There’s a fun children’s parable in Buddhism about a snake. Many of the children’s parables revolve around animals to help teach our interconnectedness and compassion for the weaker creatures. Using parables is always a risky way to make a point though because they require of those hearing them to come up with their own interpretations and meanings. They can also be frustrating for those who take things literally because parables seldom work if examined through a literal interpretation. Like with all things in Buddhism, if you find you’re getting stuck or caught up on any particular aspect, chances are you’re overthinking things.
The Parable of the Snake
As Siddhartha sat under the Bodhi tree searching for the way to liberate us all from suffering, many of the animals who passed by could sense that he was attempting to do something no one had ever tried before. They could feel Siddhartha’s loving kindness and the compassion he held for all others. They could tell that if he succeeded, he would change the world for the better, so they decided to help. While the bear, the fox, and the rabbit brought the future Buddha food (another parable involving the origin of why we carry a rabbit’s foot for good luck), the snake also wanted to help but didn’t know how.
He didn’t have arms to carry food or water, he didn’t have fur to wrap Siddhartha in to keep him warm, he didn’t have very much meat on his body and feared he would probably taste bad anyway, and he couldn’t sing pleasant melodies like the birds and crickets. The snake was disappointed with his ineptitude to help, and as if to mock his suffering, it started to rain. Although Siddhartha didn’t seem to notice the soaking, the snake was determined to help.
The snake slithered close to Siddhartha then stretched his body up, standing on his tail, and bending over the Buddha’s head, trying to use his own head and neck as a type of umbrella. It didn’t work very well because snakes are fairly thin creatures, so the snake’s tiny body did little to prevent the rain from getting Siddhartha wet.
But the snake was determined.
He squeezed his eyes shut, and tried to make his body as wide as possible. To the snake’s surprise, the muscles in his neck and shoulders (do snakes have shoulders?) began to flatten out and spread out over Siddhartha, protecting him from the rainfall. The snake was forever changed, and he became the first cobra.
For me, the moral of this story is that you cannot give yourself completely to someone else without going through some type of transformation yourself. Often times we love someone to the point where we will sacrifice our own happiness and wellbeing for theirs. We put their safety above our own, and will go to amazing lengths to protect them. I think that’s why when we fall in love, we say we gave that person our heart.
If you give yourself completely to someone, you will change. If you can love without hesitation, without restrictions or insecurities, if you can love someone completely even if they don’t love you back, if you can open yourself up and give whatever you find inside of you to another person…you will no longer be the same.
However, the most respected snake will always be the cobra, so take the shot and give love a chance.