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 so that he could remember how many he had killed and he will make a garland of one thousand fingers. Angulimal means the man who wears the garland of human 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.
The king had put guards on the road to prevent people, particularly strangers who didn’t know that a dangerous man lived behind the hills. The guards told Gautam Buddha, “That is not the road to be used. You will have to take a little longer route, but it is better to go a little longer than to go into the mouth of death itself. This is the place where Angulimal lives. Even the king has not the guts to go on this road. That man is simply mad.”
“His mother used to go to him. She was the only person who used to go, once in a while, to see him, but even she stopped. The last time she went there he told her, `Now only one finger is missing, and just because you happen to be my mother… I want to warn you that if you come another time you will not go back. I need one finger desperately. Up to now I have not killed you because other people were available, but now nobody passes on this road except you. So I want to make you aware that next time if you come it will be your responsibility, not mine.’ Since that time his mother has not come.” The guards said to Buddha, “Don’t unnecessarily take the risk.”
His disciples said, ”Bhagwan, 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.”
Buddha said, “If I don’t go then who will go? Only two things are possible: either I will change him, and I cannot miss this challenge; or I will provide him with one finger so that his desire is fulfilled. Anyway I am going to die one day. Giving my head to Angulimal will be at least of some use; otherwise one day I will die and you will put me on the funeral pyre. I think that it is better to fulfill somebody’s desire and give him peace of mind. Either he will kill me or I will kill him, but this encounter is going to happen; you just lead the way.”
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. Soon there were miles between Gautam Buddha and his disciples. They all wanted to see what happened, but they didn’t want to be too close. If he was caught, at least they could escape.
Angulimal was sitting on his rock watching. He could not believe his eyes. A very beautiful man of such immense charisma was coming towards him. Who could this man be? He had never heard of Gautam Buddha, but even this hard heart of Angulimal started feeling a certain softness towards the man. He was looking so beautiful, coming towards him. It was early morning… a cool breeze, and the sun was rising… and the birds were singing and the flowers had opened; and Buddha was coming closer and closer.
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.
Finally Angulimal, with his naked sword in his hand, shouted, “Stop!!!” Gautam Buddha was just a few feet away, and Angulimal said, “Don’t take another step because then the responsibility will not be mine. Perhaps you don’t know who I am!, 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.” That man said, “I used to think I was mad — you are simply mad. And you go on moving closer. Then don’t say that I killed an innocent man. You look so innocent and so beautiful that I want you to go back. I will find somebody else. I can wait; there is no hurry. If I can manage nine hundred and ninety-nine… it is only a question of one more, but don’t force me to kill YOU.”
Gautam Buddha continued. He stepped off the road and started moving into the mountains, closer to Angulimal.
Angulimal said, “It seems you are impossible, you are incurable. You are bound to be killed. I will feel sorry, but what can I do? I have never seen such a mad man. It seems you are more mad than me. Why are you going on and on and on?”
Buddha said, “You are absolutely blind. You can’t see a simple thing: I am not moving towards you, you are moving towards me.” 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, “This is sheer craziness! Anybody can see that you are moving and I am standing on my rock. I have not moved a single inch.”
Buddha said, “Nonsense! The truth is, since the day I became enlightened I have not moved a single inch. I am centered, utterly centered, no movement. And your mind is continuously moving round and round in circles… and you have the guts to tell to me to stop. You stop! I have stopped long ago.” 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 fulfil your vow. Prepare your sword.”
Buddha came very close, and Angulimal’s hands were trembling. The man was so beautiful, so innocent, so childlike. He had already fallen in love. He had killed so many people… He had never felt this weakness; he had never known what love is. For the first time he was full of love. So there was a contradiction: the hand was holding the sword to kill the person, and his heart was saying, “Put the sword back in the sheath.”
Buddha said, “I am ready, but why is your hand shaking? — you are such a great warrior, even kings are afraid of you, and I am just a poor beggar. Except the begging bowl, I don’t have anything. You can kill me, and I will feel immensely satisfied that at least my death fulfills somebody’s desire; my life has been useful, my death has also been useful.
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.”
”No, it is a very small thing”, Buddha said, “I want you just to cut from the tree a branch which is full of flowers. I will never see these flowers again; I want to see those flowers closely, feel their fragrance and their beauty in this morning sun, their glory.”
Angulimal said, ”What kind of thing are you asking? But okay, if that is your wish.” So Angulimal cut with his sword a whole branch full of flowers. And before he could give it to Buddha, Buddha said, “This was only half the desire; the other half is, please put the branch back on the tree. Let it be part of the tree again. Let it blossom again.”
Angulimal said, “I was thinking from the very beginning that you are crazy. Now this is the craziest desire. How can I put this branch back?” 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? “If you cannot create, you have no right to destroy. If you cannot give life, you don’t have the right to give death to any living thing. 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?”
A moment of silence and a moment of transformation… the sword fell down from his hands.
He threw away that garland of nine hundred and ninety-nine fingers. Angulimal fell down at the feet of Gautam Buddha, and 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. I don’t know who you are, but whoever you are, take me to the same space in which you are; initiate me. Please accept me as your disciple “
By that time the followers of Gautam Buddha had come closer and closer. Seeing that now Gautam Buddha was standing in front of Angulimal, there was no problem, no fear, although he needed only one finger. They were all around and when he fell at Buddha’s feet they immediately came close.
Somebody raised the question, “Don’t initiate this man, he is a murderer. And he is not an ordinary murderer; he has murdered nine hundred and ninety-nine people, all innocent, all strangers. They have not done any wrong to him. He had not even seen them before!”
Buddha said, “If I don’t initiate him, who will initiate him? And I love the man, I love his courage. And I can see tremendous possibility in him: a single man fighting against the whole world. I want this kind of people, who can stand against the whole world. Up to now he was standing against the world with a sword; now he will stand against the world with a consciousness which is far sharper than any sword. I told you that murder was going to happen, but it was not certain who was going to be murdered — either I was going to be murdered, or Angulimal. Now you can see Angulimal is murdered. And who I am to judge?”
Buddha initiated him.
The question is not whether anybody is worthy or not. The question is whether you have the consciousness, the abundance of love — then forgiveness will come out of it spontaneously. It is not a calculation, it is not arithmetic.
He came back to the town. Even the king, Prasenjita, when he heard that Angulimal had become a sannyasin of Gautam Buddha…. He was a lover of Gautam Buddha, but he was afraid to go there because that man Angulimal could not be trusted, he could do anything any moment. But he wanted to see the man; he was so famous all around – hearing his name, even kings used to tremble.
He came, he touched Buddha’s feet and asked, ”I have heard that Angulimal has also become your initiate.”
Buddha said, ”Yes, he is sitting by my side.”
Prasenjita became so afraid, he pulled out his sword. Buddha said, ”Now it is not needed, put it back in the sheath. The Angulimal that you used to know is dead; this is a totally new man who cannot harm anybody. Don’t be afraid.”
And that very day when Angulimal went to beg in the city, the same cowards who had stopped even going on the road that passed nearby Angulimal’s place locked their doors, stood on their terraces with large piles of rocks, and started throwing rocks at the poor man.
He fell down; blood was flowing from all over his body. Buddha was informed, and he came. Just a few more minutes and Angulimal would be gone. Buddha said to him, ”Remember one thing, that this act of yours – that you have not in any way reacted to the hostility of the people – is enough. You are dying as a truly awakened man.” Smiling, touching Buddha’s feet, Angulimal died.
Don’t be afraid of people’s hostility. Just be aware of your compassion, your love, and nothing is going to be wrong. Life is love, and living a life of love is the only religious life, the only life of prayer, peace, the only life of gratitude, grandeur, splendor.
Osho: From Death to Deathlessness: CHAPTER 1. THE MAN OF COMPASSION HAS TO LIE Q 1
Osho: The Great Pilgrimage: From Here to Here Chapter #24 Chapter title: The only way to be is not to be Q 2. (Excerpts)
बहुत पहले से उन क़दमों की आहट जान लेते हैं
तुझे ऐ ज़िंदगी हम दूर से पहचान लेते हैं ……………………….फ़िराक़ गोरखपुरी
bahut pahle se un qadmoñ kī aahaT jaan lete haiñ
tujhe ai zindagī ham duur se pahchān lete haiñ …………………..FIRAQ GORAKHPURI
I can sense your foot steps and recognize you, O Life, from very far!
It is important to reflect and introspect before judging anyone else, is the essence of this song from “Roti” (1974) written by Anand Bakshi, composed by Laxmikant-Pyarelal and sung by Kishore Kumar.
Yaar Humari Baat Suno | Rajesh Khanna | Roti | Laxmikant | Pyarelal | Kishore Kumar | Hindi Song – YouTube
5 thoughts on “If I don’t, who will?”
Wry well said. Loved the story and makes huge impact to thinking and beliefs
So nice to wake up to these beautiful words and article on a Sunday Morning! Thank you Rajive
If you don’t Rajiv bhai, then who else will wake us up?
Very nicely mentioned : Once Enlightened, all movements in the mind stops.
Angulimal had to go through his own Karma but now he was enlightened and the Lord was blessing him, standing next to him 🙌🏽💗
You have as usual put it in a lucid picturesque words 💐”upp divo bhav”🪔
“living a life of love is the only religious life, the only life of prayer, peace, the only life of gratitude, grandeur, splendor.” … awesome. Shayri and Song makes it complete.
A beautiful story and such a powerful message. Everybody can be transformed. We need to touch the heart for that. Thanks for the post. love all your posts .