Angulimal’s Nirvana

I had heard a story in my childhood ..rather I had read it in one of my Hindi text-books in the early years of my school. It was the story of a ferocious beast who had killed thousands of people ..and what happens when he comes face-to-face with the enlightened one, the Buddha. This chance meeting was a transforming experience for the demon..and the chapter in my book stopped there. The story had always intrigued my mind. Later, as I I experienced life a little more..I came across the same story and also more anecdotes and things associated to this. It must have been a rather unique moment that day when the demon met the Buddha…and that was just the tip of the ice-berg…there were so many more anecdotes and transforming experiences to follow after that day.

I’ve tried to express this story…rather in the form of a mind-dump..or a random blog below. The 1 minute video included here is a kind of a trailer to this story…in 60 seconds the video should give you a good glimpse of what happened that day twenty-five centuries ago..and what happened after that as well. The full story/blog is given below the video. Hope you’ll like the experience of going through  the blog.

Blessings !


Thus have I heard ..

 villagers n buddha

Twenty five centuries ago …Buddha is walking towards the forest area near the city of Kosala. It’s not a safe place to be a few villagers from the nearby village warn him about Angulimal .. the ferocious demonic murderer who stays in these forests.

(The word Angulimal in English means – a garland of fingers).

The villagers inform Buddha that Angulimal mercilessly kills the passers by, chops their fingers and adds these fingers to his ever-growing garland of fingers around his neck. He does so because of his vow to kill a thousand humans and chops their fingers to keep a count!

Anguli intro 3

(As Jesus said..every saint has a past..and every sinner has a future..same applies to Angulimal as well. There’s another Buddhist story about how a bright and young student called Ahimsaka became the ferocious Angulimal!)

The villagers tell the Buddha that Angulimal is close to completing the count of thousand murders soon and won’t even spare his mother if she ever passed by the forest. Since years people who are aware of this avoid the forest route.

Surprisingly, the Buddha expresses eagerness to meet Angulimal – despite the warnings. He enters the forest…but the bhikkhus who were with the Buddha were afraid and kept away from the forest.

(The word Bhikkhu of the Pali language is the same as the word Bhikshu of the Sanskrit language and means – a male Buddhist monastic. Buddha called his disciples bhikkhus, who lived by alms.. but in essence this word is much different than the English word beggar. Whereas a beggar is one who doesn’t have enough money and worldly possessions and seeks the same from patrons. A beggar is still interested in worldly matter. Buddha’s bhikkhu is one who has experienced a kind of uselessness in matter and has lost interest in the same..and hence has done away with it…fulfilling his/her minimal survival needs (not desires) with alms from people around. Often Buddha’s bhikkhus were men and women (feminine – bhikkhuni) from well-off families ..and hence their renunciation and dis-interest in matter surfaced only after deep experience of money, matter and all usual worldly consumables. It wasn’t a renunciation forced onto them ..and perhaps it wasn’t even a spineless decision of a dejected and depressed underachiever who couldn’t do well in life.)

So..back to the forests of Kosala now..

Buddha walks into the forest. It isn’t too late when Angulimal senses this passerby around. Hidden camouflaged behind the trees far off…he sees Buddha coming towards himself walking down the lonely and the only walk-able stretch of the forest. It’s been a long time since anyone passed by here..and Angulimal is a little amazed as well. He couldn’t believe that the villagers didn’t warn this passer by from entering the forest. It was natural for him to be suspicious. But then his eagerness to fulfill his vow.. he shrugged these thoughts away and hastily started rubbing his axe on a big stone kept nearby… to sharpen the blade…. it hadn’t been used since a while ..and Angulimal didn’t want any show-stoppers!

He again looked at his prey arriving. From Buddha’s appearance he could make out that it’s a sanyasi (a monk) who he has to kill.

“Oh! poor sanyasi.. he will be killed today… didn’t the villagers warn him!”..Angulimal thought. But all of a sudden he was worried… and was surprised..shocked he noted that since long he had never felt such compassion for anyone. He could even kill his mother.. then why a soft-corner for a stranger! He started sharpening the axe even more vigorously on the stone divert his mind.

Buddha is a few more steps closer now.. Angulimal looks at him again.. with each step that the Buddha takes.. Angulimal is feeling calm.. soothed..and feels a strange gush of regard..and more surprisingly love..for this sanyasi! But this state of mind is unknown to Angulimal since long now…and he becomes afraid that he might lose his prey due to such thoughts.

But this feeling is slowly overpowering him….to avoid that awkward moment of losing to a sanyasi he jumps out of his hiding…with the axe in his hand…and shouts at Buddha, who is now about fifty steps away .. “Stop right there sanyasi .. or I’ll behead you. Don’t you see this garland of fingers around my neck…not a single person has crossed this path alive…I axed each one of them and chopped their fingers off for this garland…and the same shall be your fate! I am Angulimal.. aren’t you afraid… didn’t those coward villagers warn you!

stop sanyasi

This didn’t help much..and he was feeling a strange love and calmness within…and he yelled to save his reputation – “I say stop sanyasi.. I don’t know how and why but it is a weak moment for me..and I say to you what I’ve never said to anyone.. Run Away for your life..Stop!”

Buddha calmly responded – “I have already stopped long ago! It is you who is walking. It is you who has to stop.”

The response surprised Angulimal.

(On various occasions, as also mentioned is various Buddhist scriptures, Buddha has spoken in a similar manner. In his various teachings Buddha draws an analogy where he calls various traits of worldly beings like attachment, jealousy, desire, lust, ego etc to be the “legs” which make an individual’s mind walk and wander. In the same context, on some occasions, Buddha has also mentions things like “I have lost my legs. How can I walk.”…where he is conveying that he has got rid of these traits (the legs) and now his mind doesn’t wander…also since mind exists only when wandering…he is essentially beyond mind.)

..let’s go back to the forest of Kosala.. and see what happens next..

Angulimal is surprised with this answer. He ridicules Buddha and says “It seems you have gone mad. It is you who is walking and not me. You talk senseless sanyasi. And you shall die now!”

Buddha is now standing right in front of Angulimal and submits to him saying “I am now can fulfill your vow now”.

“Enough” shouts Angulimal and stares st Buddha. “Seems you are that Gautam Buddha. Some of those cowards mentioned this name before I killed them. They said only Gautam Buddha can show me the correct path…but today you will be killed! If you are Gautam Buddha..I am Angulimal…the ferocious Angulimal! You will be killed!”

Angulimal is confused and is still sharpening the blade on the stone. While doing so he occasionally turns to look at Buddha who is calmly standing and waiting for Angulimal. Angulimal is feeling a strange calmness within.. as if the mere presence of Buddha was intoxicating…something is stopping him…he has lost his urge somehow.. and perhaps he seems to be liking the company of this sanyasi! Angulimal realized that he has suddenly lost all his interest in sharpening the blade ..and this shows in his delay in doing so…he is spending a much longer time than usual. Buddha inquires about this delay ..and Angulimal feels more and more confused about what is happening to him..and asks Buddha..”Are you not afraid of being are mad man”.

Calm and composed..established totally within himself..Buddha says..” must not be influenced by someone else so easily…you focus on your work and I’ll focus on mine. Moreover, I am not whom you will kill. I am just a seer. I see you. I see this Gautam. I will see you hit this body and I’ll see this body fall. That what I am one can kill me…no weapon can pierce through me…”

Angulimal feels that its not possible to kill this man. He rather stood shocked, surprised and stunned.. as if he just died and is born again like a vulnerable baby just unaware of what to do. But old habits die hard…for Angulimal…egos were at stake..and he must kill. He picked the blade and came nearer to Buddha and said “I will kill you…but you tell me..why do I feel so weak today..why my heart my whole being is as if melting at this moment..what is stopping me from killing you”.

And Buddha says ..”There’s a reason for this. To no big deal. It is utterly non-creative and has no art to it. Even a child can do that. You see that branch of that tree…bring it to me.”..and Angulimal cuts it with his blade and takes it to Buddha.

Buddha now says “now go and place it back where it was”….to which Angulimal says “but that’s not possible”.

Buddha now says “See it for yourself now. To kill is not a great thing to do…if you can give life..if you can join that what you cut….it is then that the world remembers you and your greatness. I’ve said what I had to say Angulimal. Now you can behead me…but remember…you have no right to destroy that what you can not create back again. Yes if you can join something back…the world will remember you”.

At this moment Angulimal had stopped…it was a moment of a strange relief that he had never felt since years.. and in this moment..he threw the blade…burst into tears..and fell into Buddha’s feet…seeking refuge.

The legend says that Buddha accepted him as a bhikkhu and Angulimal joined Buddha’s sangha.

(The word sangha in English means “a commune” with an awakened being..a master present at its core. Each member of the sangha is associated directly to the master ..and there is no books or scriptures in between..a direct association that is..just like the different rays of the sun..emerging from the central core. The rays associate with each other when they trace their ways back to the central core…and in this situation..they no more remain mere rays..they are themselves the core now..the sun!)

The news of Angulimal’s transformation spread fast. Even the king, who was himself afraid of Angulimal, heard the news of Angulimal becoming Buddha’s bhikkhu …but he couldn’t believe this..and decided to verify the news himself. The king went to the place Buddha’s sangha was staying at that time (a wandering commune that was) and requested Buddha to tell him if this was true…if the ferocious demon has now actually become a bhikkhu! Buddha confirmed the news to the king and pointed him to a bhikkhu sitting on the floor nearby..performing some of the sangha’s duties. Buddha said “See for’s Angulimal”.

The mere name terrorised the king so much that he instantly pulled his sword out in defense. He had never even imagined being so close to Angulimal ever! Buddha asked him to be calm and also told him about Angulimal being a transformed being now.

Angulimal was now living a life just like any other bhikkhu…wandering for alms..and meditating with the sangha. But it wasn’t as easy for him outside the sangha. Wherever he went asking for alms..the villagers ran away ..they were still afraid of him. Angulimal would often have to return empty-handed. He accepted this without complaints.

It happened so one day that Angulimal went to a nearby village for alms. People starting running away.. into hiding..some climbed to their rooftops. Suddenly one of them shouted from his hiding “It’s him..Angulimaal..the murderer who killed so many of our loved ones..let’s kill him..” and soon the whole village was pelting stones at Angulimal.

angulimal stoned

Its an unusual moment..the once furious and ferocious Angulimal…stood calmly…accepting the attack…neither resisting nor welcoming..he just simply was…standing like a Buddha! Soon the body of this bhikkhu was lying in a pool of blood…about to breath it’s last. Some of the bhikkhus who had come for alms in this village along with Angulimal had, by this time, gone back and informed Buddha about the happenings.

Buddha reaches the place…holds Angulimal in his arms as the rest of the bhikkhu’s watch from a distance.

angulimal dying

The last few moments these are..Angulimal is breathing his last..and Buddha asks him

Buddha: “What’s your bhaav at this moment Angulimal?”

(Close English meanings of this Sanskrit word bhaav can be “emotion, feeling, state of being, state of mind”) ask me this question! What can be the bhaav of the one who has stopped.”

(Buddha’s bhikkhu’s used to address him as bhante often.. it is a word found in Pali, Nepalese and some other languages from that part of the subcontinent..and is used to address someone with respect…like “Venerable Sir”..where the respect for the person is coming for his wisdom, high level of sanctity, age etc.)

Buddha: “Did your mind get affected Angulimal?”

Angulimal: “No bhante. I was just standing and observing things happen. And how can suffering happen to me…I am just an observer…that’s what you have taught bhante.”

Buddha: “You are dying as a Bramhan Angulimal. You are dying wise..with the true wisdom of this existence. You are dying as an Arihant.”

(The close English meaning of Bramhan and Arihant (in the context used by Buddha) can be understood as follows : the word Bramh in the Hindu school of thought is used to refer to the source of the whole existence…the celestial womb..the essence of all existence. And the word anu refers to the smallest particle of existence…like an atom..or any subatomic particle. It is believed that all forms of existence have this particle of the Bramh in them..and the one who realizes this..who sees this and realizes that he/she comes from the celestial womb a Bramhan. Essentially, after such a realization..the state of being of this individual is beyond the worldly plains of success, failures, suffering and pleasures…and all this is just left behind dried leaves fall off from the trees. This word has also been used in various different contexts in the Hindu school of thought in the later years.
The Sanskrit word ari means enemy …and hat or hant refer to kill…and hence Arihant is a word formed by the fusion of these two expressions..and essentially means one who has killed his enemies and won his fort. The word Arihant finds great usage in Buddhist and Jain scriptures.
Other similar word are purush, teerthankar etc. ..pur being the Sanskrit word for a fort.. purush means one who has won his/her fort and is strongly established within himself/herself. …teerth literally means the bank of a river.. and teerthankar means one who has found the bank and is now left the river behind. These words also found frequent usage in the various scriptures from the Indian subcontinent.)

..and Angulimal breathed his last.

Seeing this Buddha’s bhikkhus ask him “bhante..where would the respectable Angulimal be born now”.

Their curiosity was but natural…since Angulimal was a killer in his past…he had killed  thousands of men and women and thus was a sinner…a murder is considered to be one of the greatest sins in all the belief systems across the world…and hence the curiosity of these bhikkhus.

Buddha says to them “This son of mine is now pari-nivrit. He will not be born again. He is available to Nirvan now.”

(The expressions pari-nivritt and Nirvan essentially point towards a similar state of being. 

Pari-nivrit would literally mean “to be done with…to be relieved of” etc. It also represents completion of something ..retiral etc.

Nirvan literally means the extinguishing..the dissolution..going off of a flame. This can be understood with the following example…

a person sitting in the corner of a dark room…unable to see anything’s totally dark…but he has a dim lamp with him…the only support that he has…he holds onto it tightly…. With this lamp he can merely see things that are just a step away…nothing else is visible. And suddenly this lamp goes off…and as his eyes acclimatize to the dark surroundings..he notices that there actually is a window nearby from which faint moon-light is coming in from a slit. It was always coming in…but he didn’t have the courage enough to explore beyond the light of that small little dim lamp…and thus kept focussing on his lamp itself… in a way..the dim light of the lamp was stopping the moon-light from coming in…at least this was so for this man. But now..with the extinguishing of the small lamp…this man has experienced light coming in from the window…it won’t take him long now to reach the window and open it..and let more light come in…or rather…find his way out…so that he can be totally drenched in the moon-light!

Hence..the word Nirvan (or Nirvana) is used in philosophical and spiritual terms to represent Buddhahood!…to represent someone whose limited being has extinguished and hence given way for the total ..the supreme to surface out from within him.)

Bhikkhus now asked Buddha “how can someone who has committed so many sins attain such a state of being”

…to which Buddha said “Yes, in his slumber (a state of being unaware and not being conscious) Angulimal committed sins…but his awakening washed away the effect of all those sins”.

Bhikkhus were still surprised and asked Buddha “but hadn’t been very long since Angulimal became a is this possible.”

Buddha said to them ..”Yes..even one single act done with one’s total being and awareness can wash away all the sins. It is true that Angulimal had not been a bhikkhu for long..and had not done many virtuous deeds..but when people were pelting stones at him..he remained like an observer..he accepted the moment the way it came…he didn’t do anything..not even thinking. Seeing yourself as a “doer” is the seed of sins…and such a state where one does not feels to be a “doer”..when one is just an observer….is itself the most subtle virtuous act.”

(Another Sanskrit word worth mentioning here is Prayashchit. It is used in various stories, scriptures etc to represent a similar state of being. The word forms with the fusion of two words Prayah and Chitt. Prayah literally means “again..or recurrence..” and Chitt means “the conscience”. This can be understood further from the following ….. On realizing a past act of sin the “doer” feels a sense of guilt in his conscience and thus feels uncomfortable. An effort which helps him/her remove this guilt from the conscience so that the conscience again comes back to its original state that existed before committing the sin…such an effort is termed as Prayashchit. Buddha often emphasized that any act done with totality and as an observer (not feeling like a doer) leads one to a pure state of mind (and thus can also be a Prayashchitt ).

After saying these never-said-before words of wisdom Buddha now says these golden words to the bhikkhus (the verses is also a part of Buddhist scriptures like the Dhammpad):

(The verses are originally in Pali.. a language not known to me.. just tried to write them how I heard them.)

yasya paapam katam kammam kushlen titheeyati
somam lokam pabhaseti abbha mutto va chandima

One whose acts of sins are overshadowed by his/her later acts of virtue ..he illuminates this whole world just like the moon which has come out of the shadows of the clouds.

andh bhooto ayam loko tanu ketr vippasyati
shakunto jaal mukto va appo saggai gachhti

This whole world has become blind. The one who sees is hard to find. And this hard-to-find seer is the one who experiences the freedom and bliss just like a bird who is now free from the net it was stuck in.


PS: The stories, anecdotes and the various words and phrases explained in the blog above come from how I heard, received and perceived them from various people, blogs, books etc. In case you find them to be differing from the dictionaries and the authentic scriptures etc..please consider this blog-post to be a work of fiction.

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