The story of the mass-murderer Angulimala, whose name means "necklace of fingers" in Pali, the language of the original Buddhist text, is a parable from the Theravada tradition but is popular in all schools of Buddhism. It demonstrates how even people born with a heavy burden of bad karma can, by following the Buddhist path, purify themselves and become enlightened.

Bhaggava Gagga and his wife, Mantani, gave birth to a son. The father cast the baby's horoscope and discovered that he was born under the 'robber constellation.' This indicated that the boy would have a tendency to commit robbery.

The father was an adviser to King Pasenadi of the Kosala kingdom. On the night that the baby was born, the king noticed that his sword began to sparkle. This worried him, so he asked Bhaggava Gagga what it meant. The father replied: "Do not have any fear, oh King! The same thing happened throughout the city. My wife gave birth to a son and, unfortunately, his horoscope showed the 'robber constellation.' This must have caused your weapons to sparkle." The king asked, "Will he rob alone or will the be the chief of a gang?" The father replied, "He will do it alone, your Majesty. What if we were to kill him now to prevent his future evil deeds?" The King said, "As he will be a lone robber, perhaps if we give him a good education he will lose his tendency to become a robber and will get a good job."

The boy was named "Ahimsaka," which means "harmless." The parents brought him up well and gave him lots of love and encouragement. The boy was very well behaved and was studious and intelligent. Eventually, he graduated to the University at Taxila, the ancient and famous university in India. He studied hard with his professor and gained higher marks than his fellow students. He served his teacher faithfully and humbly and was often invited to have dinner with his teacher's family. The other students became very jealous of him and decided to plot against him. They thought that the teacher might not believe them if they were to go to the teacher together and tell lies about Ahimsaka. They decided to form three groups, and each group would tell the teacher stories about Ahimsaka.

The first group went to the teacher and said, "Respected Teacher, we hear stories that Ahimsaka is planning to make trouble for you." "Get away with you, you evil students. You are just trying to make trouble between me and my dear student, Ahimsaka."

The next group came to the teacher and said, "Ahimsaka is planning to kill you, Sir." "Go away, you naughty students. Stop trying to make trouble. Ahimsaka is my best student. You should try to be like him and study hard."

The third group of students approached the teacher and said, "We have heard that Ahimsaka wants to take your job as professor at this university. He says that you are too old and you should have retired years ago." The teacher began to think that maybe the students may be telling the truth and the only way that he could feel safe in his job was to get rid of Ahimsaka.

He called Ahimsaka to him and said, "Ahimsaka, you have now completed your studies with me and it is time for you to graduate. It is the duty of every student to give a gift of appreciation to their teacher at this time. Please give me your gift."

"What gift would you like? I will give you whatever you ask."

"You must bring me a thousand little fingers from the right hands of people. This will be your token of gratitude for all I have taught you."

The teacher thought that, in obtaining his gift, Ahimsaka would be killed or that the king's soldiers would catch him and put him to death. Ahimsaka replied, "How can I bring you such a gift? My family has never engaged in violence. We are harmless people and we respect all life."

"Well," replied his professor, "if your learning does not receive its proper reward, then it will not be of any use to you. You will not get your certificate."

Ahimsaka left his teacher to fulfill his request. He could have gone to a cemetery and collected fingers from dead bodies, but he didn't think of that. Instead, he collected swords and knives and went into the Jalini forest to wait for his victims. He lived on a high cliff where he could observe the road below. Whenever he saw anybody on the road, he would hurry down, kill them and cut off one finger. He threaded the finger bones into a necklace and wore it around his neck. He was given the nick-name "Angulimala"--"he with the finger garland.