Like the moon set free from a cloud

What’s going on in Ukraine today reminds me of the story of Angulimala, which I have used before to explore the power of non-violence to stop evil.  Angulimala was

brutal, bloody-handed, devoted to killing & slaying, showing no mercy to living beings. He turned villages into non-villages, towns into non-towns, settled countryside into unsettled countryside. Having repeatedly killed human beings, he wore a garland (mala) made of fingers (anguli).   

In the Angulimala sutta ,the Buddha is walking down the road towards Angulimala’s hangout. The villagers warn him not to go that way unless he takes a band of soldiers with him.  But the Buddha just keeps walking by himself.  Angulimala takes the Buddha’s solitary walk as a challenge, arms himself, and starts chasing after the Buddha.  For some reason Angulimala can never quite catch up to the Buddha, who continues to walk at a normal pace.  When Angulimala finally yells to the Buddha to stop, the Buddha replies that he has stopped.  When Angulimala accuses the Buddha of lying, he replies:

I’ve laid aside violence towards all creatures. But you can’t stop yourself from harming living creatures; that’s why I’ve stopped, but you have not.

Given the superstitions of its day, the sutta implies that the Buddha used supernatural methods.  It is just as easy to read the story as the Buddha’s distracting Angulimala; more than just distracting he made Angulimala question his whole mindset.

With that opening the Buddha was able to help a decent human being emerge.  Afterward King Pasenadi came with his army to hunt down and kill Angulimala.  When the Buddha introduced his new monk, the king was amazed to see how the terrorist had been transformed.

We could not tame him with force and weapons, yet the Blessed One has tamed him without force or weapons.

I don’t believe in miracles that will change the Angulimalas of this day and age.  But I do see some light in the news of anti-war demonstrations in Russia.  A glimmer that like Angulimala

Who once was heedless,
but later is not,
brightens the world
like the moon set free from a cloud.

His evil-done deed
is replaced with skillfulness:
he brightens the world
like the moon set free from a cloud.



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