Among the Buddha’s teachings is a famous story about killing and stopping killing. At the time of the Buddha, a fierce murderer was on the loose. It was said that he took a finger from each person he had murdered and wore a necklace made out of them. (“Angulimala” means “finger necklace”). The Buddha understood that this person could be taught a different path, and so he arranged an encounter with Angulimala by simply walking nearby. Angulimala saw the Buddha and gave chase, thinking this would be his next victim.
Then the Blessed One [the Buddha] willed a feat of psychic power such that Angulimala, though running with all his might, could not catch up with the Blessed One walking at normal pace. Then the thought occurred to Angulimala: “Isn’t it amazing! Isn’t it astounding! In the past I’ve chased and seized even a swift-running elephant, a swift-running horse, a swift-running chariot, a swift-running deer. But now, even though I’m running with all my might, I can’t catch up with this contemplative walking at normal pace.” So he stopped and called out to the Blessed One, “Stop, contemplative! Stop!”
“I have stopped, Angulimala. You stop.”
[Angulimala was really puzzled by this response. So he questioned the Buddha – what did he mean?]
“I have stopped, Angulimala,
once and for all,
having cast off violence
toward all living beings.
are unrestrained toward beings.
That’s how I’ve stopped
and you haven’t.” (end quote)
(from MN86, tr. Thanissaro Bhikkhu)
As with many of the stories in the discourses of the Buddha, Angulimala had a spiritual breakthrough at that moment. He saw his actions and their consequences and immediately regretted them. He resolved to not only stop killing, but asked to become a monk under the Buddha’s guidance and protection. And so it was. He even became the monk foremost in compassion for expectant and new mothers.
What can we take from this story? Even people who seem to be all bad have some good in them. Even if we’ve messed up a thousand times, it’s never too late to turn in the right direction. What else?