Understanding Aṅgulimāla: The Heart of Compassion

Aṅgulimāla, the killer of many, occupies a special place in the suttas. Aṅgulimāla takes us far, far away from the nice, the pleasant, the beautiful–Aṅgulimāla takes into the horror of intentional killing and violent harm. And yet…

…the Buddha walked ahead of Aṅgulimāla, who asked him to stop:

MN86:5.9: “I’ve stopped, Aṅgulimāla—now you stop.”

To understand MN86, the following may help:

SN46.54:13.7: The apex of the heart’s release by compassion is the dimension of infinite space, I say, for a mendicant who has not penetrated to a higher freedom.

In this age of violence and mistrust, how shall we practice our own compassion? Will that practice be limited or will it embrace those who harm?

BrahmaVihara are unconditioned. Unconditioned metta, unconditioned compassion.
Without conditions - it is very important and key component. It is ignorance of ethics, human law, plausibility, science, logic. and it is ignorance of plan of execution and operation. It is ignorance of logistics.

Metta basically feels like western’s God. Love unconditionally, act barely.
Compassion is when you have understand of cause of dukkha and path to cessation of dukkha.

How to help, do i have capacity to help, should i help in this situation? They are hindrances of practicing metta/karuna.

1 Like

When you deeply understand the teaching of our Lord Buddha about impermanence, friendship and kindness, compassion and equanimity together with a full appreciation of the law of Kamma, it becomes easier to feel friendships and kindness, compassion and equanimity towards those who have committed horrible things even against you.
The reason is, at least for me, after many years of dealing with that point, that 1) Kamma take care of everything. There is no need at all for my useless concerns, emotions and so on. They do not add anything to the fact that any action will always result in Kamma. 2) when you are freed from the concerns related to that, your heart has space to consider that most of the actions that harm others (included animals and all the rest) are generated from ignorance and delusion about the four noble truths. You need to investigate your own mistakes to realise that deeply. And so, you can feel empathy for those people so deluded that they now have accumulated terrible karma.
Finally, you can see those in different circumstances (family, society, opportunities and son) you may have ended in committing similar crimes or harming living beings. That should bring you to feel friendly and kind feelings to fellow deluded and suffering beings, and you think that you want to wish them an easy mind that one day can lead them towards Nibbana. That wish is friendless and kind. Finally, you will discover that all of this has helped you to let go of concepts of justice or injustice, good and evil, and so on. That is equanimity that you experience in your own heart.
As Ajahn Chah used to say: can you pick up a knife from the handle without picking up also the attached blade? No, you cannot. Yet you can go beyond picking up… letting go. :pray:


Thank you.

I recall having read a sutta about developing equanimity by examining the opposite quality of something that evokes craving or aversion. The meditation on ugliness is an example of such examination, but I seem to recall that for topics that lead to aversion (e.g., Yakuza) there is also an analogous practice. I’ve been looking for days to find that sutta again but I can’t find it. :see_no_evil:

NOTE: Piya Tan’s essay was also quite helpful in illuminating more about Angulimalas background. What causes difficulty here is understanding and relating to the traditional motivations of Angulimala. Anybody today being tasked with such an honorarium would simply roll their eyes and walk away. But Angulimala did not and that creates a conundrum:

He demanded of Ahimsaka/Angulimala) a thousand human right-hand fingers as an honorarium

The video on the Yakuza provides a clearer, contemporary picture of those who embark on a path of cruelty. The video allows us to hear personal explanations of what motivates them and what ultimately drives them away from that unskillful path. And what struck me about the video was the sense that those who left had developed compassion.

1 Like