(Last Updated on : 19-03-2015)
Angulimala was an important character in Buddhist texts, who is depicted as the symbol of the potential of the human spiritual progress. The word Angulimala means 'garland of fingers'. Angulimala was a ruthless killer in his early life who was redeemed by conversion of Buddhism. His story was an example of redemptive power of the Buddha's teaching and also the universal human potential of spiritual uplift.
Two texts in the Pali canon contain the account of initial encounter of Buddha and his conversion to Buddhist religion. Both Angulimala sutta and Theragatha mentions about the story of Angulimala. Some part of the story was letter added to the main version. Some of the stories try to depict Angulimala as a good human being fundamentally, who was entrapped by the circumstances, rather than being a brutal murderer. But the Sutta texts do not provide any motive for Angulimala's actions, other than pure sadism.
Early Life of Angulimala
Angulimala was initially a robber, who was converted by Buddha and later even became an Arahant or enlightened person. Angulimala was the son of Brahmin Bhaggava, who was the priest for the King of Kosala. His mother's name was Mantani. When he was born it was thieves' constellation and on the night of his birth all the armor of the town glistened, including those belonging to the king. Because of this omen it was thought that the baby would not harm to anyone and his name was kept Ahimsaka. In some texts it is mentioned that first he was called Himsaka and then Ahimsaka. He was a student of Takkasila and was favorite student of his teachers. But his fellow-students were jealous on him and poisoned his teachers mind. The teacher asked for guru-dakshina (honorarium) a garland of thousand human right-hand fingers. After that Ahimsaka attacked the tourists in Jalini forest in kosala and killed them to take their fingers. He made a garland with the finger bones and hung it round his neck. Hence he was named as Angulimala.
According to Sutta and other commercial texts, many omens were seen at the time of Angulimala's birth, which indicated that the newborn baby would become a robber in the future. Angulimala's father named him Ahimsaka, which means harmless so that he could overcome his dark fate predicted at his birth.
Ahimsaka was sent to Takkasila or Taxila to be taught under a well-known Brahmin Guru. There he performed very well in his study and became the favorite student of his teacher. He could enjoy special privileges in the teacher's house. The other students soon became jealous of Ahimsaka and resolved to turn the teacher against him. They planned a plot in which it was seemed that Ahimsaka had seduced the teacher's wife and boasted, as he was wiser than his guru. The teacher was unable to attack ahimsaka physically as he was as strong as seven elephants. So teacher also planned a way to destroy Ahimsaka's life. He said that Ahimsaka's teaching was complete. So it was time to give the teacher the traditional GuruDakkhina or honorary, for which the teacher demanded thousand fingers of man, each taken from a different victim. So Angulimala had to kill thousand men to fulfill the wish of his Guru.
The texts state that one of the motive of his being Angulimala was his obedience for the Guru. But some other sources demand that he had an innate tendency of being a robber. In his previous life Angulimala was a Yakkha , a man eating spirit having superhuman strength. However, two traits were prominent in Angulimala-his physical strength and lack of his compassion.