you will find valuables. You may use it for the welfare of your people.”
Angulimala meditated and followed the teachings of the Buddha. He realized the truth.
He lived the life of a monk, seeking alms for food. On one of his rounds for charity, he came across a woman in the middle of a difficult birth. Her screams touched his heart, and he felt compassion like never before.
Does a mother feel this much pain while giving birth? Her screams torture my soul, my heart rips into a billion pieces. I feel her agony. What can I do to help? I must rush to the Buddha.
“Oh! Great one. I saw a woman in pain. I want to help. Please tell me how?”
The Buddha smiled. The pain of a woman moved the man who mercilessly killed 999.
He recited a verse and asked Angulimala to share it with the woman. When the woman repeated it, she had a safe birth.
My heart is bursting with joy when I hold this baby in my arms. I wish to have more of the joy I feel now. The Buddha is right. The power one feels while helping another is much stronger than the power one feels while destroying. When this mother thanked me for my help, I felt blessed.
With that incident, Angulimala was associated with safety. The verse, Angulimala paritta, became popular among pregnant women. They recited it for safe childbirth. People began accepting that he had undergone a complete transformation and started providing him alms.
I have realized the effect of forgiveness. I have killed so many; more than one in each house of this city would have been my victims. Despite that, I am welcome here. I can feel the inner wounds of their families when they provide me with alms. But they do not hate me. They believe in my transformation. I feel remorse when I see the quantum of misery I have afflicted on all these people.
Some, however, could not forget; they held Angulimala responsible for their misery. Their wounds were deep; they were still hurting. They acted in a manner that they hoped would heal them. They hurled stones at him. When one began, many others joined. They hoped his pain would act as a balm for their wounds. That evening, Angulimala returned to the Buddha with injuries on his body.
“Angulimala, this is the fruit of your actions. You must bear it. They are ignorant; they hope to heal by hurting you. You must not feel any hatred or anger for any of them. Don’t let this scar your soul. You must understand that with anger, you will only harm yourself. Forgive and work towards your salvation.”
Angulimala forgave. He went back to the city. He was subject to violence for a few days. When people realized that he stood calm and did not retaliate, they stopped throwing stones at him.
The metamorphosis of Angulimala from the most violent to a peaceful person was complete.
A few days later, his soul left the mortal world.
“Angulimala has proved that a person with a violent past can reform himself. He attained Nirvana by staying true to my teachings. He shall never be forgotten. In times to come, he will continue to inspire people to start afresh and take the right path,” the Buddha declared.
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