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Aṅgulimāla (Aṅgulimālaka)

A robber who was converted by the Buddha in the twentieth year of his ministry, and who, later, became an Arahant.¹ He was the son of the brahmin Bhaggava, chaplain to the king of Kosala, his mother being Mantāṇī. He was born under the thieves’ constellation, and on the night of his birth all the armour in the town shone, including that belonging to the king. Because this omen did no harm to anyone the babe was named Ahiṃsaka

At Takkasilā he became a favourite at the teacher’s house, but his jealous fellow-students poisoned his teacher’s mind, and the latter, bent on his destruction, asked as his honorarium a thousand human right-hand fingers. Thereupon Ahiṃsaka waylaid travellers in the Jālina forest in Kosala and killed them, taking a finger from each. The finger-bones thus obtained he made into a garland to hang round his neck, hence the name Aṅgulimāla.

As a result of his deeds whole villages were deserted, and the king ordered a detachment of men to seize the bandit, whose name nobody knew. However, Aṅgulimāla’s mother, guessing the truth, started off to warn him. By now he lacked but one finger to complete his thousand, and seeing his mother coming he determined to kill her. However, the Buddha, seeing his potential (upanissaya), went himself to the wood, travelling thirty leagues,³ and intercepted Aṅgulimāla on his way to slay his mother. Aṅgulimāla was converted by the Buddha’s power and received the “Come bhikkhu” ordination (ehi bhikkhu pabbajjā) ⁴ while the populace were yelling at the king’s palace for the robber’s life. Later, the Buddha presented him before King Pasenadi when the latter came to Jetavana, and Pasenadi, filled with wonder, offered to provide the monk with all requisites. Aṅgulimāla, however, had taken on the dhutangas and refused the king’s offer.

When he entered Sāvatthi for alms, he was attacked by the mob, but on the admonition of the Buddha, endured their wrath as penance for his former misdeeds.

According to the Dhammapadaṭṭhakathā  ⁵ he appears to have died soon after he joined the Order.

There is a story of how be eased a woman’s labour pains by an act of truth (saccakiriyā). The words he used “Yatohaṃ, bhagini, ariyāya jātiyā jāto, nābhijānāmi sañcicca pāṇaṃ jīvitā voropetā, tena saccena sotthi te hotu, sotthi gabbhassa,” have come to be regarded as a protection (paritta) to ward off all dangers and constitute the Aṅgulimāla Paritta. The water that washed the stone on which he sat in the woman’s house came to be regarded as a panacea.⁶

In the Aṅgulimāla Sutta he is addressed by Pasenādi as “Gagga Mantāṇīputta,” his father being a Gagga. The story is evidently a popular one and occurs also in the Avadānaśataka (No.27).

At the Kosala king’s incomparable almsgiving (Asadisadāna), an untamed elephant, none other being available, was used to bear the parasol over Aṅgulimāla. The elephant remained perfectly still — such was Aṅgulimāla’s power.⁷

The conversion of Aṅgulimāla is often referred to as a most compassionate and wonderful act of the Buddha’s, e.g. in the Mahā Sutasoma Jātaka,⁸ which was taught concerning him. The story of Aṅgulimāla is quoted as that of a man in whose case a beneficent kamma arose and destroyed former evil kamma.⁹

It was on his account that the rule not to ordain a captured robber was enacted.¹⁰

For his identification with Kalmāsapāda see J.P.T.S., 1909, pp.240 ff.

¹ His story appears both in the Majjhimanikāya Commentary (MA.743 ff) and in the Theragātha Commentary (ThagA.ii.57 ff). The two accounts differ in certain details; I have summarised the two versions.

² The Theragātha Commentary says he was first called Hiṃsaka and then Ahiṃsaka. See also Psalms of the Brethren, 323, n.3.

³ DA.i.240; J.iv.180. Thag.868‑70. DhA.iii.169. M.ii.103‑4; MA.747 f. See also, Porisāda — The Man-eater. DhA.iii.185; also DA.ii.654.

J.v.456 f; see also J.iv.180; SnA.ii.440; DhA.i.124. AA.i.369. ¹⁰ Vin.i.74.