I did finish reading Gombrich’s article on Angulimala, and it is a much more believable account of his background (tantric Siva, etc) than the accepted Buddhist version from the commentaries. However Gombrich doesn’t address the issues relevant to this thread of whether some or all of the kamma of killing needs to be expiated before arahantship is possible. Going by the suttas, in theory one only has to acknowledge wrong doing, that is, really understanding why it was wrong, and not do it again because of that understanding. Excessive remorse is not helpful. In theory, one could kill and attain arahantship in this life. I have a much easier time believing that Milarepa could attain arahantship in the same lifetime that he killed many people out of revenge, than Angulimala. Regardless of whether he was a Tantric channelling Siva or the student of corrupt Brahman who thinks its a good idea to kill 1000 people to please their teacher to learn higher spiritual teachings (isn’t the very definition of spiritual teaching antithetical to killing??). Any being who is ripe, in their last lifetime, close to becoming an arahant, I believe is going to exhibit many virtues and behaviors of a noble one. I believe Angulimala was fabricated to be an inspiring story of redemption. In my case, it has exactly the opposite effect, like the jataka tales. Instead of being inspired, I’m (somewhat) de-spired, and wondering exactly what else in the suttas is fabricated, distorted, etc. The Angulimala paritta just further increases skepticism and seems to confirm my suspicion of the human nature’s desire to create inspiring fiction.
In a way, that’s a very good thing. It’s forced me to really make sure to check everything against the four great references and not take anything for granted until it’s truth as a result of direct experience. I’m comfortable in coping with a reality where even in the EBT some small percentage of it is likely (in my opinion) to be corrupt, fabricated, etc. But it saddens me to see the effect on other Buddhists whose confidence in the Buddha Dhamma is not as strong. I think that’s why they so vehemently maintain Angulimala and Jataka tales are literal truth, because the scriptures say so and their teachers say so. If it turned out Jataka tales were not true, they would probably have doubts about the entirety of Buddha Dhamma.
Well, it’s meant to be an amazing story. The point, ultimately, is that redemption is possible. Even in the other cases you mention, the tradition says that they will find redemption, just not in this life. It might sound extreme to say they have gone to hell, but remember that in Buddhism, we’ve all been there, as have the great arahants.
This is very true, and kind of annoying. It is so obvious that these are late texts, yet even such basic insights, universally taken for granted by scholars for 150 years, seem to be too much for otherwise intelligent and educated people to accept. Literalism is the scourge of Theravada.