Friday, June 13, 2008

Angulimala: The wearer of finger garland

Angulimala was the son of the Brahmin Bhaggawa and Mantani. Bhaggawa was a loyal advisor to king Pasenadi of Kosala(an ancient kingdom in India). He was born under thieves' constellation, and on the night of his birth, all the armours and weapons in the town shone brightly. The king was so disturbed by this, and next morning he called upon his advisors and asked them why are the armours shinny. So Bhaggawa answered, “My wife have given birth to a son and according to his birth signs, he would become a lonely bandit”. The king ordered that the child be sacrificed but Bhaggawa advised the king that since he will be alone, they can catch him easily in the future if it turns out to be true. Bhaggawa named the child “Himsaka” which means “harmful” in pali, but later changed it to “Ahimsaka(harmless)”.

When he was old enough, Bhaggawa sent Ahimsaka to University of Taxila, then the Ox-bridge of India. At Taxila, he was the most strongest, brightest and obedient among all students and excelled in his studies. As a result he was liked by both his teacher and his wife so he enjoyed the privilege of living in their own house. This made the other pupils jealous of him. They went to the teacher and falsely accused Ahimsaka of having an immoral relationship with the teacher’s wife. At first, he did not believe them, but after hearing it a number of times, he thought it was true and vowed to have revenge on Ahimsaka. He thought that to kill him would reflect badly on him but some sources say that he dared not challenge Ahimsaka physically(Ahimsaka is said to be as strong as seven elephants). His rage prompted him to suggest the unthinkable to the young and innocent Ahimsaka. He ordered to bring him “1000 human right hand thumb” as his tuition fees(thinking that he will be killed in the process) and expelled Ahimsaka from the university.

When his father heard about the reason why his son was expelled from the university, he became so furious and ordered Ahimsaka to leave the house on that very day when there was heavy rain outside. He went to his mother for advice, but she couldn’t help him as she was afraid of her husband. Than he went to the house of his betrothed, but when the family learned why he was expelled, they too rejected him. Now the shame, anger, fear and despair drove him out of his normal mind and he could only recollect his teachers order: 1000 human right hand thumb.

So he decided to fulfill his teachers wish and resume his studies again. Some sources say that he asked people to give their right hand thumb, but no one was willing to give thus he became a highwayman in the Jalini forest in Kosala. He murdered each and every passerby even when they are in groups of ten or twenty. He took the thumb to make garlands so that he can keep the exact count and hanged the corpses on the trees for vultures and crows. Initially he hanged the garland on a tree but the birds stole the thumbs, so he hanged them around his neck. Thus he came to be known as Angulimala (“anguli“ = fingers, “mala“ = garland or necklace) and he became terror of the countryside and people avoided the path through Jalini forest. Now he attacked the villages and later towns to fulfill his dream. Since he was murdering so many people, the King of Kosala decided to go with his strong army and capture the bandit. When Mantani heard this she went to her husband and asked him to save their son, but he rejected saying that he became a real evil. The mother was so soft hearted that she decided to go to the forest herself and warn her child about the dangers from the king.

On that day, Angulimala has 999 thumbs, just one thumb short of 1,000. Having spent months and months in the forest without any proper food and rest, he was anxious to kill the last person to make up his full quota of 1,000 and so complete his task to pay off his debt and live a decent life. So he made a promise saying, “Today even if my own mother becomes the first person on my way, I will kill her and cut off the thumb to make one thousand thumbs”. The Buddha perceived with his “divine eyes” that Angulimala had killed 999 victims, and was desperately seeking a thousandth. If the Buddha encountered Angulimala that day, he would become a monk and subsequently attain Nirvana. If Angulimala encountered his mother instead, he would kill her as his thousandth victim and fall into hell for thousand years for the act of matricide. So out of compassion, Buddha left for the forest.

As he looked down from his perch, he saw a woman on the road below. He wanted to fulfill his vow to complete the 1,000 thumbs, but as he approached, he saw it was his mother. At the same time, the Buddha was approaching, and Angulimala had just enough presence of mind to decide to kill the wandering monk instead of his mother. So he raised his knife and began chased the monk. Now Buddha powered with “psychic power” walked before Angulimala but he never caught Buddha. At that moment he thought:

“Isn't it amazing! Isn't it astounding! In the past I've chased and seized even a swift-running elephant, a swift-running horse, a swift-running deer. But now, even though I'm running with all my might, I can't catch up with this contemplative walking at normal pace”. So he shouted angrily at Buddha to stop, but the blessed one answered, “I have stopped, Angulimala , now you stop!”. At that moment he thought these monk is the speaker of truth and yet he says he have stopped while still walking. Why don’t I question him now! Thinking thus he questioned the Buddha:

While walking, contemplative,
you say, 'I have stopped.'
But when I have stopped
you say I haven't.
I ask you the meaning of this:
How have you stopped?
How haven't I?

To which Buddha answered him:

I have stopped, Angulimala,
once and for all,
having cast off violence toward all living beings.
You, though, are unrestrained toward beings.
That's how I've stopped and you haven't.

On hearing these words Angulimala was recalled to reality, and thought, these are the words of a wise man. This monk is very wise and very brave that he must be the leader of the monks. Indeed, he must be the Enlightened One himself! He must have come here specially to make me see the light. Thinking so, he threw away his weapons and asked the Blessed One to admit to the Order of the bhikkhus, which the Buddha did. So at the age of twenty he became a monk.

Since he was a brilliant student, he learned everything from the Buddha and dedicated his life to strict meditation. As a result of his former karmic actions, while seeking for alms in the streets he will be beaten up with stones by the people. He used to go to the monastery with wounds and bloodshed to be reminded by the Buddha that it is his former karmic deeds that he is undergoing this hardships in this life itself. One day when he was on his alms, he saw a woman suffering from extreme labor. He went to Buddha and asked what should he do to reduce the pain that the woman is bearing. Buddha asked him to recite:

Sister, since the day I became an arhat
I have not consciously destroyed
The life of any living beings.
By this truth, may you be well
And may your fetus be well.

He went to the woman and recited this verses and she delivered without any pain. Later the verses came to be known as “Angulimala sutta” and is recited even to this day when the ladies are in labor pain. He lived most of his life in solitude and meditation. Later he passed away peacefully in meditation.

After his death, his friend asked Buddha where was Angulimala reborn, but He answered, “my son Angulimala has attained Nirvana”. They could hardly believe it and asked can such a person attain Nirvana. So Buddha said, “Bhikkhus, Angulimala had done much evil because he did not have good friends. But later, he had good friends and with their help and good advice he became steadfast and mindful in practicing the dharma and meditation. Thus, his evil deeds have been overwhelmed by good karma and his mind has been completely rid of all defilements”. The Buddha said of Angulimala as: “Whose evil deed is obscured by good, he illumines this world like the moon freed from a cloud”.

Angulimala , after knowing that his goal in life has been achieved said of himself:

Who once was heedless,
but later is not,
His evil-done deed
is replaced with skillfulness.
he brightens the world
like the moon set free from a cloud.

And prayed:
May even my enemies
hear talk of the Dharma.
May even my enemies
devote themselves to the Buddha's bidding.
May even my enemies
associate with those people who - peaceful,
good -get others to accept the Dharma.
May even my enemies
hear the Dharma time & again
from those who advise endurance, forbearance,
who praise non-opposition,
and may they follow it.

After performing Act of Truth, he is said to have brought safety to people and they in return worshipped him. Atlast his name “Ahimsaka” befitted him.

The World I know

What can I say that might be of interest and relevance? Let me answer this question by taking a journey all the way from the time when I was a little child just eagerly waiting to be enrolled in school to today. The most formative and influential years of my life were those which I spent as a kid. Every word that I hear and every action that I see others perform has some influence on me. That is the period where my mind is free of skepticism and I believed in everything. That is the period where I followed everything that my elders do and my peers suggested with neither the fear nor analyzing it’s effect. That is the period when I didn’t know how to discriminate people on the basis of race, sex, wealth, region, ethnicity and religion. I never prayed to God to give me the courage to speak the truth, yet I was able to speak it whether it is good or bad, but the truth. The power of reason is almost unknown, for I didn’t care whether my parents can effort to buy me toys or give me five ngyeltrum every time if I am to stop crying. I never realized that my parents had sacrificed all their needs and wants so that I can be a happy child. I hardly knew that the foods that I have refused to eat where the best that they could effort. What a beautiful life it has been without trials and tribulations, worries, fear, reason and discrimination.

When I was five years old, I was admitted to a school which is about six kilometers away from my home. I could still feel the happiness within me when I was taken to the school by my mother with a new gho with lagoue(white scarf on the gho), new shoes and socks and calling myself proudly as Dasho. I promised her that after finishing my studies, I will bring them radio, cloths, etc(I don’t know if ever I can fulfill all that promises ). What a good entertainment it used to be when I taught my parents everything that I learned in class and reciting them the national anthem. They would laugh and feel proud for they knew that I was learning something new which they didn’t know themselves. Every morning I would refuse to go to school if there isn’t any cash with me, what a burden I had been to them besides my two brothers. This is the period where I learned how to read and write ABC and ka, kha, ga, nga but I never thought that those will be the words which I would be writing to express the thoughts in my mind today.

From my sixth till twelfth grade, I went to a boarding school and the life thereafter was almost completely different than the earlier ones. I met more people from different ethnic groups, social status and regions. I used to do temporary jobs so that I can help my parents and effort my school spending. This is the period when I learned discipline, living our own life in relation to others, looking for someone who is closer to us thereby the sense of discrimination, pride, selfishness and above all the reason. It was there that I found my true identity – learned who I really was. The cocky kid on the outside, who was really scared on the inside, emerged after years as a reasonably self-confident person who was ready and anxious to enter the next phase of his life. The world that I knew earlier was just my own world, my own creation.


The world in reality was unequal, insecure, unstable and unsustainable. Firstly It is unequal because almost half of world’s population aren't part of it. A billion people live on less than a dollar a day. Two and a half billion people have no access to sanitation. A billion never get a clean glass of drinking water, forget about cooking their food. About 46 million people are living with AIDS and millions are inflected with it since the day they are born. Millions have no access to proper health facilities and education. Millions are left orphaned due to diseases, civil wars and huger. Millions search for rice while the water is boiling on the oven. Forget about the world at large, just take in the context of Bhutan. While some people can even drive their cars into the house, some have to walk days after days just to reach a road point. Some people have hardly any cloths to change even in a year while others just dump it because they don’t like the design or color. Some children cry saying that they don’t want to eat while others hardly get any. Some people leave their fields to the mercy of nature when others don’t even have a palm of land registered under their name. Some people go to United States to perform some minor operation where as some die on their bed because they even can’t effort to go to the hospital. Some parents sent their child overseas to study but some can’t sent to a school which is in their own village just because they are not able to generate about Nu.500 a year. How unequal is the distribution and how unfair is the world?


Secondly, it's an insecure world obviously because all the benefits that we share of being connected make us more vulnerable to destructive force, because we're connected. Whether it's terror or weapons of mass destruction or the specter of a global epidemic disease like Avian influenza and AIDS, which we don't yet have a vaccine or a cure. The attack on Afghanistan and Iraq by United States have had impact on all the world. Some countries loosed their income because they are highly dependent on tourism which was directly affected. Millions and billions of dollars were spent on the operation which could have been spent on poverty elevation. Thousands of civil and innocent people were killed just because they were ruled by a regime which is against the United States. The increase in the price of oil by some oil-rich countries resulted in the fall of the economy all over the world. The green house gas released by some nations are directly or indirectly effecting the world at large. The presence of weapons of mass destruction in the hand of few terrorist are a threat to the world security. The development of science (specially the war weapons) had made the world totally insecure and the human race itself is threatened. In the context of Bhutan, look at the recent several bombings carried out in Phuentsholing. The apprehension of people connected with communist party of Nepal in Samtse. Any one can become a victim of their act of violence. How insecure is this world?


And, finally, this is an unstable and an unsustainable world because of global warming, which now virtually everyone accepts as a reality. The world's ice caps on the mountains and polar regions are melting at a steady rate and the water level is increasing drastically. According to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(IPCC), the worlds surface temperature is likely to increase by about 6.4 °C within 2020. An increase in global temperatures can in turn cause other changes, including sea level rise and changes in the amount and pattern of precipitation resulting in floods and drought. Some low lying nations like Maltese and Maldives will be buried under water for ages. Agricultural production patterns and habitat of animals and plants will be changed. And all of this is going to happen at a time when the world is already short of resources. We are cutting down too many trees, we're losing too much topsoil; we're losing drinkable water at a time when there is already a shortage. Most biologists believe that plant and animal species are disappearing at the most rapid rate in 150,000 years. Meanwhile, the population is growing from the level from 6 and a half to 9 billion people in the world, mostly in the countries least able to handle it. Bhutan is investing billions on hydropower which is the main source of income for the nation. Some small streams are already drying up. What if all the major rivers of Bhutan suddenly dries up? Hopefully it will not! The farmers in the villages are already facing the shortage of water during the summer when it is the time for the cultivation of paddy which is the main source of their food. The places which used to get snow earlier are now no longer receiving it. The productivity of some foods items are decreasing despite using more advanced fertilizers and seed variety. It is self evident and we cannot escape from the fact of global warming. How unstable and unsustainable the world we are living was?

That is the real world that I knew till date and Bhutan is not an exception to any. It is the duty of each and everyone of us to face the challenge. We must contribute in every possible way in any field, let it be in education, development, poverty elevation, etc. Since in this world, what we think and what others see us thinking matters, let us all work for the peace and security of the world at large and Bhutan in particular. We must use some of the education that we have received to deal with inequality, insecurity and sustainability all over the world and not just in Bhutan, because we are interdependent.