This is my rendition of an ancient tale. This is not the original story. I did not create the events in it.
There once lived a miserable man. He was profoundly dissatisfied with everything in his life. Nothing he tried to do, ever seemed to go right. No one ever seemed to like him. It always felt like the world was against him. His once childlike eyes that looked forward to the future had been clouded. His life had long since ceased to be an adventure and had devolved into a pointless struggle. His head felt perpetually heavy. He hated the world around him and everyone in it. The pain that had become synonymous with his existence grew deeper and deeper. After being filled to the brim with misery, it started overflowing spilling in every direction. His suffering was so immense that it could no longer be contained to one person. Intense flames of hatred and rage towards the world that had forsaken him, coursed through his very being. In his anger he made a vow to himself to take vengeance upon the very world itself.
“I will kill a thousand people.”
He was a man of many flaws. A lack of motivation was not one of them. Neither was discrimination. He mercilessly slaughtered every man, woman and child he came across. In the midst of his fury, he noticed that he needed a way to count the number of fresh corpses he left in his wake. To solve this dilemma, he committed to severing the finger of each of his slain victims and keeping them on a garland that he would wear around his neck. He traversed the continent on his hell bent rampage, sparing no one. The powers of the land began to view him as a threat and took action. Soldiers, mercenaries and bounty hunters were all sent to kill him in droves. Every one of them perished. No matter what their reputation or how many fought him at once, they were all no match for him. He was a monster unlike the world had ever seen. Word of his atrocities began to spread all throughout the land of ancient India. A terrible legend was born, giving rise to panic and fear at a scale never before witnessed. The legend of Angulimala – he who wears the garland of a thousand fingers.
With the passage of time, death is inevitable but with Angulimala roaming freely, it became widespread. The death count only grew as the weeks went by. Fresh fingers were constantly added to his garland, as old ones began to rot. As his reputation grew it became increasingly difficult to find new victims. Mere rumour of his approach would drive entire villages into hiding. The nature of the his encounters changed as a natural consequence. Brave yet foolish warriors vying to make their names known, money hungry mercenaries chasing after his bounty and naive travellers unfamiliar with him, all met their end at his hands. Tragedy after tragedy, there eventually came a time when his goal was in sight, when he would finally live up to his name. He had killed nine hundred and ninety nine people, and was looking for his last.
They say opposites attract. In a twist of fate, his search for his one thousandth head had resulted in a collision with another legend. A man whose influence would echo through the ages and alter the lives of people to this very day. A former prince named Siddhartha Gautama. Also known as the Buddha.
“What do you want from me, Angulimala?”
The mystic spoke calmly and confidently. The eyes of the killer stared at him with murderous intent, only to be met with a calm gaze. After repeated encounters with victims riven with fear or rage, this was a jarring experience. He raised his sword and threatened to kill him, but to no avail. His failure to incite fear in this man was a deep source of irritation and intrigue. What was the world like from his perspective?
Not a single concern for his own safety or well-being dwelled within the mind of the Buddha. To him, his own life was a means rather than an end. A means to help those less fortunate, and there were very few less fortunate than the broken man before him. He was well aware of the dark path Angulimala walked upon, and yet he found only love and compassion for him. He gazed into the eyes of the terrible legend and peered upon the core of his very being. His fury towards the world and his drive to cut down his fellow human being were all at some level a kind of confusion. Underneath the horrors of his psyche, he was just a man trying to be happy in this world.
The real truth was it was neither coincidence nor twist of fate that led to this encounter. The Buddha had heard of the legend of Angulimala and had intentionally appeared before the monster. He was determined to save him from the
terrors of his own mind.
He began to speak, he asked his would be killer to break off a branch from a nearby tree. Finding him interesting, Angulimala entertained what he believed to be a final request.
“Now can you put the branch back on?”
It suddenly came to him. The realisation of how precious life was. That moment was a turning point that would alter his way of being for the rest of his biological life. The former killer helplessly fell to his knees as regret flavoured tears cascaded down his cheeks. What was he doing all this time?
He dropped his sword into the ground beneath him, never to be used again. Acknowledging the wisdom of the man before him and not knowing what to do, he sought guidance from the Buddha. They had a long deep discussion about what was really important and what was the right way to seek happiness in this world. By day’s end, he had cut his long hair and beard and abandoned everything he had to become a monk. Once a symbol of his pride, the infamous garland now represented his deepest remorse. He left it, along with his old life behind.
The Buddha introduced him to his nomadic friends. These people were unlike anything he had witnessed. Every single person treated him kindly and respectfully despite being fully aware of his past. They showed neither fear nor resentment towards him. Everything about them ran directly in the face of what he believed people were like.
He was taught the techniques of introspection and meditation that the Buddha had developed. He looked inwards into his mind and for the first time started to forge a real understanding of the kind of person he was. His misery drove him to harm others, harming others made him more hateful, this was a greater form of misery. Being propelled through life through this dark spiral, he failed to realise there were other ways of being. For once instead of reacting to his impulses he had a means of calmly observing them until they inevitably faded away.
Day in, day out he worked hard at observing the contents of his own mind. These days turned into weeks, then months then years. The hatred towards the world which still dwelled in the corner of his mind dissipated over time. Even his incredible sense of shame would vanish without a trace. He had the full understanding that this sense of shame was entirely self absorbed and that his suffering helped no one. The energy a person uses to feel terrible guilt could have instead been invested in doing real good in this world.
There came a day when he became completely and utterly liberated from all his suffering. In the channels of his mind where animosity once thrived now only flowed love and compassion. He decided to set out on a journey worlds different to the journey he had once embarked upon. His new mission in life was to help those less fortunate and teach others what had been taught to him. Just like he was once miserable, there were many miserable people throughout the land and he had the answer to their sorrows.
One morning as he was begging for the day’s food (as monks do), he was recognised by some passers by as the murderer he once was. Worse still, these were people whose precious loved ones had been torn away from them by his former blade. Even with his simple robes and clean shaven head, he was the same Angulimala to them. They could not contain their rage and felt justified at hurling stones at the monk. Blood streamed down his face but not a trace of anger or hatred accompanied it. Neither did guilt for his past actions. His mind was saturated purely with love for his enemies. He told them that he was once miserable as they are. He told them, he knew a way for them to be free.
I wrote this story as a way of communicating how I think people are and what I think they should be like. A person that has committed vile deeds should not be made to suffer for it, for they are ultimately helpless but to act as they do (that is; they don't know any better). I have since written a piece explaining this line of thinking. ↩︎