Monday, June 10, 2013

You Can Give A Little Hiss



The story goes that once a cobra was so impressed by the gentleness of a monk who lived in a forest hermitage nearby that he asked to become his disciple. The monk agreed and knowing that snakes can be quick-tempered thought it appropriate to teach him metta meditation. The cobra proved to be a good student, meditating regularly and becoming more good-natured as a result. One day while basking in the sun he noticed a woman nearby collecting  sticks  for the household fire. Rather than slither away or stand erect with his hood open so as to scare her, as had been his habit, he decided to remain where he was and radiate metta to the woman. She got closer and closer until she had collect enough sticks and then began looking around for something to tie them up with. Seeing the cobra and  mistaking him  for a piece of vine she picked him up by the tail, gave him a violent  flick,  wrapped him several times around the sticks, pulled him tight and then tied him in a knot. Then she put the bundle on her head and walked home. When she got there she untied the ‘vine’ and threw it away. Battered, bent and wincing with pain the poor cobra made his way back to the hermitage and told the  monk  what had happened. “You tell me to cultivate metta and this is what I get for it” he complained mournfully. The monk replied:  “Just because you have metta doesn’t mean you can’t sometimes hiss.”

16 comments:

Shakya Indrajala said...

What a lovely story. This got me chuckling. Thanks for sharing!

Chee Tsing said...

Can somebody enlighten me more about the meaning of the story as I am not able to grasp the meaning of the story. Thank you.

thanavuddho bhikkhu said...

Chee Tsing,

I think it means that you can defend yourself and that does not necessarily cancel your metta.

yuri said...

The story is all about shortsightedness - myopia! The woman should buy a pair of specs. And hissing is not the right speech! :)

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Chee Tsing, Thanavuddho is correct. Just because you are kind, respectful and loving does not mean you cannot be firm with people, stand up for yourself or for others, defend yourself, perhaps even put your foot down.

Russell said...

I have a question: Has anyone found a Metta based Tantra in Theravada?

yuri said...

To Shravasti Dhammika: Buddha gives an example of Metta, when a mother is ready to sacrifice her life to save her child. Metta is the way of relinquishing the idea of self through being kindhearted as well as helping and defending others. The snake in the story complains about how difficult ITS life has become because of following metta. It overlooked the fact that the purpose of Metta, of Compassion is to undermine the power of self. The Teacher's advice is OK - to hiss or slither away to avoid such incidents. But the story can also be seen as a test of the Snake's metta, which it ultimately failed though it did not harm the half-blind woman. Anyway, as a joke it is OK. But hardly worth philosophising about.

j d said...

Yuri, This a a great story. A very similar story was told by Ramakrishna so whether it has a Hindu or Buddhist background is immaterial. I guess it can mean you don't have be a total doormat and inside you can have wisdom but outside still look or sound a little gruff.

yuri said...

Dear JD, if someone thinks humility and humbleness means to be like a doormat, he might still be possessed by "pride that dines on vanity sups on contempt". Buddha Dhamma is not about protecting one's pride but about leaving it behind. And the Snake in the story suffers not only from physical pain but also from some mental anguish.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Russell, thanks for your inquiry. As a great deal of religious, magical, ritualistic and even sexual practices are can be included under the term ‘tantra’ and as there are both Hindu and Buddhist types, often overlapping, it is difficult to answer your question. However, I can say this – I know of no Theravadin practices, in either ‘official’ Theravada or its ‘popular’ manifestations that resembles what are usually identified as tantric.
Concerning my snake story I say this. A common misunderstanding some have about metta and the practice of Metta Meditation is the impression that a loving person has to accept every situation smilingly, never raise their voice, never put their foot down, never stand up to anybody or for anybody. A person with metta cannot countenance cruelty or rank injustice, either to them self or when they see it being inflicted on others. Averting one’s eyes in such circumstances, pretending not to see or saying “It’s none of my business” is not metta. Such responses show a deficit of metta. What one does in such situations will differ according to the individual’s powers and abilities and to the circumstances. However it is possible to express disapproval of someone, to correct them, disagree with them or reprimand them, without rancour or rudeness. It is possible to point out someone’s mistakes without spite or feeling superior. It is possible to distance ourselves from someone because of their repeated offensiveness while always being ready to reconnect with them again should they change. Once the Buddha was accosted by an extremely belligerent Brahman furious that a member of his clan had become a Buddhist monk. After the Brahman had finished his tirade, the Buddha said to him: “Do you receive visits from friends and acquaintances, kith and kin or other guests?” “What if I do?” snapped the Brahman. “Do you prepare food both hard and soft for them and give them rest?” “I do.” “And if they do not accept the things you give them, whose do they become?” “They become mine.” Then the Buddha said: “Well it is the same here. Those words with which you revile, scold and abuse me, who neither reviles, scolds or abuses you, I do not accept. So they are yours, Brahman. You can keep them.” Then he turned and walked away. It is not certain why this angry man would enter into even this short dialogue with the Buddha, but clearly the Buddha did not meekly accept his abuse. He calmly but firmly told him that he considered his rude language to be unacceptable.

Russell said...

Ven Dhammika
The Tantra I was enquiring about is one with Metta as its basis. Uses Dhammic Sex in its rituals and promotes fitness and diet as part of its core teachings.

A Tantra that uses Metta to instil a desire to take care of ourselves properly. A Tantra that teaches that the popular approach to the 3rd Training of using it as a Commandment to promote a monogamy that simply is not supported by the Sutta's is wrong.

This would be the Tantra I am asking about

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Russell, thanks for the clarification. After reading it I revisited Davidson’s ‘Indian Esoteric Buddhism: A Social History of the Tantric Movement’, his ‘Tibetan Renaissance: Tantric Buddhism in the Rebirth of Tibetan Culture’ and also Snellgrove’s ‘Indo-Tibetan Buddhism’, and I have to confess that I could find nothing that approximates your description of tantra. Could I be right in saying that your tantra owes more to 20th century California than it does to the Buddhist tradition?
I read your blog post ‘Tantric Training’ and I agree with you that the Buddha’s main teaching as far as sex is concerned was that there be mutual agreement and informed decision-making. However, I think it is only honest to point out that beyond that the Buddha thought of sexual desire as being a major, perhaps even the major, hindrance to spiritual evolution. As you so colorfully put it “wanking, dogging, anal, oral, threesums (sic), orgies, BDSM, and being a Furry, and Cross Dressing, aren’t going to get you a one way trip to Hell”. True, but they are very likely get you a first class seat in sensual pre-occupation, obsessive fantasizing, frustrated longing, and perhaps even seeing others only as objects of personal gratification. Of course, the Buddha may have been wrong about this. But let’s not attribute to him things he did not teach.
I agree with you completely that the “dried up husks” approach to the Dhamma is enough to turn anyone off, but I also think that its exact opposite has very little worthwhile to offer either. Anyway, I hope you find the path that suits your needs. My new book, ‘Like Milk and Water Mixed: Buddhist Reflections on Love’ is due out in a few months. If you give me your postal address I’d be happy to send you a copy.

Russell said...

Ven. Dhammika
By all means please do and I will reciprocate. Just please supply an e-mail address.

This Metta Tantra owes almost nothing to modern California and much, much more to a Metta practice essentially dead ending whilst using the approaches taught at the moment.

Metta as taught at the moment stops in the head. We must remember that Brahmavamso Bhikkhu now has full blown Type 2 Diabetes due in part to Traditional Theravada ignoring the body. When you read my book, you will see there is a strong caveat against sexual addiction and obsession. Neither of which is Metta and a strong emphasis on exercise, diet and weight loss which is having Metta towards ourselves.

With a very strong emphasis on cultivating the beautiful, which as you have quite rightly pointed out in previous posts in this blog, Theravada has an aversion to.

How can we claim to practice Metta when with no emphasis on proper eating and exercise we are, in an age of obesity, killing the very first person we are taught to have Metta for?

The Metta taught in this Tantra has taken me from 115 kg to 97 kg in less than 2 years. I now quite literally swim in the clothes I wore when we met at the BSV about 10 years ago. Remember I am the one who gave you a lift from the BSV to Peter Alexanders house?

yuri said...

Dear Shravasti Dhammika, the story you supplied originally can be interpreted differently - but I do not think that it is about retaliating vicious attacks as your reference to the later quoted story suggests. These two stories are about different situations and different problems. The half-blind lady did not viciously attack the snake - she simply took it for a piece of a rope. As far as the second story is concerned, your interpretation of it again could be a bit narrow - you want to see in it justification of being firm in protecting one's self-esteem. I believe Buddha's intention was different - he simply wanted to impress on the brahmin that showering abuses is not the way to discuss things. And used a simile that the brahmin could understand. And I do not think the moment Buddha said that, he proudly left the brahmin to lick the wounded pride. I am sure he would have given the brahmin some time to reconsider his behaviour. That would be in line with his instruction to his disciples how to react to abusive criticism. Metta is the way to realising anatta! Pride, self-esteem - they are obstacles. Attachment to them may lead us astray. As Buddha said - freedom from "I" is even more blissful than freedom from desires.

lionhjerte said...

great story!

Vinnie Tan said...

It is a very sweet story of how the snake has put down himself to serve others. It is a great example to show us how to put others before ourselves.

Just look at how this incredible 8 year old young lady does it. http://blog.tsemtulku.com/tsem-tulku-rinpoche/current-affairs/an-8-year-old-buddhist-in-action.html