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Buddha Threatened by Death – A Zen Buddhist Spiritual Story by Anthony de Mello

Buddha was once threatened with death by a bandit called Angulimal.

“Then be good enough to fulfill my dying wish,” said Buddha. “Cut off the branch of that tree.”

One slash of the sword, and it was done! “What now?” asked the bandit.

Put it back again,” said Buddha.

The bandit laughed. “You must be crazy to think anyone can do that.”

“On the contrary, it is you who are crazy to think that you are mighty because you can wound and destroy. That is the task of children. The mighty know how to create and heal.”

This is from The Heart of the Enlightened, a book of spiritual stories by Anthony de Mello.

What is the Spiritual Moral / Meaning of the “Buddha Threatened by Death” Story?

In the story of Buddha and Angulimal, we are reminded of the profound spiritual principle of nonviolence and compassion. Despite facing imminent danger, Buddha responds with grace and compassion, offering the bandit a chance to channel his aggression into a constructive act. This moral invites us to contemplate the transformative power of love and forgiveness, even in the face of hostility and aggression. By choosing compassion over retaliation, we awaken to the inherent divinity within ourselves and others, fostering healing and reconciliation in our relationships and the world.

Another spiritual moral of this story is the concept of resilience and inner strength. Despite the threat of violence, Buddha remains unwavering in his commitment to peace and nonviolence. His unwavering courage and steadfastness in the face of adversity inspire us to cultivate resilience and inner strength in our own lives. When confronted with challenges and obstacles, we can draw upon our inner reservoir of strength and resilience to navigate life's ups and downs with grace and equanimity.

The story also highlights the transformative power of wisdom and insight. Rather than responding to aggression with fear or anger, Buddha skillfully employs wisdom and insight to defuse the situation and impart a profound teaching. By inviting Angulimal to reflect on the futility of violence and the true nature of power, Buddha offers him an opportunity for self-reflection and inner transformation. This moral reminds us of the transformative potential inherent in wisdom and insight, guiding us towards greater understanding and enlightenment on our spiritual journey.

Furthermore, the story underscores the importance of humility and humility in spiritual growth. Despite his enlightened status, Buddha humbly demonstrates his teachings through simple yet profound actions. By requesting the seemingly impossible task of reattaching the tree branch, Buddha humbles Angulimal and invites him to recognize the limitations of his own ego and power. This moral invites us to cultivate humility and openness on our spiritual path, recognizing that true wisdom and power emerge from a place of humility and self-awareness.

Additionally, the story invites us to contemplate the concept of interconnectedness and oneness. In asking Angulimal to put back the branch he had cut, Buddha highlights the interconnectedness of all life and the inherent unity that binds us together. This moral challenges us to transcend the illusion of separation and recognize the fundamental interconnectedness of all beings. When we embrace the truth of our interconnectedness, we cultivate compassion, empathy, and a sense of shared humanity, fostering harmony and unity in our relationships and communities.

Moreover, the story emphasizes the importance of mindfulness and presence in our spiritual journey. In responding to Angulimal's aggression with calmness and presence, Buddha demonstrates the power of mindfulness to transform challenging situations and cultivate inner peace. This moral invites us to cultivate mindfulness and presence in our daily lives, allowing us to respond to life's challenges with clarity, equanimity, and compassion.

Furthermore, the story invites us to reflect on the concept of karma and the law of cause and effect. By offering Angulimal an opportunity for redemption and transformation, Buddha embodies the principle of karma, which teaches that our actions have consequences and shape our future experiences. This moral reminds us of the power of our choices and actions to create positive or negative karma, guiding us towards greater awareness and responsibility in our thoughts, words, and deeds.

Additionally, the story invites us to contemplate the nature of true power and strength. While Angulimal believes power lies in violence and destruction, Buddha reveals that true power arises from compassion, wisdom, and the ability to create and heal. This moral challenges us to reevaluate our notions of power and strength, recognizing that true greatness emerges from acts of kindness, generosity, and compassion towards ourselves and others.

Moreover, the story encourages us to cultivate a mindset of abundance and generosity. By inviting Angulimal to cut off the tree branch and then asking him to put it back, Buddha demonstrates the principle of abundance and generosity, which teaches that there is enough for everyone when we share and give freely. This moral invites us to cultivate a mindset of abundance and generosity in our own lives, recognizing that true wealth lies in giving and sharing with an open heart.

In conclusion, the story of Buddha and Angulimal offers profound spiritual teachings that resonate across cultures and traditions. Through its timeless wisdom, we are reminded of the transformative power of compassion, resilience, wisdom, humility, interconnectedness, mindfulness, karma, true power, and abundance. As we reflect on these spiritual morals, may we embody these teachings in our own lives, cultivating greater compassion, wisdom, and love towards ourselves and all beings.

Personal Reflection Questions

Spiritual stories are an opportunity to reflect on your own life. Here are 10 questions you can use to go deeper with the teachings in this story:

  1. Reflecting on the story, what does it teach us about the power of compassion in the face of adversity?
  2. How does the interaction between Buddha and the bandit challenge our understanding of strength and power?
  3. In what ways does the story illustrate the transformative potential of forgiveness and non-violence?
  4. Consider the significance of the bandit's response to Buddha's request. What does it reveal about his perception of strength?
  5. Reflect on the concept of true strength as depicted in the story. How does it differ from conventional notions of power?
  6. How can we apply the wisdom of this story to navigate conflicts and challenges in our own lives?
  7. Consider the role of wisdom in the story. How does Buddha's response reflect a deeper understanding of human nature and spirituality?
  8. Reflect on the contrast between destruction and creation presented in the story. How does it resonate with your own experiences and beliefs?
  9. How does the story invite us to reconsider our assumptions about the nature of greatness and nobility?
  10. Reflecting on the story's message, how can we cultivate a greater sense of compassion, forgiveness, and healing in our relationships and interactions with others?