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MN 86 Aṅgulimāla: Garland of Fingers

His name ‘Aṅgulimāla’ means ‘Garland of Fingers’. He was a favourite student of a high priest. Other jealous students told the priest that he had committed adultery with the priest’s wife. His original name was ‘Ahimsaka’ meaning ‘Harmless’. The priest told him to make amends by bringing him 1000 human right hand little fingers. This was supposed to bring him to ruin.

The Sutta opens with Aṅgulimāla on 999 with one more to kill. The Buddha saw that Aṅgulimāla’s mother was about to visit him and would become the final victim. He also saw that the supporting conditions were in place for Aṅgulimāla to become enlightened. The Buddha travels to where Aṅgulimāla lurks despite repeated warnings. Aṅgulimāla chases the Buddha but cannot catch him due to a miracle where no matter how fast he runs he can’t get to the Buddha walking at normal pace. He calls out “Stop!” and the Buddha replies “I have stopped, you stop too”. Aṅgulimāla asks what this means and the Buddha replies “I have stopped forever, I abstain from violence towards living beings”. Aṅgulimāla renounces violence and immediately ordains.

They go back together to the Jeta Grove. Everyone is afraid to see Aṅgulimāla, the serial-killer, and they tell the king about it. The king sends soldiers to put him down. The Buddha shows the king that there is nothing to be afraid of anymore from Aṅgulimāla and the king is satisfied there is no more danger.

Aṅgulimāla goes on alms round and sees a mother give birth to a deformed child. He tells the Buddha who sends him back to say “Sister, since I was born with the noble birth I do not recall that I have ever intentionally deprived a being of life. By this truth may you be well and may your infant be well.” This is still said by monks to pregnant women near birth as a good luck charm. The woman and child both become well.

Aṅgulimāla eventually gets fully enlightenend. One day on alms round he gets beaten up, people throw stones at him, whereupon the Buddha says “Bear it Brahmin, bear it Brahmin. You are experiencing here and now the results of deeds because of which you might have gone to hell.”

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