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Ahimsaka Behind Bars

10 Jul 2017 4:38 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

With gratitude to FCM's Prison Dharma Program Facilitator Chris Gahles for his service and for contributing this article

A few nights ago I was leisurely leafing through books in the prison library.  I was happy to see they had a copy of “Old Path, White Clouds” one of my long time favorites by Thich Nhat Hanh.  I thought that our small sangha, which would be practicing in a few minutes, might enjoy hearing and conversing about one of the chapters that Thay had so mindfully written.  

After our meditation and recitation of the Five Mindfulness Trainings I read the chapter titled “Angulimala”.  This story is about the most feared serial killer during the Buddha’s time, Agulimala, which translates as finger-neckless.  Every time Agulimala would murder someone he would take one of their fingers and add it to the mala he wore around his neck.  In the climax of the story Angulimala chases down the Buddha and orders him to, “Stop monk! Stop!”  Even though the Buddha hears the bandit he continued to walk.  It seemed like it took a very long time for the bandit to catch up to the Buddha even though he was running and the Blessed One was walking.  But finally he stepped in front of the Buddha and shouted, “Monk, I told you to stop.  Why did you not stop?”  The Buddha replied, “Angulimala, I stopped a long time ago.  You are the one that continues (down the path of unwholesomeness)”.  

The Buddha’s gaze was filled with such compassion and wisdom that the remorseful bandit was overcome. Angulimala broke free of his misperception that it was too late to lead a wholesome life.  He asked the Buddha to be accepted into the sangha and was immediately ordained.  He was given the monastic name Ahimsaka, which coincidently was the birth name his father gave him.  It means, “The harmless one”.  Ahimsaka become one of the most respected monks in the sangha due to his self-transformative efforts.

After the story we talked about its teaching… no matter how messed up we can get, there is always a path to forgiveness, compassion and understanding.  Our small sangha in the prison chapel was energized by this topic.  The discussion was filled with mindful participation.  Someone asked the reflective question, “Why is this story known as the story of Angulimala and not the story of Ahimsaka?  The room was filled with joyfulness and hope which streamed through the barred windows and doors of the chapel.  Darkness cannot exist in the presence of light, just as unwholesome thoughts cannot exist in the presence of wholesome thoughts.  

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