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From bad to good

india Updated: Dec 13, 2012 23:45 IST

Human transformation does not mean that a person suddenly takes to the intellectual acceptance of a set of beliefs. This sudden transformation of human beings occurs when a person deeply sees the state of life and decides to do something about it.

As the legend goes, after the war was over, Emperor Ashoka ventured out to roam the city and all he could see were burnt houses and scattered corpses. This sight made him sick and he cried the famous monologue: "What have I done? If this is a victory, what's a defeat then?" He transformed himself and became a monk.

History is replete with such instances of total human metamorphosis. One such is the story of transformation of a bandit known as Angulimala. The Buddha had set out to meet Angulimala. He ordered the Buddha to stop. The Buddha said: 'Angulimala, I have stopped. Now it is your turn to stop harming living beings.' The words pierced his defenses. After hearing this, Angulimala changed his ways and joined the Buddhist order and became a monk.

An enlightened person is not free from conditioning. Angulimala must have continued to feel impulses to harm for many months and years after his encounter with the Buddha. He had seen that immediately after such an arising, there is a gap.

There is a point where we have to decide to act or not act on the impulse that has arisen. This gap is the chink through which new light may shine. The harm we do flows from our conditioning. We get carried away. Going along in our not seeing way, acting like computers, we think we have to do the things we do, even when we know perfectly well that they are harmful. Out of fear and craving, we build an identity for ourselves. What is necessary is to stop acting like computers and see what we are doing; and everything can change.