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Aṅgulimāla Suttaṃ

(M.ii.97)

A Discourse to Aṅgulimāla

Thus have I heard — at one time the Blessed One was dwelling at Sāvatthi, in Prince Jeta’s grove, in the monastery of Anāthapiṇḍika. Then on that occasion, in the realm of King Pasenadi of Kosala there was a bandit named Aṅgulimāla who was cruel, bloody-handed, bent on murder, without compassion for living beings. Then villages, towns, [98] and districts were made uninhabitable.¹ Having killed people repeatedly, Aṅgulimāla wore a garland of fingers. The Blessed One, having put on the robes, and carrying the bowl and double robe, he entered Sāvatthi for alms Having walked for alms in Sāvatthi, after the meal, having set his dwelling place in order, taking his bowl and double robe, he set out on the road to where the bandit Aṅgulimāla was.² Cowherds, shepherds, farmers, and travellers saw the Blessed One going along the road to where Aṅgulimāla was. Having seen him, they said: “Recluse, do not go along this road. On this road, recluse, is the bandit named Aṅgulimāla who is cruel, bloody-handed, bent on murder, without compassion for living beings. Villages, towns, and districts have been made uninhabitable. Having killed people repeatedly, Aṅgulimāla wears a garland of fingers. Here, recluse, people have come along this road in groups of ten, twenty, thirty, or forty, but they have fallen into Aṅgulimāla’s hands.” When this was said, the Blessed One was silent. A second and a third time they repeated [this warning].

The Blessed One remained silent and went on his way. The bandit Aṅgulimāla saw the Blessed One coming in the distance. Having seen him he thought: “It is wonderful! It is amazing! On this road people coming in groups of ten, twenty, [99] thirty, or forty have falling into my hands, but this recluse come alone without any companion as if driven by fate. What if I were to deprive this recluse of life!?” Then the bandit Aṅgulimāla having taken up his sword and shield, having armed himself with his bow and quiver he followed closely behind the Blessed One. Then the Blessed One exercised his psychic powers such that although the Blessed One was walking normally,³ Aṅgulimāla was unable to catch up with him although running with his full strength. Then the bandit Aṅgulimāla thought: “It is wonderful! It is marvellous! Formerly I could catch a running elephant, a running horse, a fast chariot, and a running deer, but now although this recluse is walking normally I am unable to catch up with him although I run with my full strength! Having stood still, he said to the Blessed One: “Stop, recluse, stop!” [The Blessed One replied] “I have stopped, Aṅgulimāla, you should also stop.” Then the bandit Aṅgulimāla thought: “These recluses who are sons of the Sākyan are speakers of the truth, vowed to speak the truth. Yet although the recluse is going he said: “I have stopped, Aṅgulimāla, you should also stop. What if I were to question the recluse about this?”

Then the bandit Aṅgulimāla addressed the Blessed One in verse:–

“Although walking, recluse, you say that you have stopped,
Although I have stopped, you say that I have not stopped.
I ask the recluse about the meaning of this,
How have you stopped, but I have not stopped?”

“Aṅgulimāla, I have stopped forever,
Having put aside violence towards all living beings.
You lack self-control towards living beings,
Therefore I have stopped, but you have not stopped.” [100]

“At last this great sage has come,
Reaching the great forest to speak the truth.
I will abandon evil conduct,
Having heard your verse of truth.”

Then the bandit threw his sword and weapons,
Into a deep pit, into a crevice.
Having worshipped the feet of the Fortunate One,
Right there he begged for the going-forth.

The Enlightened One, the compassionate sage,
The teacher of the world with its gods.
Addressed him with the words, “Come monk,”
That is how he became a monk.”

Then the Blessed One returned to Sāvatthi, with Aṅgulimāla as his attendant, and wandering in stages he arrived at Sāvatthi, where he stayed at the monastery of Anāthapiṇḍika in Prince Jeta’s grove. Then on that occasion, a great crowd had gathered in the courtyard of the palace of King Pasenadi of Kosala, making a great noise and clamour: “Lord, in your kingdom, the bandit named Aṅgulimāla is cruel, bloody-handed, bent on murder, without compassion for living beings. Villages, towns, and districts have been made uninhabitable. Having killed people repeatedly, Aṅgulimāla wears a garland of fingers. Lord, please ward him off.”

Then King Pasenadi of Kosala, with a cavalry of five hundred, left Sāvatthi during the day and entered the monastery. Having gone as far as vehicles could go, he dismounted from his chariot, and approached the Blessed One one foot. [101] Having approached the Blessed One, he paid homage, and sat at one side. As he was sitting there, the Blessed One said to King Pasenadi of Kosala: “What has happened great king? Is King Seniya Bimbisāra attacking you, or the Licchavī of Vesāli, or some other hostile king?”

“No, Venerable sir, King Seniya Bimbisāra is not attacking me, nor the Licchavī of Vesāli, nor other hostile kinds. The bandit named Aṅgulimāla, Venerable sir, in my kingdom is cruel, is bloody-handed, bent on murder, without compassion for living beings. Villages, towns, and districts have been made uninhabitable. Having killed people repeatedly, Aṅgulimāla wears a garland of fingers. I will ward him off.”

“If, great king, you were to see Aṅgulimāla with his hair shaved off, wearing the yellow robes, and gone forth from household life into homelessness, abstaining from killing, stealing, false speech, eating one meal a day, chaste, virtuous, of good character, what would you do?”

“I would pay homage to him, Venerable sir, or get up from my seat, or invite him to sit, or invite him to accept the requisites of robes, almsfood, lodgings, medicine for the sick, and medical requisites, or I would arrange for his lawful guarding and protection. But how, Venerable sir, could such an immoral and evil person become moral and restrained?”

Then, on that occasion, the Venerable Aṅgulimāla was seated not far from the Blessed One. Then the Blessed One stretched our his right arm and said to King Pasenadi of Kosala: “This, great king, is Aṅgulimāla.” Then King Pasenadi of Kosala became afraid, trembling, and with his hair standing on end. Knowing that King Pasenadi of Kosala was afraid, trembling, with his hair standing on end, the Blessed One said: “Do not be afraid, great king, there is nothing to fear.” Then the king’s fear, [102] trembling, and horripilation subsided. Then King Pasenadi of Kosala approached the Venerable Aṅgulimāla, and having approached, he said to Aṅgulimāla:

“Are you, Venerable sir, Aṅgulimāla?” “It is so, great king.”

“What is your clan? Who is your father’s clan? What is your mother’s?”

“My father, great king, is of the Gagga clan, my mother is of Mantāṇī.”

“May the Venerable Gagga, the son of Mantāṇī, be at ease. I will make an effort to provide the requisites of robes, almsfood, lodgings, medicine for the sick, and medical requisites.”

“Then at that time the Venerable Aṅgulimāla was a forest-dweller, an almsfood gatherer, a wearer of [only] three robes, and of robes collected from rags.⁴ The Venerable Aṅgulimāla said to King Pasenadi of Kosala: “Never mind, great king, I have sufficient robes.”

Then King Pasenadi of Kosala approached the Blessed One. Having approached, he paid homage and sat down at once side. Sitting there the king said to the Blessed One: “It is wonderful, Venerable sir! It is marvellous, Venerable sir! The Blessed One has tamed the untamable, pacified the unpeaceful, led to cessation one who had not attained cessation. Venerable sir, one who I was not able to tame with sticks and weapons, the Blessed One has tamed without sticks or weapons. We must go now, Venerable sir, we have many affairs and there is much to be done.”

[The Blessed One replied] “Do as you see fit, great king.” Then King Pasenadi of Kosala got up from his seat, paid homage to the Blessed One, and departed, keeping him on his right side.

Then Venerable Aṅgulimāla, having put on the robes, and carrying the bowl and double robe, he entered Sāvatthi for alms. While walking from house to house for alms in Sāvatthi, the Venerable Aṅgulimāla saw a certain woman in labour, in great distress due to an obstructed labour. [103] Having seen her he thought: “Alas! The life of beings is impure (kilissati)! Alas! the life of beings is vexed!⁵

Then, having walked for alms in Sāvatthi and returned from almsround, after the meal, he approached the Blessed One. Having approached the Blessed One, he paid homage, and sat down at one side. Sitting at one side, the Venerable Aṅgulimāla said to the Blessed One: “Venerable sir, having put on the robes, and carrying the bowl and double robe, I entered Sāvatthi for alms. While walking from house to house for alms in Sāvatthi, I saw a certain woman in labour, in great distress due to an obstructed labour. Having seen her I thought: ‘Alas! The life of beings is impure! Alas! the life of beings is vexed!’”

“Then, Aṅgulimāla, approach that woman, and having approached her speak thus: ‘Since my birth, sister, I do not know of having intentionally deprived a living being of life; by that truth may you be well, and may your baby be well.’”

“Venerable sir, surely that would be an intentional lie. I have indeed, Venerable sir, deprived many living beings of life.”

“Then, Aṅgulimāla, approach that woman, and having approached her speak thus: ‘Since my noble birth, sister, I do not know of having intentionally deprived a living being of life; by that truth may you be well, and may your baby be well.’”

Having replied, “Very well, Venerable sir,” to the Blessed One Venerable Aṅgulimāla approached that woman, and having approached her said: “Since my noble birth, sister, I do not know of having intentionally deprived a living being of life; by that truth may you be well, and may your baby be well.” Then that woman was well, and her baby was well.⁶

Then the Venerable Aṅgulimāla living alone and secluded, heedful, diligent, and resolute. Before long, for the sake of which sons of good families rightly go forth from household life to homelessness, he realised for himself by direct knowledge the ultimate goal of the holy life, attained it and abided in it. He knew: ‘Birth is destroyed, the holy life has been lived, what should be done has been done, there is no more of this.’ [104] Thus Venerable Aṅgulimāla became another of the Arahants.⁷

Then Venerable Aṅgulimāla, having put on the robes, and carrying the bowl and double robe, he entered Sāvatthi for alms. Then on that occasion someone threw a clod and hit his body, someone else threw a stick and hit his body, someone else threw a potsherd and hit his body. Then, Venerable Aṅgulimāla, with his head split, dripping with blood, with his almsbowl broken, with his double robe torn, approached the Blessed One. The Blessed One saw the Venerable Aṅgulimāla coming from a distance. Seeing him he said to the Venerable Aṅgulimāla: “Endure it, brahmin, endure it. Your kamma that would have born fruit for many years, many hundreds of years, many thousands of years in hell is bearing fruit here and now.”

Then the Venerable Aṅgulimāla went apart into solitude and experienced the bliss of liberation; and uttered this verse of exultation:–

“Whoever was formerly heedless, afterwards was not.
He illumines this world, like the moon freed from clouds. (cf. Dhp v 172)

“Whoever, by a good deed, covers the evil done,
He illumines this world like the moon freed from clouds. (cf. Dhp v 173)

“Whoever as a young monk, devotes himself to the dispensation.
He illumines this world like the moon freed from clouds. (cf. Dhp v 382)

“Let my enemies hear discourses on the Dhamma
Let my enemies devote themselves to the dispensation.
Let my enemies worship those human beings,
Who made me accept the Dhamma of peace. [105]

“Let my enemies hear the teaching praising patience and gentleness.
At the right time and act in conformity with it.

“Then they would not wish to harm me or any others.
May they attain the supreme peace, those who protect all, weak or strong.

“The irrigators guide the water, fletchers straighten arrows.
Carpenters straighten timber, the wise control themselves. (cf. Dhp v 80)

“Some tame with sticks, and some with goads and sticks.
I was tamed by one without sticks or weapons.

“Harmless was my name, though I was formerly a murderer.
Today my name is true, I kill nothing at all.

“I was formerly a bandit, known as finger-garland.
Swept along by the great flood, I went to the Buddha for refuge.

“Formerly I was bloody-handed, infamous as finger-garland.
See the refuge I have found, having severed the bond of existence.

“Though I did many deeds leading to bad destinations.
Their result has given fruit now, so I eat free from debt.

“Those who indulge in heedless are foolish people.
The wise are heedful, and hard it as their most treasured possession.

“Do not give in to heedlessness, nor seek delight in sensual pleasures.
Meditate with heedfulness, to attain abundant bliss.

“My choice is welcome, not unwelcome, and not ill-considered.
The teaching that is perfectly explained, I have found the most excellent.

“My choice is welcome, not unwelcome, and not ill-considered.
Having attained the threefold knowledge, I have done what the Buddha teaches.”

Notes

1. The Commentary relates why he became a bandit. As a youth, Ahiṃsaka went to Takkasīla (Taxila) to study. He was an exemplary student and the teacher praised him to admonish the other students to study like him. They were jealous and conspired to destroy his reputation. The told the teacher that the handsome youth was having an affair with the teacher’s wife. In time, he believed their lies, and thought how he could kill Ahiṃsaka without incurring blame. For his teacher’s fee he demanded that Ahiṃsaka should kill a thousand men, thinking that he will soon be killed or executed, thus he would wreak his vengeance without damaging his own reputation.

2. On that occasion, King Pasenadi was planning to capture Aṅgulimāla. His mother heard of the plans and set out to the great forest where Aṅgulimāla was staying to warn her son. The Buddha, in his divine eye, saw this, and decided to intervene, for if Aṅgulimāla were to kill his own mother, he would be destined to be reborn in hell, with no escape. The Buddha therefore set out to tame Aṅgulimāla before his mother could reach him. One might wonder why he waited so long, but the Buddha did not intervene when his chief disciple Venerable Moggallāna was murdered either, knowing that his past kamma inevitably had to bear fruit. One can intervene to stop a stone that is throne, or even a bullet, but a meteor cannot be stopped. Likewise, the fruition of some evil kamma can be obstructed or mitigated, but some has to bear fruit.

3. The Pāḷi uses the same word “gacchanto” (going) in the phrase “pakatiyā gacchantaṃ sabbathāmena gacchanto” i.e. going normally and going with his full strength. Obviously, this means walking normally and running fast as one can, not just walking fast.

4. There are thirteen ascetic practices (dhutaṅga), or factors of striving. Aṅgulimāla observed at least these four: a forest-dweller does not dwell in a lodging but under trees or in caves, an almsfood gatherer does not accept invitations for meals but only eats what is collected on almsround, a wearer of three robes does not make use of extra robes, and rag-robe wearer does not accept robes made by householder, but collects rags from cemeteries and rubbish heaps, sewing them together, and dyeing them with tree bark.

5. Although the same word (kilissati) is repeated, I have used two different translations.

6. This well-known verse of protection, the Aṅgulimāla Paritta, is recited for pregnant women.

7. The story of Aṅgulimāla’s previous life in told in the story of Porisāda — The Man-eater, which derives from the Sutasoma Jātaka.

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