In the famous story Angulimala, the dreaded murderer, when he sees a very serene-looking sage walking toward his jungle hideout, yells: “Stop! You look like a good person. Don't come here to be killed.”
The Buddha replies: “I have stopped long back. Have you?”
That starts the saintly transformation of the startled Angulimala who had murdered 999 people and was waiting for one last person to complete his vow of killing 1,000.
The power of stopping is amazing. But we can’t do it because we don’t know how. All our life, we have known only to run. If you cannot run, then walk or at least crawl. But keep going. You need to own more land. You need to add more stories to your house. You need to sign a few more business deals. You need to have more of the feel-good time with your lover. You need to gulp down one more mouthful of your favorite wine. You need to watch one more match of your favorite football team.
Like a hungry ghost or a preta as it is called in Buddhism, the wanting for more never ends. The striving and searching never end. We are never satisfied, and we run for more. The more we get, the more we ‘need’. But for what?
We all want happiness in life. We want to live with ease, with a sense of pleasure and peace. And we think it all depends on things out there. A better situation, relationship, career, business, food, car and so on ‘need to be achieved’ for us to be happy.
Get it from out there and I will be happy—that’s the common approach. A space scientist would say: If only it goes well and my satellite brings back a few more pebbles from Mars, it would be so wonderful! And perhaps every night he sleeps on pills. When a one-billionaire takes his assets to two billions, it looks hollower. So he wants to fill that void with another billion, to be disappointed again.
When Angulimala was out there killing people and collecting their fingers to add to his garland (hence the name Angulimala, or finger garland), he had a similar want. He wanted to have a better life. The story says he was misguided by his previous teacher into killing people. But ultimately it was his own desire to attain something extraordinary that led him on the gruesome path. He too was looking for happiness out there. And he was on a mad race to get it.
In our life when we are all running after something or the other in want of happiness, if sometime, by any chance, just a question occurs to us: Is it really out there? Is it really worth it? Then stopping could happen. And there could be a change in course.