Ahimsaka was a bright and obedient student, well loved by his teacher. His classmates soon became jealous of him and started a rumor that he was having an affair with their teacher’s wife. At first the teacher refused to listen to any of the gossip, but slowly became convinced that, indeed, his favorite student was deceiving him behind his back.
He became so angry that he wanted to kill Ahimsaka, but a teacher killing a student was really out of the question. He then devised a plan that he hoped would not only bring harm to Ahimsaka but satisfy his vengeance as well.
The teacher went and told Ahimsaka that he had some special knowledge which he wanted to impart to him. First, however, he was to go out and kill a thousand people, and to prove that he had really done so, he was to bring back the right index finger of each one of his victims.
Ahimsaka was very unwilling to kill anyone, but because he badly wanted to have his teacher’s special knowledge, and because he trusted his teacher so much, he decided to set out and do as his teacher required.
Soon Ahimsaka had so many index fingers that he did not know just how many he actually had, so he started to keep them strung around his neck in order not to lose count. Because of this morbid habit, he became known as Angulimala, which meant “garland of fingers.”
When Angulimala’s notoriety reached the courts of the palace, the king immediately sent out a warrant for his capture. Angulimala’s mother, in the meantime, went out into the forest to look for him and warn him about the warrant.
When the Buddha got wind of this, he realized what might happen to her should she find her son first, for Angulimala was already wearing 999 fingers around his neck and was eager to get the last and final one to complete his garland.
To prevent Angulimala from killing his own mother, the Buddha went and appeared before him. When Angulimala saw the Buddha, he was delighted, thinking that he had at last found his last and final finger. With dagger drawn high, he ran in haste after the Buddha. To his consternation, however, he discovered that no matter how fast he ran, he was not able to catch up with the Buddha.
He yelled for the Buddha to stop but the Buddha replied, “Angulimala, I’ve already stopped. It is you who have not stopped.”
Angulimala did not understand what the Buddha meant. The Buddha then told him, “I have stopped because I have stopped killing all living beings and have established myself in universal love. But, you, you have yet to do so.”
Realizing that it was the Buddha himself who was addressing him, he threw away his dagger and asked to be admitted into the Order. When the king and his men found Angulimala in the monastery of the Buddha, they decided to leave him alone, for they saw that he had given up his old evil ways. Angulimala then continued to live under the Buddha’s guidance and eventually became a saint.
When he finally passed away, he realized Parinibbana. The other monks asked the Buddha how a man who had murdered so many people could realize Parinibbana. The Buddha replied that Angulimala had previously done much evil because he lacked good friends.
Later, however, because he found good friends who helped him and advised him rightly, he was able to become steadfast and mindful in his practice of the Dhamma and finally attain enlightenment. Therefore his evil deeds had been overwhelmed with good.
He who overwhelms with good the evil that he has done lights up this world as does the moon freed from the clouds.