Angulimāla was bent on completing his garland of a thousand fingers. With only one finger left to go, he waited for his next victim. It was around this time that Angulimāla’s mother set out to find him. She suspected that the murderer who wore a finger garland was her son. Out of her deep motherly compassion she wanted to protect him from the threat of capture and death by the army even if it meant he might kill her!
Angulimāla saw her coming down the path. He was so bent on acquiring his last finger that he did not think twice about pursuing his mother. But matricide is one of the five heinous offenses that produce, irreversibly, an immediate rebirth in hell. Angulimāla’s desire to complete his task was putting him dangerously close to this most horrible of kammic effects.
At this time the Buddha was surveying the world with great compassion. He saw the danger awaiting Angulimāla. He saw that Angulimāla’s mother was about to be killed by her son. Without hesitation, the Buddha walked the thirty miles to help Angulimāla and his mother.
Upon seeing the Buddha, Angulimāla decided to pursue him instead of his mother. He thought to himself, “Why should I kill my mother for the sake of a finger when there is someone else? Let her live. I will kill the recluse and cut off his finger.”
Angulimāla followed the Buddha closely. But no matter how fast he walked, he could not catch up with the Buddha, who was walking at a normal pace. If he sped up and walked as fast as he could, the Buddha remained in front of him, still walking at a normal pace. Angulimāla shouted out, “Stop, recluse! Stop, recluse!”
“I have stopped, Angulimāla. You stop, too,” said the Buddha.
Angulimāla could not understand. The recluses speak truth, yet this one who walks and moves says that he has stopped. And though Angulimāla had stopped moving, this one still tells him to stop. He decided to question the recluse about this.
In response, the Buddha recited this verse: “Angulimāla, I have stopped forever, // I abstain from violence towards living beings; // But you have no restraint towards things that breathe: // So that is why I have stopped and you have not.”
Hearing these words and recognizing the Buddha’s great compassion for him, Angulimāla underwent a great transformation. He turned from his evil ways on the spot, worshipped the feet of the Blessed One, and asked for the going forth. It was not long before Angulimāla, through practice and strict observance of the Dhamma, became one of the arahants.
(Note: This story about Angulimāla and the Buddha can be found in Great Disciples of the Buddha: Their Lives, Their Works, Their Legacy, pp. 322 – 25.)