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When Will You Stop?

November 18, 2015

Thinking about the horrible recent tragedies in Paris and Beirut I have been made painfully aware of how important it is to understand the meaning behind the terms friend and enemy.

There is a story from the life of Buddha about a mass murder called Angulimala. He had killed nearly 1000 people and wore a necklace of the thumbs of his victims. At one time Buddha was passing through a small village and found the streets deserted, all the citizens were hiding behind locked doors in their homes. Some people seeing Buddha called to him to come inside and hide because this maniac had been sighted and was sure to attack at any moment. They were greatly afraid for themselves and Buddha. But the Buddha gently declined their entreaties and continued to walk peacefully through the village.


Medicine Buddha is said to be especially powerful in bestowing peace during these times.

As he walked a wild angry voice cried out from behind, “Stop Monk”, but the Buddha continued his pace undisturbed. Again the voice cried out with great menace, “Monk, STOP!. I TOLD YOU TO STOP” But the Buddha still continued to walk at peace. Finally the person ran ahead of Buddha, wild and ferocious, a necklace of thumbs, armed with axes and swords. He stood before the Buddha vibrating malevolence.


But to his surprise the Buddha returned his ferocious words and bloody appearance with a gentle gaze filled with an overwhelming compassion. Angulimala was completely taken aback because he was used only to people regarding him with fear, terror and hatred.

“I did stop Angulimala” said the Buddha

The effect of this monk was like a thunderbolt, Angulimala found himself experiencing deep inner confusion, not only was the Monk not afraid but he also knew who he was.

“You didn’t stop – I had to chase you” he replied

“I stopped a long time ago. I stopped hatred, grasping and ignorance. When will you stop?”

With these words Angulimala felt the exhaustion of a life spent with no peace or choice, propelled by confusion and hatred and craving constantly to commit horror after horror. Held in the gaze of Buddha’s compassion he realised it was impossible to harm a person who loved him far more than he loved himself.  The Buddha’s gaze of love was like a mirror showing him the futility and pain of the life he was leading. Falling to his knees and dropping his weapons he asked the Buddha to help him find the path of peace.

And in fact Buddha did, despite the demands of some ruling Kings who wanted to see Angulimala imprisoned or killed the Buddha refused to hand him over but instead ordained him as a monk, promising to take full responsibility for Agulimala’s actions. In later years this same person become famous for his gentleness and great ability to show others how to overcome their inner demons to discover peace and freedom.

My question is what is it that gave the Buddha this power to transform Angulimala and what was it that drove Angulimala to his previous heinous actions?

In his life and teachings Buddha showed that there is not an atom in the universe that does not arise or appear in dependence on something else. In fact if we search for anything we will never find it, only its causes, and in turn their causes. To see this interdependence of all things is called wisdom. To grasp at things otherwise is called ignorance.

Our normal feeling is that friends and enemies are out there to be discovered. But the reality is that each person appears differently to whoever meets or thinks of them. One thing the story of Angulimala illustrates is that the way we see the world changes it. Because Buddha had an exceptionally kind mind, the dependent relationship appearing an evil terrifying person was replaced with a different possibility; his view profoundly changed the way Anguilimala appeared, not only to him, but to others and most importantly to Angulimala himself.

My wife is a school teacher and she often tells me that one of the most powerful ways to transform a failing pupil is to show them you have faith and belief in them. I have also experienced many times that by training to see the good in people, their behaviour changes. For me, one of the most important applications of Buddha’s teachings is that we are not passive witnesses to the acts of others, but that our own mind and views create the reality of the world we experience.

My response to the terrorist attacks is to accept the responsibility I have for what has happened and to train my mind in understanding, which leads to love which leads to wisdom, and to train in love, which leads to understanding, which leads to wisdom.

The truth about terror is that it is an experience in each persons mind. If we train in love, our concern for others, even those committing horrific acts will destroy our ability to experience terror and replace it with compassion. If there is no terror in the mind, there is no terrorist and there is no terrorism. As Geshe Kelsang says

“Love is the real nuclear bomb that destroys all enemies”

The meaning of this advice is extremely profound and practical. I hope through this short article I have been able to share a small sense of this and given a little inspiration to pursue the path of inner transformation through practice Buddha’s advice as the only permanent solution to the worlds problems. Anyone who is interested in doing this can begin by downloading the free copy of Modern Buddhism from this site, or reading Universal Compassion or Eight Steps To Happiness – both are excellent guides.

Finally I dedicate any benefit from this article to the lasting peace of all living beings and particularly to all victims of terror. May they quickly be released from all suffering.

From → Current Events

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