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Angulimala: Forgiveness and Redemption in Buddhism

SIDDHARTHA MEETS AND REFORMS A SERIAL KILLER, Aṅgulimāla

Angulimala, is the story of Angulimala, a murderer who becomes an arahant (Pali. “one who is worthy” or perfected person), and this scene captures the concept of forgiveness and redemption in Buddhism. Angulimala demonstrates, the potential of all human beings to change, and achieve liberation.

“Angulimala, the robber and murderer, is one of the best known figures of the Buddhist scriptures, because of his dramatic life story. His conversion to monkhood and later to sainthood was exceptional as he seems to have been the only former criminal to be accepted into the Buddhist monastic order. The Buddha had often warned not to judge people from appearances and their external behavior. In Angulimala’s case, the Buddha had seen his hidden potential to win freedom, not only from his present low moral status and from rebirth in the lowest worlds of painful existence, but that Angulimala would also be able to gain the highest freedom from all suffering in this very life.

In Christianity, too, we find some instances of radical changes in the moral character of people: there is the “thief on the cross” at Golgatha who was promised by Jesus that he would be with him in paradise the next day; and the chief of a gang of robbers who was converted by Francis of Assisi and became a monk. Cases like these have always moved the hearts of the religious-minded and have raised the question how such changes could be possible. Angulimala’s story might give an answer to these questions.”

HELLMUTH HECKER, Angulimala: A Murderer’s Road to Sainthood, Preface, 2007)

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