Yatohaṁ, bhagini, ariyāya jātiyājāto,
nābhijānāmi sañcicca pāṇaṁ jīvitā voropetā;
tena saccena sotthi te hotu,
– Aṅgulimāla Paritta (Pāli)
According to the Aṅgulimāla Sutta, when Venerable Aṅgulimāla was going house to house for alms at Sāvatthī, he saw a woman suffering a breech birth, and gave rise to empathy with sentient beings’ tormenting pains. When he returned to Śākyamuni Buddha, he related what he saw. To that, the Buddha advised him to go to her to tell her the following – ‘Sister [in the Dharma], since I was born, I do not recall intentionally killing a living being. Through this truth may there be well-being for you, well-being for your fetus.’ As Aṅgulimāla was a notorious but now reformed serial killer, he replied that it would seem untrue, as he did intentionally kill many.
To clarify on what he really meant, the Buddha said he should say the following instead – ‘Sister, since I was born in the noble [Āryan] birth [by having become at least a stream-winner; who has realised some of the Dharma, and is bound for at least Arhathood; self-liberation], I do not recall intentionally killing a living being. Through this truth may there be well-being for you, well-being for your fetus.’ (The Pāli version of the Aṅgulimāla Paritta is in the opening quote.) Agreeing, Aṅgulimāla did as instructed, with which there was instantly well-being for both the mother and the child born with great ease. (Aṅgulimāla later became an Arhat.)
Thus did Aṅgulimāla express repentance for taking many lives, with remedial action by saving lives. This blessing is often chanted at house blessings in Theravāda countries and for expectant mothers, preceded by these lines – ‘Whosoever shall recite this Paritta [protection], the seat on which is sat, the water with which it is washed [which is thus consecrated] shall eliminate all labour pains [when contacted]. With ease shall there be delivery, that very moment it shall be done. This Paritta which the Lord Of The World [the Buddha] had given unto Aṅgulimāla is one of great majesty, which shall keep its efficacy for a whole eon [kalpa: world cycle]…’
As males in the past were customarily not allowed in the labour room, Aṅgulimāla was said to have sat behind a curtain, where he chanted the Paritta. This chanting practice is called the asseveration of truth, the proclamation of a truth based on virtues, which itself creates more meritorious virtues, for fulfilling the wish for an important validation or welfare at hand. Such is the power of great truths coupled with great virtues, that can manifest timely responses at will. As the Paritta is still effective today, Aṅgulimāla has to date saved many more lives that he had taken, and continue to do so with the power of his meritorious virtues.
Paritta practice works somewhat like Mahāyāna mantras, such as the Great Compassionate Mantra (大悲咒), able to tap into a higher pool of merits for direct dedication, and to consecrate convenient carriers of blessings like water. It is also somewhat like the practice of generating self-power to connect to a greater other-power, such as Āmítuófó (阿弥陀佛; Amitābha Buddha) or Guānshìyīn Púsà (观世音菩萨; Guānyīn Bodhisattva) for blessings by sincere mindfulness of their names, to alleviate danger and to seek birth in Āmítuófó’s Pure Land. Since death is inevitable for most, this equally time-tested practice of mindfulness of Buddha (Niànfó; 念佛) for the safest and best rebirth destined for Buddhahood is truly invaluable. With timeless efficacy, Āmítuófó, being a Buddha, has immeasurable merits that last for immeasurable kalpas, that can alleviate immeasurable beings’ immeasurable suffering!
The power of truth
is complete for those
who have realised
all truths completely.
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