The holy man and the venomous snake

Shuvomoy Das Gupta

December 21, 2020

When I was a kid, my grandmother used to tell me the following story from The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. The story teaches us that sometimes we must confront wickedness and injustice for protecting ourselves and our loved ones, but we need to do it in non-violent way: with a cool head and without getting angry.

There was a large venomous snake in a field. No one dared to go that way. One day, a holy man passed by that road and the serpent ran after the sage to bite him. But when the snake approached the holy man, he lost all his ferocity and was overpowered by the gentleness of the yogi.

Seeing him, the sage said: "Well, my friend, why do you want to bite me?" The snake was abashed and made no reply.

At this, the sage continued: "Listen my friend; do not injure anyone in future."

The snake bowed and nodded in agreement. The sage went his way, and the snake entered his hole and thenceforward began to live a life of innocence, without attempting to harm anyone.

In a few days, all the neighborhood concluded that the snake had lost his venom and was no longer dangerous; so everyone began to tease him. They pelted him with stones or dragged him mercilessly by the tail, and there was no end to his troubles.

Fortunately, the sage again passed that way, and seeing the bruised and battered condition of the snake, was very much moved and inquired the cause.

"Holy Sir," the snake replied, "this is because I do not injure anyone after your advice. But alas! They are so merciless!"

The sage smilingly said: "My friend, I simply advised you not to bite anyone; but I did not tell you not to frighten others. Although you should not bite any living creature, still you should keep people at a distance by hissing at them."

And, then Sri Ramakrishna added: "There is no harm in "hissing" at wicked men and at your enemies, showing that you can protect yourself and know how to resist evil. Only you must be careful not to pour your venom into the blood of your enemy. Do not resist evil by causing evil in return."