Angulimal – In Gita Verse 4.7 Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion – at that time I descend Myself.
Krishna takes birth for others, in compassion. While in compassion Krishna take birth to give, no expectation. For him irreligion means when human being is stuck in duality, their animal nature. To guide the humanity to grow in consciousness he takes birth.
In my Bhagavad Gita Verse 2.2, I wrote regarding Only compassion is therapeutic. How? Let’s understand this by Buddha and Angulimal’s story.
There was a man in Gautam Buddha’s time whose name was Angulimal. He had taken a vow to cut off one thousand heads, and to take one ﬁnger from each dead person and make a garland of one thousand ﬁngers. Angulimal means the man with the garland of one thousand ﬁngers.
He was a ferocious man. People stopped going close to him. The road that passed by the hill where he was staying was no longer being used. He had already cut off nine hundred and ninety-nine heads; he was waiting for only one more. The road that passed by his hill was utterly empty, nobody was coming. And then Buddha came to pass. That road was the shortcut, but people were going the long way around, just to avoid Angulimal. Naturally, Buddha took the shortcut.
His disciples said, ”Bhagawan, you don’t know what you are doing! Haven’t you heard about that madman, Angulimal? It is better to go the long, roundabout way, rather than to take the shortcut.”
But people like Gautam Buddha never turn back. He said, ”I cannot turn back, now even more than before. If I had not known about Angulimal, perhaps I might have taken the other road. That poor fellow is waiting for only one head! My work is done; I have known all that can be known, I have experienced all that can be experienced. Now there is no reason for me…. If I can be of some service to that poor man, it will be good.”
He went. Angulimal saw him. Buddha’s disciples, who were always clambering around him, by and by started creating a distance between him and themselves. If he was caught, at least they could escape. Angulimal saw Gautam Buddha coming. Even that dangerous man, who had murdered nine hundred and ninety-nine people already, felt for the ﬁrst time that he also had a heart. Gautam Buddha was looking so innocent, so childlike and so beautiful in the early morning sun.
Angulimal shouted, ”You please turn back, because only one head is missing! Perhaps you are a stranger… but looking at you, something in me says ‘Let this man go – there are many idiots, I can cut off their heads.’ Even if my mother comes here, I will cut off her head! But you please go back. Don’t come close to me – I am dangerous! Do you see my sword? It is waiting for the last head.”
Gautam Buddha continued. He stepped off the road and started moving into the mountains, closer to Angulimal.
Angulimal said, ”It seems you are more mad than me. Why are you going on and on and on?”
Buddha said, ”Angulimal, I stopped going anywhere a long time ago. I am not going anywhere, it is you who are.” Angulimal was standing there – Buddha was walking!
Angulimal said, ”Certainly you are mad. You are walking, moving, and you say you have stopped a long time ago. I am standing, and you say, ‘You are moving.’”
Buddha said, ”Just try to understand. Your mind is moving, thinking. My mind is silent, there is no movement. And you will not get a better head. It is really a joy to fulﬁll your vow. Prepare your sword.”
Angulimal could not understand what kind of man he was. He was in a great shock; he had never come across such a man! He was ashamed of himself for the ﬁrst time in his life. He could not look at Buddha eye to eye, because those eyes were radiating compassion, love, grace, joy, blissfulness, ecstasy – things that he had never known, but the fragrance was reaching him.
He said again to Buddha, ”You please go, sir. I don’t want to kill you. You are unnecessarily insisting that I do something that I don’t want to do.” But Buddha went on coming closer and closer. And ﬁnally he was standing before Angulimal.
Angulimal said, ”I used to think I was a stubborn man – you are a thousandfold more stubborn. Now I cannot help you, I have to cut your head.”
Buddha said, ”It is an old tradition and convention to fulﬁll the last wish of a person who is going to die, and I have a very small wish. You fulﬁll it and then kill me.”
He said, “What is your wish? Even if it is the biggest thing, I will manage it for you.”
Buddha said, ”No, it is a very small thing. Just cut off a branch of the tree under which you are standing.”
Angulimal said, ”What kind of thing are you asking? But okay, if that is your wish.” With his sword he cut off a branch.
Buddha said, ”Now, put it back. Let it be part of the tree again. Let it blossom again.”
Angulimal said, ”That is impossible. How can I join it with the tree?”
Buddha said, ”If you cannot even join a small branch to the tree, do you see the implications of it? Any child could have broken that branch off the tree, and you are a strong man – you have not done a great job. You can cut off my head, but can you manage to give me life again? And if you cannot create, what right have you to destroy?”
There was a moment of silence. The sword fell from Angulimal’s hands. He threw away that garland of nine hundred and ninety-nine ﬁngers, and fell at Buddha’s feet. He said, ”I never thought about it, that destroying something – any mediocre person, any coward, any idiot can do that. The real genius is creative – you are right. Please accept me as your disciple.”
Buddha initiated him.
When people like Krishna, Buddha, Mahavira takes birth they take birth out of their compassion. They guide humanity to grow in consciousness from every circumstances. They don’t choose the circumstances they create opportunity to guide the humanity from any circumstances to grow in consciousness. Person like Angulimal can turn in so why can’t we?