Saturday, May 10, 2008

Question: We have to live in the world and deal with people, many of whom will try to take advantage of us. Being quiet and detached is one thing, but should we be so quiet and uninterested that we allow other people to take advantage of our passivity?

Annamalai Swami: You can be quiet within and be tough on the outside, if that is the role you have to play in the world.

There is a story about a snake that lived under a bush by the side of the street. Whenever people passed by the bush, the snake made a lot of noise and tried to bite them. It gave lots of trouble to anyone who came near.

One day a wandering sadhu passed the bush and the snake, as usual, put on an aggressive show of behavior.

The sadhu, who could communicate with animals, said, 'Keep quiet and don't bite people. You don't have to trouble the people who walk past.'

The snake heeded the advice and from that day on its behavior completely changed. It sat quietly under its bush and never troubled any of the people who walked past.

Within a few days the local people realised that the snake was no longer a threat to them, but instead of being relieved, they would throw stones at the snake, or try to chase it away. People have this instinctive response to snakes. Whenever they see one, they feel compelled to commit some act of violence against it. The snake ignored the provocation for a while but it soon realised that this new state of affairs was not an improvement on the previous one.

A few days later the sadhu came by and asked how the snake's new lifestyle was going.

'Not so good,' responded the snake. 'I am suffering a lot on account of your advice. I am being very calm and I am not giving any trouble to anyone, but because of my calmness and sadhu-like behavior, people are taking advantage of me by throwing stones at me and harassing me. They would never do this before because they knew I might retaliate and bite them.

The sadhu thought about this for some time and then spoke.

'I advised you to be calm and not trouble anyone, but that doesn't mean that you have to sit here passively while people come along and hurt you. When people come to cause you trouble in the future, just pretend that you are going to bite them. You can be angry on the outside, but on the inside you can still be calm.'

From then on the snake adopted the new tactic of hissing at everyone who came past his bush, just to let them know that he was still a potential threat. This was enough to make people give him a wide berth.

We can all be like this if circumstances demand it. There are occasions when a show of anger is needed. We can play the role of being angry, but at the same time we can know that we are just acting out a role that is needed at a particular moment. Internally we can be peaceful while all this is going on.

~ Annamalai Swami, Final Talks, Edited by David Godman

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