Angulimala was the son of the brahmin Bhaggava, the chief counsellor of King Kosala, and his wife Matani. On the night of his birth, all weapons in the country glittered unusually. The same phenomenon happened in the king’s chamber and so the king, being frightened, could not sleep well.
The child’s father, the chief counsellor, looking up to the constellations in the sky, knew that his son would become an evil person he came of age. The next day, the king asked the chief counsellor what these omens portended. The latter replied, “Your Majesty, you need not worry about this omen. A baby boy was born to me yesterday. The omen means that my son will become an evil person when he grows up”. The king again asked, “Will he do evil deeds alone or in a group?”
“He will do evil deeds alone. Would you please get rid of that baby?” replied the chief counsellor. But the king permitted him to bring up the baby well because he believed that the boy would not be so harmful to him and to the public if he did evil deeds alone. The boy was named Ahimsaka.
When Ahimsaka came of age, he studied under the teacher of Takkasila. He helped in all the household duties of his teacher’s wife. Moreover, he used to behave pleasantly. So he became the favourite of the teacher and his wife. Thereupon, other students became jealous of Ahimsaka and spread rumour that Ahimsaka was having an affair with the teacher’s wife. At first the teacher did not believe the vicious calumny. However, when he heard this slander again and again he became suspicious of Ahimsaka and decided to kill him. So he sent for Ahimsaka and said: “Ahimsaka, your education will be complete only when you have cut off one thousand right index fingers and presented these to me”.
In compliance with his teacher’s words, Ahimsaka went into the Jalina forest, waylaid travellers and killed them, taking their right index fingers. He put the fingers on the boughs of trees and these were carried away by crows and vultures. So the number of fingers could not easily add up to one thousand. Therefore he made the fingers into a garland and hung it around his neck. Hence he was known as Angulimala (who wears a garland of fingers around his neck).
Because of the great danger caused by Angulimala, people were scared to go through the forest where Angulimala stayed. So even men went in groups of forty or fifty when they had to go through the forest. However, they were all killed by Angulimala. Later on, there was no one who dared to go there. Angulimala then went to the nearby villages, broke open the houses by kicking the doors, killed the people and cut off their right index fingers. Therefore people migrated from small villages to large villages. When they did not feel secure anywhere, they reported to King Kosala about Angulimala and requested the king to arrest him. So the king gave the order to recruit soldiers to form an army to arrest Angulimala.
Angulimala’s mother heard the news and she went into the forest to inform her son.
On that day Angulimala waited in the forest with the resolution to kill anyone he met first as he needed only one more finger to make up one thousand in number. Meanwhile the Buddha, knowing that Angulimala would be guilty of the most heinous deed if he killed his mother. So He also went into the forest.
On seeing his mother coming into the forest first, Angulimala chased her and at that moment the Buddha stood between them. So Angulimala pursued the Buddha. In fact, he was strong enough to catch even running elephants or horses or deer. But he could not catch up with the Buddha because the Buddha used His supernormal powers to keep the distance between Him and Angulimala as far as ever.
Being tired and all in sweat, he stopped suddenly and said: “On bhikkhu, stop”. The Buddha replied: “Angulimala, I have already stopped. You are the one to stop”. Angulimala could not understand what the Buddha meant, so he said: “Oh, bhikkhu, you said you have stopped even though you are going. On the other hand, you told me to stop though I have already stopped. What do you mean?”
“Angulimala, I do not kill any living being. I have already given up weapons such as stick, spear and sword. So I shall not run in the round of existences. But you still persecute and kill people. Thus you shall have to run in the round of existences”, replied the Buddha.
Angulimala had heard about the Buddha before. On hearing the Buddha’s reply he realized that he was face to face with the Buddha. He was delighted, thinking: “The Buddha has come to this forest to salvage me”. He thought over his actions and realized at once that he had done wrong. So he put all his weapons down and knelt before the Buddha, paying homage to him. He also requested the Buddha to take him into the Order of the Bhikkhus.
He became a bhikkhu as soon as the Buddha said, “Come bhikkhu”. He practised insight meditation and became an arahat.