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Angulimala

As you may know, Angulimala is the name of a character from a Buddhist Sutra. Angulimala is described as a robber and murderer well known for stringing the fingers of his many victims into a garland which he wore around his neck. He chased after the Buddha one day but could not catch him. …..”even though he saw that the Lord was walking with his usual gait”. At one stage, the robber stood still and shouted at the Lord: “Halt.” The Lord coolly responded: “I am still; be thou still, too.” The story continues with other insights until Angulimala, now a disciple of the Buddha, attains liberation.

It is because of this inspiring story that the Buddhist Prison Chaplaincy Organisation in Britain has adopted the name and is usually known as Angulimala. This organisation is recognised by the Home Office as the official representative of Buddhism in all matters concerning the prison service. Angulimala does not favour any one form of Buddhism over another and has the backing of most major Buddhist organisations in the UK. The Venerable Khemadhammo Mahathera, who lives at the Forest Hermitage near Warwick, is the spiritual director and has provided much of the energy for this organisation since its founding in 1985.

I have found that Angulimala can help followers of the Buddha outside prison as well as inside. I worked for Angulimala as a visiting prison chaplain for nine years now and have no doubt that it is the motivation and discipline provided by this post that has helped me along the Path.

Like many people I dabbled in Buddhism for some years, always a bit too critical and wary of getting caught up in an “ism”, emotionally driven to seek a Way, but captured by Krishnamurti’s words on the ‘wayless way’.

Engaged Buddhism has been my salvation and I found that in Angulimala. Perhaps because of my felt responsibilities to prison inmates and the emotional experiences, I have often tried that little bit harder. Also, I have had many intellectual discussions with inmates that have stimulated and fired me with enthusiasm. There is an enormous variety of characters in prison and some of the lifers, in particular, who only have Dharma to hang on to in desperation, are driven to great intensities in their investigation.

In some small way prison is similar to the monastic environment, but there is also very, very much anger and delusion which is struggled against; so often a visit produces much emotion of sorrow, but I hope that it is generally connected to some compassion, that ‘out of this world’ driving force for the Path. Other visits are cheerful get togethers with enthusiastic inmates, but it all helps my practice.

Dick Allen
(Adapted from an article Dick wrote for the CoI in the mid 1990s when he was still an active chaplain.)