May 20NextPrevious   

“The Sage and the Cobra”–Daily Metta

“The true meaning of non-resistance has often been misunderstood or even distorted. It never implies that a nonviolent man should bend before the violence of an aggressor.”

-–Gandhi (Harijan, 3-30-1947, p. 85-86)

Have you ever heard the story about the snake and the sage?

One day a wise, old sage was passing through a village and the village children crowded around him because they were terrified of a cobra that lived in the field where they played.  So the sage sought out the serpent and admonished him not to bite the children, gave him a mantram to repeat, and went on his way.

The snake was a very dedicated devotee, and the children of the village began to notice that the old, mean cobra was no longer vicious. But, they were still afraid of him. Taking advantage of the snake’s peaceful state, whenever they would see him, they would pick him up by the tail end, whirl him around and hit him down, hard, onto the ground.

Years later, the sage comes back through the village. “Where is my devotee?”  No one had seen the snake in a while. Many thought that he must be dead. The sage replied that the prospect of death was impossible, as he had given him a mantram that had to be fulfilled. So he went on a search to find him. When he did, he found a weak creature, barely alive, bruised and broken. The teacher was saddened by his poor state. “What happened?” he asked. “Teacher, I did as you told me and would not bite anyone in the village, but when they saw that I would no longer bite them, they swung me around and threw me to the ground.” “Fool!” The teacher replied, “I told you not to bite, but I never told you not to hiss!”

The moral of the story is that if our choice is to be beaten or to stand up for ourselves, nonviolence tells us that there are ways that we can stand up for ourselves without harming others in the process. We can hiss, when absolutely necessary. But like most teachings of nonviolence, we need to do so without fear or anger in our hearts, as well as address the issue of what made the hissing necessary in the first place.

Experiment in Nonviolence

Retell the story of the sage and the cobra and discuss it with someone new to nonviolence.

The Metta Center for Nonviolence, PO Box 98, Petaluma, California 94953 707-774-6299