Angulimala: A Murderer’s Road to Sainthood
Angulimala, the robber and murderer, is one of the best known figures of the Buddhist scriptures, because of his dramatic life story. His conversion to monkhood and later to sainthood was exceptional as he seems to have been the only former criminal to be accepted into the Buddhist monastic order. The Buddha had often warned not to judge people from appearances and their external behavior. In Angulimala’s case, the Buddha had seen his hidden potential to win freedom, not only from his present low moral status and from rebirth in the lowest worlds of painful existence, but that Angulimala would also be able to gain the highest freedom from all suffering in this very life.
In Christianity, too, we find some instances of radical changes in the moral character of people: there is the “thief on the cross” at Golgatha who was promised by Jesus that he would be with him in paradise the next day; and the chief of a gang of robbers who was converted by Francis of Assisi and became a monk. Cases like these have always moved the hearts of the religious-minded and have raised the question how such changes could be possible. Angulimala’s story might give an answer to these questions.
At the Buddha’s time, at the court of King Pasenadi of Kosala, there was a learned brahman called Bhaggava Gagga who held the office of a Royal Chaplain and was thus one of the kingdom’s highest dignitaries. One night his wife, Mantani, gave birth to a son. Soon afterwards, the father cast the boy’s horoscope and to his consternation found that his son was born under the “robber-constellation” of the planets. This indicated that the boy would have within him a tendency to commit robbery. One can well imagine what the father must have felt when confronted with that shocking and unexpected revelation. On the day of the child’s birth, there was another disquieting event: all weapons and armory in the city of Savatthi had suddenly begun to sparkle.
In the morning, the brahman went to the palace as usual, and asked the king how he had slept. “How could I have slept well?” replied the king. “I woke up in the night and saw that my auspicious weapons lying at the end of my bed were in bright sparkle, so I was afraid and perturbed. Should this mean danger to the kingdom or my life?”
The brahman said: “Do not have any fear, O King! The same strange thing happened in the entire city, and it does not concern you. Last night my wife bore me a son, and unfortunately his horoscope had the robber-constellation. This must have caused the weapons to sparkle.”
“Will he be a lone robber or the chief of a gang?” — “He will do it alone, your Majesty. What if we were to kill him now and prevent future misdeeds?”
“As he would be a loner, O Teacher, let him be raised and properly educated. Then, perhaps, he may lose his evil propensities.” Continue reading