The Holy Man and the Snake. A parable by Ramakrishna Paramahamsa
A holy man arrived in a village and found the people unhappy and scared. They said that a snake was terrorizing them. The snake appeared without warning, biting them in their fields and on the streets, and they were afraid to leave their houses.
The holy man wandered around the village and found the snake. He asked the snake with such love and compassion to stop frightening the villagers that the snake agreed to change his ways.
Soon the villagers discovered that the snake would no longer hurt them, so they beat and trampled him. The snake slunk away to his hole, venturing out only on rare nights for food.
When the holy man returned a year later, he found the snake was just skin and bones, his lustrous coat shabby. The holy man asked the snake what had happened. The snake replied that he had done as the holy man asked and the villagers attacked him now that they knew he would not fight back. The holy man stroked the snake tenderly and said, “I told you not to bite, but I never told you not to hiss.”
Several years ago, when we were in the middle of the fight against Virginia’s regulation of yoga studios, I received a discouraging call from my lawyer. It was becoming apparent that the only way we could defend ourselves was to change a law. After I hung up, I stood at the studio’s front desk fuming at the unfairness of it all. The yoga studios had done nothing wrong, yet we were going to have to spend months fighting regulations that were meant for universities, and these regulations had the potential to put most studios out of business.
A student walked by and saw that I was angry. She smiled sweetly and said, “Just breathe.” That was not what I wanted to hear at that moment. In fact, it had the opposite effect; I became angrier. The woman meant to be kind, and I did not want to turn my anger on her, so I walked into the office before I said something I would regret.
I am seeing a trend in some areas of the yoga community that it is “unyogic” to be angry or upset. There seems to be an expectation that one must be calm, happy, or even joyful to be a good yoga person. However, anger has a place in our lives. It is a primal emotion.
I am told that when I was very young and got angry, I would hold my breath until my lips turned blue and then I would scream. My parents treated this and my later temper tantrums with a laugh. When I figured out these outbursts did not work, I changed my behavior. I still got angry, just not with screaming fits.
We learn how to handle our emotions with time and by taking cues from those around us. We find how to act in a suitable manner that allows us to fit into society. If we do not channel our emotions in an acceptable way, we pay some type of price.
Often great changes in society occur because people get angry. The Virginia yoga community changed a law that protected yoga, pilates, and other non-vocational activities. On a greater scale, where would we be if people had not gotten upset enough to fight the Revolutionary War, or struggle for women’s suffrage and civil rights? Groups have been fighting for LGBT rights for the last few decades with increasing success. These changes came about because people got angry and channeled that anger productively. It is all about how you hiss.