The Dhammapada: Verses and Stories

Dhammapada Verse 173
Angulimalatthera Vatthu

Yassa papam katam kammam
kusalena1 pidhiyati
so'mam lokam pabhaseti

abbha muttova candima.

Verse 173: He who overwhelms with good the evil that he has done lights up this world (with the light of Magga Insight), as does the moon freed from clouds.

1. kusalena: with good deed; the good in this context means Arahatta Magga, the fourth and final Path knowledge. (The Commentary)

The Story of Thera Angulimala

While residing at the Jetavana monastery, the Buddha uttered Verse (173) of this book, with reference to Thera Angulimala.

Angulimala was the son of the Head Priest in the court of King Pasenadi of Kosala. His original name was Ahimsaka. When he was of age, he was sent to Taxila, a renowned university town. Ahimsaka was intelligent and was also obedient to his teacher. So he was liked by the teacher and his wife; as a result, other pupils were jealous of him. So they went to the teacher and falsely reported that Ahimsaka was having an affair with the teacher's wife. At first, the teacher did not believe them, but after being told a number of times he believed them; and so he vowed to have revenge on the boy. To kill the boy would reflect badly on him; so he thought of a plan which was worse than murder. He told Ahimsaka to kill one thousand men or women and in return he promised to give the boy priceless knowledge. The boy wanted to have this knowledge, but was very reluctant to take life. However, he agreed to do as he was told.

Thus, he kept on killing people, and not to lose count, he threaded a finger each of everyone he killed and wore them like a garland round his neck. In this way, he was known as Angulimala, and became the terror of the countryside. The king himself heard about the exploits of Angulimala, and he made preparations to capture him. When Mantani, the mother of Angulimala, heard about the king's intention, out of love for her son, she went into the forest in a desperate bid to save her son. By this time, the chain round the neck of Angulimala had nine hundred and ninety-nine fingers in it, just one finger short of one thousand.

Early in the morning on that day, the Buddha saw Angulimala in his vision, and reflected that if he did not intervene, Angulimala who was on the look out for the last person to make up the one thousand would see his mother and might kill her. In that case, Angulimala would have to suffer in niraya endlessly. So out of compassion, the Buddha left for the forest where Angulimala was.

Angulimala, after many sleepless days and nights, was very tired and near exhaustion. At the same time, he was very anxious to kill the last person to make up his full quota of one thousand and so complete his task. He made up his mind to kill the first person he met. Suddenly, as he looked out he saw the Buddha and ran after him with his knife raised. But the Buddha could not be reached while he himself was completely exhausted. Then, looking at the Buddha, he cried out, "O bhikkhu, stop! stop!" and the Buddha replied, "I have stopped, only you have not stopped." Angulimala did not get the significance of the words of the Buddha, so he asked, "O Bhikkhu! Why do you say that you have stopped and I have not stopped?"

The Buddha then said to him, "I say that I have stopped, because I have given up killing all beings, I have given up ill-treating all beings, and because I have established myself in universal love, patience, and knowledge through reflection. But, you have not given up killing or ill-treating others and you are not yet established in universal love and patience. Hence, you are the one who has not stopped." On hearing these words from the mouth of the Buddha, Angulimala reflected, "These are the words of a wise man. This bhikkhu is so very wise and so very brave ; he must be the ruler of the bhikkhus. Indeed, he must be the Buddha himself! He must have come here specially to make me see the light." So thinking, he threw away his weapon and asked the Buddha to admit him to the Order of the bhikkhus. Then and there, the Buddha made him a bhikkhu.

Angulimala's mother looked for her son everywhere in the forest shouting out his name, but failing to find him she returned home. When the king and his men came to capture Angulimala, they found him at the monastery of the Buddha. Finding that Angulimala had given up his evil ways and had become a bhikkhu, the king and his men went home. During his stay at the monastery, Angulimala ardently and diligently practised meditation, and within a short time he attained arahatship.

Then, one day, while he was on an alms-round, he came to a place where some people were quarrelling among themselves. As they were throwing stones at one another, some stray stones hit Thera Angulimala on the head and he was seriously injured. Yet, he managed to come back to the Buddha, and the Buddha said to him, "My son Angulimala! You have done away with evil. Have patience. You are paying in this existence for the deeds you have done. These deeds would have made you suffer for innumerable years in niraya." Soon afterwards, Angulimala passed away peacefully; he had realized parinibbana.

Other bhikkhus asked the Buddha where Angulimala was reborn, and when the Buddha replied "My son has realized parinibbana", they could hardly believe it. So they asked him whether it was possible that a man who had killed so many people could have realized parinibbana. To this question, the Buddha replied, "Bhikkhus! Angulimala had done much evil because he did not have good friends. But later, he found good friends and through their help and good advice he had been steadfast and mindful in his practice of the dhamma. Therefore, his evil deeds have been overwhelmed by good (i e., Arahatta Magga).

Then the Buddha spoke in verse as follows:

Verse 173: He who overwhelms with good the evil that he has done lights up this world (with the light of Magga Insight), as does the moon freed from clouds.



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*Verse 416
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*These two stories have the same verse.