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Personalities of the Buddhist Suttas


Ahimsaka, aka Angulimala, "Garland of Thumbs"


Dictionary of Pali Proper Names: Angulimala (Angulimalaka). - A robber who was converted by the Buddha in the twentieth year of his ministry, and who, later, became an arahant.[1] He was the son of the brahmin Bhaggava, chaplain to the king of Kosala, his mother being Mantani. He was born under the thieves' constellation, and on the night of his birth all the armour in the town shone, including that belonging to the king. Because this omen did no harm to anyone the babe was named Ahimsaka.[2]

Anguli. Can mean finger or joint, or limb, but also 'thumb,' which should be the translation used here. If it had been fingers, Ahimsaka could have gotten away with 100 murders. Elsewhere we hear that the instruction was given in the form of a prediction that Ahimsaka would achieve awakening after having killed 1000 people.

p.p. explains it all - p.p.

At Takkasila he became a favourite at the teacher's house, but his jealous fellow-students poisoned his teacher's mind, and the latter, bent on his destruction, asked as his honorarium a thousand human right-hand fingers. Thereupon Ahimsaka waylaid travellers in the Jalini forest in Kosala and killed them, taking a finger from each.

The finger-bones thus obtained he made into a garland to hang round his neck, hence the name Angulimala.

As a result of his deeds whole villages were deserted, and the king ordered a detachment of men to seize the bandit, whose name nobody knew. But Angulimala's mother, guessing the truth, started off to warn him. By now he lacked but one finger to complete his thousand, and seeing his mother coming he determined to kill her. But the Buddha, seeing his upanissaya, went himself to the wood, travelling thirty yojanas,[3] and intercepted Angulimala on his way to slay his [23] mother. Angulimala was converted by the Buddha's power and received the "ehi bhikkhu pabbajja"[4] while the populace were yelling at the king's palace for the robber's life. Later, the Buddha presented him before King Pasenadi when the latter came to Jetavana, and Pasenadi, filled with wonder, offered to provide the monk with all requisites. Angulimala, however, had taken on the dhutangas and refused the king's offer.

When he entered Savatthi for alms, he was attacked by the mob, but on the admonition of the Buddha, endured their wrath as penance for his former misdeeds.

According to the Dhammapadatthakatha[5] he appears to have died soon after he joined the Order.

There is a story of how be eased a woman's labour pains by an act of truth. The words he used in this saccakiriya (yato aham sabbannutabuddhassa ariyassa ariyaya jatiya jato) have come to be regarded as a -paritta to ward off all dangers and constitute the Angulimala Paritta. The water that washed the stone on which he sat in the woman's house came to be regarded as a panacea.[6]

In the Angulimala Sutta he is addressed by Pasenadi as Gagga Mantaniputta, his father being a Gagga. The story is evidently a popular one and occurs also in the Avadana Šataka (No. 27).

At the Kosala king's Asadisadana, an untamed elephant, none other being available, was used to bear the parasol over Angulimala. The elephant remained perfectly still-such was Angulimala's power.[7]

The conversion of Angulimala is often referred to as a most compassionate and wonderful act of the Buddha's, e.g. in the Sutasoma Jataka,[8] which was preached concerning him. The story of Angulimala is quoted as that of a man in whose case a beneficent kamma arose and destroyed former evil kamma.[9]

It was on his account that the rule not to ordain a captured robber was enacted.[10]

For his identification with Kalmasapada see J.P.T.S., 1909, pp. 240 ff.


[1] His story appears both in the Majjhima Cy., 743 ff., and in the Thag. Cy., ii. 57 ff. The two accounts differ in certain details; I have summarised the two versions.

[2] The Thag. Cy. says he was first called Himsaka and then Ahimsaka. See also Ps. of the Brethren, 323, n. 3.

[3] DA. i. 240; J. iv. 180.

[4] Thag. 868-70.

[5] iii. 169.

[6] M. ii. 103-4; MA. 747 f.

[7] DhA. iii. 185; also DA. ii. 654.

[8] J. v. 456 f.; see also J. iv. 180; SnA. ii. 440; DhA. i. 124.

[9] AA. i. 369.

[10] Vin. i. 74.




Dictionary of Pali Proper Names, by G. P. Malalasekera, D.Litt., Ph.D., M.A. (Lond.), O.B.E., Pali Text Society, 1974
Dhammatalk discussion: Garland of Thumbs
MN 86, Angulimala Sutta
Sutasoma Jataka