THE SNAKE AND THE SAINT
A Teaching Story
Deterrence - The prevention from action by fear of the consequences. Deterrence is the act or process of discouraging actions or preventing occurrences by instilling fear or doubt or anxiety. Deterrence is a state of mind brought about by the existence of a credible threat of unacceptable counteraction.
Whenever I am asked to explain the concept of deterrence, I narrate one of my favorite stories from the parables of Sri Ramakrishna called The Snake and The Saint:
A group of persons from a village went to a holy man, a Saint, who was meditating in a cave in the mountains. They were very scared and complained to the Saint about large venomous snake who was terrorizing everyone in the village.
“This terrible serpent’s hiss can be heard for miles around,” they said. “He mercilessly bites everyone – the snake does not spare anyone and attacks even our wives, our children, our cattle, our dogs, everyone. Even the bravest among us have become afraid to venture out into the fields, which are dry, parched, uncultivated. Our granaries are depleted and empty. Our numbers are dwindling from death by the snake, and by starvation. Please help us. You are a great Guru and you alone can subdue and vanquish him.”
The Saint, realizing the gravity of the situation, went to the village, to where the snake lived, and as he approached, the terrible venomous snake moved swiftly toward him with upraised hood. The terrified villagers ran away, leaving the Saint to deal with the snake.
The Saint looked at snake, slithering and undulating, his scales shimmering in the sunlight, dark and shining in his majesty, awesome in his length and his beauty.
“Come forth, O Magnificent One,” the Saint called out to the snake, and mesmerized by the aura and charismatic presence of the Saint, the snake suddenly he lost all his ferocity and glided towards the Saint and coiled up meekly at the Saint’s feet in obeisance .
“O you beautiful creature, what is it that I hear about you being the scourge of the village? Leave your destructive ways. Be good. Don’t terrorize the poor villagers needlessly. Stop biting them. Leave them alone,” the Saint said to the snake.
The snake bowed and nodded assent. He resolved to leave his evil ways and be good and promised the Saint that henceforth he would not bite anyone.
The venomous snake turned a new leaf, scrupulously kept his promise and began to live a life of innocence, without attempting to harm anyone.
The villagers were very happy, the fields flourished, the cattle grazed and the children came out to play fearlessly.
One day, several months later, the Saint passed by the village, searched for the snake and found the snake coiled near the root of a tree, lying mangled and half dead. The snake was utterly transformed. His scales had fallen off and he looked dilapidated, emaciated, innocuous, and badly injured. He had sores all over his body. The poor snake seemed to be on the verge of death.
“O My Dear Friend, what happened to you…?” the Saint asked the snake.
“This, O Guru, is the fruit of obedience, of being good. I obeyed you, I gave up my evil ways, I let the villagers alone, I stopped biting them, I stopped attacking them, and what happened to me? Now everyone pelts me with stones, beats me with sticks, even the children tease me and drag me mercilessly by the tail. But I have kept my promise that I made to you…”
The Saint smiled and lovingly said to the snake, “I exhorted you not to attack them, but I did not prohibit you from hissing… yes, my dear friend, I told you not to bite them, but did I ever tell you not to hiss…?”
The snake learned a lesson for life and henceforth got on in life safely.
A Hiss - that's deterrence, a psychological concept.
Now for the Spiritual Moral of the Story:
The unbridled senses are like the poisonous snake playing havoc among people.
The curbed senses are like the inactive snake almost beaten to death.
The sublimated senses cause harm to no one, while elevating their owner to sublimity.
Sublimation is the transformation of unwanted impulses into something less harmful – like hissing instead of biting…!
Hiss, and there will be no need to bite - that is deterrence.