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A Snake Comes to Hear the Dharma

Now that the Buddhadharma has come to the West,a snake has also crossed the vast ocean and come to America to protect the Dharma.
[Editor's Note: On the evening of Sunday, June 20, 1982, the fourfold assembly of disciples was holding a Dharma celebration at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. Everyone was circumambulating the Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas, reciting in unison, “Namo Amitabha Buddha.” As people were returning to the hall, they suddenly noticed a mottled green snake lying to the side of the front door. The snake was three or four feet long and very thin. Upon seeing it, some of the people in the assembly froze in fear, unable to take a step forward.
The monk who was the prefect at the time suggested that the snake be removed, but the Venerable Master smiled and said, “It not necessary. All living beings have the Buddha-nature. This snake has come to draw near the Triple Jewel and listen to the Dharma, so it should not be driven away.”
Strangely enough, this was no ordinary snake. It stretched out on the ground, and although there were nearly a hundred people coming and going on all sides, it didn't show the slightest sign of fear. Rather, it was tame and docile. The Venerable Master ascended to the Dharma-seat, and said, “Tell it to come in and listen to the Dharma.” The snake immediately responded by slithering into the hall from the front door without frightening anyone. Then it slithered from the left side of the hall to the right side, as if circumambulating the Buddha once. Finally, it settled down in front of the Dharma-seat, as if kneeling before the Buddhas with quiet dignity in order to listen attentively to the Dharma. In response to the snake's appearance, the Master spoke as follows:]
All living beings have the Buddha-nature and can become Buddhas. This is what the Buddha personally tells us, but because we have discursive thoughts and attachments, we cannot certify to the Buddha's wisdom and virtue. In view of the fact that all living beings have the Buddha-nature, we should refrain from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and taking intoxicants, and we should uphold the five precepts. If we kill living beings, it's the same as killing the Buddhas of the ten directions. All living beings are manifestations of the Buddhas; however, since a single unenlightened thought produces the three subtle attributes (the attribute of karma, the attribute of manifestation, and the attribute of turning), the more we run, the farther off we stray, and so we sink and drown in the sea of suffering, losing sight of the truth forever. This is a very simple principle, but unfortunately people have overlooked it.
Cultivators of the Way should contemplate in this way: “All living beings have been my parents in former lives, and they will become Buddhas in the future. Since they have been my past parents, I should find ways to be filial to them, save them, and enable them to leave suffering, attain bliss, and end birth and death. Since they will become Buddhas in the future, I should honor and respect them just as I would the Buddhas in the ten directions and three periods of time.” If we always keep this contemplation in mind, we will never be disrespectful, rude, or mean to any living being.
There are many living beings, such as ghosts, spirits, immortals, and demons, which we cannot see with our physical eyes. We should also respect these invisible beings and not look down on them. All living beings should be regarded with equal compassion.
The snake that appeared as we entered the Buddha Hall today is also a living being. Since it appeared in the body of a snake, everyone was apprehensive and failed to recognize it. Some were even scared out of their wits. However, this snake came to draw near the Triple Jewel, and to hear the Dharma and the Sutras. Why else would it be so docile, lying motionless by the door?
Although it appears to be a relatively small snake, it is able to transform in countless ways; it can disappear, shrink, expand, mount the clouds and ride the mists, and fly freely through space. We just aren't aware of its powers. This snake can also cultivate and attain the Way. It belongs to the eightfold division of gods, dragons, and other Dharma-protecting spirits mentioned in the Buddhist Sutras, in particular the division of mahoragas (great pythons).
A contemplation on the background of this snake might reveal that it had been a high official in a small kingdom during the Zhou Dynasty. With a treacherous heart, this official plotted to usurp the throne. Hiding a poison-tipped dagger in his sleeve, he went to assassinate the king. However, not only did he fail to seize the throne, he also provoked the anger of the heavens and was blamed by the people. At the time of his death, he felt great wrath and consequently fell and became a snake, a giant python.
Two kinds of forces operate in the world: yin and yang, or good and evil. Good beings who constantly cultivate blessings and wisdom can become immortals, sages, Bodhisattvas, and Buddhas. Evil beings are also very powerful, yet they engage exclusively in devious intrigues, killing and hurting each other in vengeance, generating a great deal of hatred.
Open your eyes and look around. You'll find the world is filled with poisonous snakes and dragons. Although they aren't visible to our ordinary eyes, they actually fill up the land. These poisonous snakes are the greed, anger, and stupidity in people's minds, which have accumulated and taken shape, and cause illness everywhere. These poisonous snakes cause all the natural and man-made calamities, zombies, demons, ghosts, goblins, epidemics, and strange and incurable diseases in the world. Evil dragons and pestilential demons emit poisonous vapors which confuse people's minds. There are also nightmare ghosts and wang liang ghosts, who steal people's essence and energy, frighten-ing them and causing them to go insane. Nowadays, ghosts, goblins, and demons cause mischief and cause people to develop schizophrenia, insanity, phobias, and other mental illnesses and incurable diseases.
Modern psychology and medical science have no understanding of the underlying causes, and so cannot treat the victims of such diseases in an ideal manner. The Buddhadharma alone provides the ultimate medicine, the special formula for resolving difficulties and averting disasters!
As for the snake, it was driven by hatred and cultivated energetically until it became a spirit. When it developed the ability to penetrate the heavens and earth, it took delight in troubling multitudes of people. There are many cases similar to this snake. We hope it will soon repent and will never harm people again.
By the Song Dynasty [960-1279 A.D.], the snake had turned into a venemous dragon that dwelt in a large river and stirred up violent storms which killed countless fishermen and ferry passengers and caused people to live in great fear and anxiety.
Fortunately, a sage, a monk of formidable Dharma powers, came to the rescue. Grasping his tin staff, the monk stood on the shore and called out loudly to the venemous dragon. Hearing his voice, the dragon flew into a rage and displayed its powers: It appeared in the body of a giant python, tens of thousands of feet long. Aided by the power of Vajra-Samadhi, the Dharma Master was not daunted in the least. Employing the Dharmas of Hooking and Subduing, he battled with the dragon for three days and nights and finally subdued it.
After its evil powers were defeated, the venomous dragon had no choice but to surrender. The Dharma Master taught the dragon that everything is characterized by suffering, emptiness, impermanence, and lack of self; only karma follows us. He urged the dragon to be compassionate and to use its powers to benefit living beings instead of harming them. After hearing the Dharma, the dragon suddenly had an awakening and attained the pure Dharma eye. The Dharma Master transmitted the three refuges and five precepts to it, and told it to cultivate the Dharma in a certain mountain cave and never trouble people again. The dragon gladly did as it was told.
[Editor's Note: A Bhikshuni reports, “Several weeks ago, we saw this snake at Joyous Giving House (nuns' quarters), near the women's Buddha Hall. Fearing that it was a rattlesnake, we put it in a can with a firm wooden lid, and planned to set it free farther away in the woods, so that it wouldn't bother the residents. Who would have thought that when we opened the can, the snake was gone! Logically, there was no way it could have escaped. No wonder it's said to have spiritual powers!”]
I've known this snake for a long time. More than twenty years ago, it would come to Cixing (Flourishing Kindness) Monastery on Lanto Island in Hong Kong [a monastery founded by the Venerable Master] to listen to Sutra lectures. Although the snake never harmed anyone, people were scared because it was a snake. Once someone caught it in a metal can and took it into a forest several miles away to set free, but when that person opened the can, the snake was gone! Now that the Buddhadharma has come to the West, the snake has also crossed the ocean, undaunted by the distance, and come to America to protect the Dharma.
Living beings who study Buddhism should believe deeply in cause and effect. If we don't plant bad causes, we naturally won't receive a bad retribution. If we plant good causes, we will certainly receive a good retribution in the future. The law of cause and effect is clear, and it never fails. If you kill someone's father, that person will kill your father. If you kill someone's brother, that person will kill your brother in turn. You shouldn't kill people just to gain benefits. Harming others merely harms yourself in the end. The heavens cherish life and do not want living beings to harm each other. Therefore, you should not go against the law of cause and effect. As it's said,
Once you lose your footing, you will regret it forever.