Killer Country

“Some people call me an idiot, but I know who I am. I am The Killer.”
– Jerry Lee Lewis

Last weekend I watched all six episodes of The Jinx, HBO’s documentary on millionaire real estate heir Robert Durst. No doubt, you’ve heard about this guy in recent days. He is a suspect in the 1982 disappearance of his wife, Kathleen; in 2003, he was acquitted of murder charges in Texas, despite that he admitted dismembering the victim; and Saturday in New Orleans he was arrested in connection with the 2000 execution-style murder of his friend Susan Berman here in Los Angeles. It’s an engrossing story, and in a warped sort of way, Durst is a highly interesting person.

What is it about killers that fascinates us so? Macbeth, Jack the Ripper, Lizzie Borden, Charles Manson, Hannibal Lecter, and my all-time favorite, Dexter Morgan – fictional or real, we love ‘em. Can’t get enough of their stories. Perhaps it is because they commit the foulest of all deeds, the taking of life. Whatever it may be, I am not going to try to analyze it here. Instead, I would like to recount for you briefly the story of the Buddha and a murderer named Angulimala.

The story of Angulimala (“finger garland,” or “necklace of fingers”) comes from the early sutras. Angulimala’s father was the Brahmin minister to the king of Kosala. The story goes that when Angulimala was born, a “constellation of thieves” appeared in the sky, prophesying he would become a robber.  And as it often happens in tales like this, the prophesy was fulfilled, in a manner of speaking.

Angulimala was sent to study in Taxila, in present day Pakistan, where one of the earliest universities in the world existed. He became the student of a Brahmin teacher and he excelled at his studies. Other students resented Angulimala’s brilliance and they made up stories that caused the teacher to believe Angulimala was evil. The teacher demanded that Angulimala provide him with a gift before he would be allowed to “graduate.” The gift the teacher requested was 1,000 fingers, each taken from a different victim. The teacher figured that that Angulimala would get himself killed during the course of collecting the fingers and thus he would be rid of this evil student.

Evidently, Angulimala had no problem accepting this grisly assignment. He became a highwayman, hiding in the forest and robbing travelers of their fingers. Unfortunately, the travelers died as a result of these holdups.

The people in the area asked the king of Kosala to capture Angulimala. Angulimala’s mother went out to find him and warn him that the king had vowed to hunt him down. The Buddha set out to find Angulimala, too. Buddha had divined that Angulimala had collected 999 fingers and needed only one more.

angulimala-buddhaWhen Angulimala saw the Buddha enter the forest, he rushed out to murder him and take his 1000th finger. He took out his sword, raised it and chased after the Buddha but could not catch him even though the Buddha was walking at a slow pace. Eventually, Angulimala became wore out and shouted for the Buddha to stop. Buddha turned and calmly said, “Angulimala, I have stopped for all time, forsaking violence; but you have not stopped, you have no restraint towards living beings; that is why I have stopped and you have not.” So moved was Angulimala by the words the Buddha spoke to him that he immediately renounced his murderous ways and became a bhikkhu.

The story is about the transformative power of compassion as well as the redemptive power of the Buddha’s teachings. Transformation is always possible. Any person, regardless of how many negative acts they have committed, can change and live a more positive life. Compassion is more powerful than punishment. Angulimala could have been captured, imprisoned or executed. Instead, he changed and thus was able to benefit far more beings than those he previously harmed. If you accept the doctrine of karma, there is also the notion that he was able to change his karma and improve his circumstance in future lives, so he would not come back to kill again.

Most importantly, we should always remember that every life matters. There is an old Buddhist saying that even a murderer loves his mother, meaning that every person, no matter how wretched and depraved, has some good in him or her somewhere. Even Charles Manson is entitled to the basic dignity of life.

It’s a safe bet that most people who know Robert Durst or know about him believe he is guilty of at least three murders. Whether he is or not, it doesn’t alter the fact that even Robert Durst has a Buddha-nature.

Share

3 Comments for “Killer Country”

red

says:

Awesome story. If I may, let me add the remaining story, what happens after he became bhikku, I believe it has some core points about the main teaching/message (“karma”) of this story.

Later, Angulimala came across a young woman undergoing a difficult labor. He went to the Buddha and asked him what he could do to ease her pain. The Buddha told Angulimala to go to the woman and say:

‘Sister, since I was born I do not recall intentionally killing a living being. Through this truth may there be wellbeing for you, wellbeing for your fetus.’

Angulimala pointed out that it would be untrue for him to say this. The Buddha offered this revised stanza:

‘Sister, since I was born with the noble birth (became a monk), I do not recall intentionally killing a living being. Through this truth may there be wellbeing for you, wellbeing for your fetus.’ The Buddha was making a word-play here on the word “born” to support Angulimala, who was suffering from severe remorse which was badly obstructing his meditation, of his renewed commitment to harmlessness since becoming a monk

Born anew. Shows karma is not just fate, but in one’s control as well.

Another incident after he became bhikku:

a resentful few could not forget that he was responsible for the deaths of their loved ones. Unable to win revenge through the law, they took matters into their own hands. With sticks and stones, they attacked him as he walked for alms.

With a bleeding head, torn outer robe and a broken alms bowl, Angulimala managed to return to the monastery. The Buddha encouraged Angulimala to bear his torment with equanimity; he indicated that Angulimala was experiencing the fruits of the karma that would otherwise have condemned him to hell. This illustrates the Buddhist belief that while the effects of karma are inescapable, the form that they take and the schedule on which they occur can be modified by later actions

I take this as call for enduring one’s suffering and never drift away from doing good karma (“dharma”).

David

says:

Thanks for sharing that. There is indeed more to the story of Angulimala than what I presented in this post.

red

says:

Indeed. There is lot of wisdom in the very first interaction as well, between buddha and angulimala, where buddha says ““Angulimala, I have stopped for all time, forsaking violence; but you have not stopped, you have no restraint”. Buddha is referring to the karmic inertia/force.

Being a well studied, Taxila grad, he could immediately see the way (dharma), and instantly snap out of his ways and become monk.

But the nature of one’s karma (aka “behavioral inertia”) is such that its always not that easy or simple.

I believe this story also touches on (continuous) reincarnation of one’s being (possibly in the same physical life) and its relation to karma.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *