Thursday, January 12, 2006

Throwback to High School

In my teenage years, I frequently wrote down my favorite lines and paragraphs from books, then put them on my bedroom wall. Today, I stumbled across a post-it stuck to a page of a borrowed book, Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates by Tom Robbins, one of my favorite authors. Instead of writing down the line and taping it to my wall as I did in days long gone, I am typing it in and posting it my blog. I hope you enjoy this little story as much as I did:

It seemed that long ago, a holy man, a bodhisattva, was walking through the Indian countryside when he came upon a band of poor, troubled herdsmen and their emaciated flock. The herdsmen were moaning and gnashing and wringing their hands, and when the bodhisattva asked them what was the matter, they pointed to a range of nearby mountains. To drive their flock to fresh green pasture on the other side of the hills, they had to traverse a narrow pass. In the pass, however, a huge cobra had established a den, and each time they went by it, the snake attacked, stabbing its long venomous fangs into animals and humans alike. "We can't get through the pass," the herders complained, "and as a result, our cattle and goats are starving, and so are we."

"Worry not," said the bodhisattva, "I will take care of it." He then proceeded to climb up to the pass, where he rapped on the entrance to the den with his staff and gave the cobra a lecture it would not soon forget. Thoroughly shamed and chastised, the big serpent promised that it would never, ever bite the herders or their charges again. The holy man thanked it. "I believe you when you vow that in the future you will refrain from the biting of any passerby," he said, and went on his way.

About a year later, Bodhisattva came that way again. From a distance, he saw the herdsmen. They appeared content, their animals hardy and fat. Bodhisattva decided to look in on the cobra and compliment it on its good behavior, but although he repeatedly rapped his staff on the rocks, he received no response. Perhaps it moved away, thought Bodhi, and he made to leave. Just then, however, he heard a weak groan from deep inside the cave. Bodhi crawled inside, where he found the snake in pitiful condition. Skinny as a drawstring and battered as a tow rope, it lay on its side, fairly close to death.

"What on earth is the matter?" asked the guru, moved nearly to tears.

"Well," said the cobra in a barely audible voice, "you made me promise not to bite anyone. So, now, everybody who comes over the pass hits me with sticks and throws stones at me. My body is cut and bruised, and I can no longer leave the den to find food or water. I'm miserable and sick, but, alas, there is nothing to be done to protect myself, because you proclaimed that I shouldn't bite."

Bodhisattva patted the poor creature's head. "Yes," he agreed. "But I didn't say you couldn't hiss."

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