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Personalities of the Buddhist Suttas


Ahiṃsaka, aka Aṅgulimāla, "Garland of Thumbs"


Dictionary of Pali Proper Names: Aṅgulimāla (Aṅgulimālaka). - 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 Mantanī. 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 Ahiṃsaka.[2]

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

p.p. explains it all — p.p.

At Takkasilā 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 Ahiṃsaka waylaid travellers in the Jālinī 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 Aṅgulimāla.

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 Aṅgulimāla'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 Aṅgulimāla on his way to slay his [23] mother. Aṅgulimāla was converted by the Buddha's power and received the "ehi bhikkhu pabbajjā"[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. Aṅgulimāla, however, had taken on the dhutangas and refused the king's offer.

When he entered Sāvatthī 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 Dhammapadaṭṭhakathā[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 saccakiriyā (yato ahaṃ sabbaññutabuddhassa ariyassa ariyāya jātiyā jāto) have come to be regarded as a -paritta to ward off all dangers and constitute the Aṅgulimāla 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 Aṅgulimāla Sutta he is addressed by Pasenadi as Gagga Mantānīputta, 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 Asadisadāna, an untamed elephant, none other being available, was used to bear the parasol over Aṅgulimāla. The elephant remained perfectly still-such was Aṅgulimāla's power.[7]

The conversion of Aṅgulimāla is often referred to as a most compassionate and wonderful act of the Buddha's, e.g. in the Sutasoma Jātaka,[8] which was preached concerning him. The story of Aṅgulimāla 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 Kalmāsapāda 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 Hiṃsaka and then Ahiṃsaka. 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, Aṅgulimāla Sutta
Sutasoma Jātaka