October 28 – Buddha and Angulimala – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

“I have stopped. You have not stopped.” Buddha  

There is a story of how, just before he was hung, Angulimala, the murderer, became an Arahant, or worthy one, because of his encounter with Buddha. Angulimala had  seemingly been so driven from his own life that he was taking the lives of others. Perhaps it was timing, the readiness of a man about to die confronted with the unwavering presence of an authentic spirit; no one will ever know. But it is said that the two stood before each other for a very long time, and when the silence seemed to part some veil from Angulimala’s eyes, Buddha said to him,“I have stopped. You have not stopped.”

This was followed by an equally telling silence, after which the fortress of cruelty that Angulimala had built around his heart crumbled. It is said that, though Angulimala was hung with a rope made from the finger bones of his victims, in the moments between Buddha’s words and his own last breath, Angulimala truly lived.

Of course, such a story is a penetrating riddle. What had this man not stopped that enabled him to murder? And what had Buddha stopped that enabled him to be enlightened? Though we will never know, we can suggest that the thing not stopped might be any form of running from the risk and pain of being alive, such as denial, hiding, projection. For any form of running from the truth of ourselves can lead to such a numb existence that one can become violent in order to feel. If we don’t stop running, we can murder ourselves again and again by taking the lives of others, either physically through violence or sexually through conquest or emotionally through dominance and control or professionally through power.

Ultimately, however you enter this riddle, we are both Buddha and Angulimala, and we repeatedly need to have this conversation with ourselves in order to stay compassionate and real.

 

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