Jul 27, 2020
Jenny Hall

Verses from the Dhammapada 5

The terrible acts of Angulimala provide the backdrop for the Buddha's lesson on choosing the path we take in life.

Painting at Chedi Traiphop Traimongkhon Temple, Hatyai, Thailand


By Photo Dharma from Sadao, Thailand - 054 Angulimala cannot Catch up with Buddha who ordains him and he becomes an Arahant, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50795027

‘Hatred does not cease by hatred; hatred ceases only by love, this is the eternal law.’

Once returning indoors after gardening, I suddenly became aware of a huge drowsy queen bee climbing up the sleeve of my shirt. My first reaction was to shut my eyes and shout at my husband, “Quick, get rid of it!”

This is invariably the ‘I’ response to anything that ‘I’ have judged as not suiting me. I either run away or attempt to get rid of it. It may be an emotion I am ashamed of or it may be a person I’ve judged as an ‘enemy.’ It may be a situation that fills me with fear.

Martin Luther King once said: “Hate at any point is a cancer that gnaws away at the vital centre of your life.”

It creates suffering for all.

The story of the Buddha and his encounter with Angulimala points to the transformation which occurs when hatred is embraced rather than resisted.

One day the Buddha arrived at a town. It was like a ghost town. Everyone was at home with all the doors and windows tightly bolted. They were hiding from Angulimala, a terrifying murderer. Every time he killed someone he would chop off one of the victim’s fingers. He would tie the fingerbone to a string which he wore as a necklace, ‘finger necklace’ being the meaning of his name. There was a rumour that when he possessed a thousand fingers he would gain great spiritual powers.

As the Buddha made his way down the deserted street, he heard someone following him. He knew at once that it was Angulimala. However, he continued to give himself into quietly walking. Angulimala shouted at the Buddha commanding him to stop. The Buddha calmly continued. His hot temper rising, Angulimala caught up with the Buddha and rudely demanded, “I told you to stop! Why did you not do so?”

Continuing to walk, the Buddha answered, “Angulimala, I stopped a long time ago. It is you who haven’t stopped.”

Enraged, Angulimala stepped in front of the Buddha blocking his way. Suddenly he was drawn to the Buddha’s serene gaze. He looked into the Buddha’s shining eyes. Never had anyone looked at Angulimala so fearlessly. He felt that the Buddha could see into his heart.

He said to the Buddha, “Although you were still walking you said you had stopped a long time ago. What did you mean when you said I was the one who has not stopped?

The Buddha replied, “I’ve stopped committing acts that cause suffering to all living beings. We must have compassion.”

Angulimala said: “Why should I? Humans don’t love each other. They are cruel. They deserve to die.”

The Buddha answered, “Leave the path of hatred. Choose the path of love.”

Angulimala removed his sword. He bowed his head. He became the Buddha’s disciple and was called Ahimsaka, the non-violent one.

The Buddha in compassion did not ignore or push Angulimala away. Through acceptance, the murderer’s hatred was transformed into peace. When we are presented with an unwanted gift, perhaps yet another hand knitted scarf by a kindly aunt, we are usually sensitive enough to refrain from expressing our disappointment. We see the affectionate look in her eye. We contain our dislike of the scarf and say “Thank you”. We accept it. The Zen training leads us to this compassionate awareness. We learn to recognise and accept inner resistance in the form of hatred and desire. We embrace the hot energy. We suffer its flames until ‘I’ am burned away. In the absence of ‘I’ a “choiceless awareness”, as Krishnamurti called it, opens up.

In the following story it is symbolised by the Samaritan.

A man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. A gang of robbers attacked him. They stole all his clothes and possessions and left him for dead by the wayside. A priest and then a Levite turned their faces and crossed over to the other side of the road. A Samaritan saw the body. Moved by pity, he soothed the man’s wounds with oil. He placed him on a donkey and took him to an inn.

In our daily life practice of giving ourselves wholeheartedly into whatever is being done, love is expressed in the same way. We become one with the cleaning the bath. The ring of grime is wiped away in the same way as the Samaritan wiped the traveller’s wounds.

Like the priest and the Levite, when faced with a mundane chore or perhaps someone we dislike we may attempt to turn away. If we don’t waste the flame of hatred in guilty thoughts or angry words, it can be greeted as a friend. We allow it to be transmuted into a precious training opportunity. Then love, which is acceptance, blossoms. In Arthur Rimbaud’s words:

“I shall not speak. I shall think of nothing but infinite love will rise up.’

Text copyright to Jenny Hall

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