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Personal Musings

The snake and the vine

Do your eyes and ears deceive you? Has the shade of your perception been primed by wrong speech and wrong view?

A group of travelers entered a forest at dusk. As they walked, they drew closer to a tree which overhung the path. Nearing the tree, they became stricken with fear at what they perceived with their own two eyes.

Dangling down from the tree limbs was a large venomous snake sneakily waiting to strike. The travelers turned back in fear running down the path shouting, “SNAKE! SNAKE!”

Just entering the foot of the same path was a monk. This path was his only way home. The group of travelers warned him not to enter.

“SNAKE,” they exclaimed. “POISONOUS SNAKE!”

The monk heard their pleas and felt their fear penetrate deep into the marrow of his bones.

“If it is a snake, it is a snake,” he said to himself as he placed one foot in front of the next. Shortly thereafter, he reached the same tree which turned back the previous group.

He did see a snake. A very large one that swathed the tree’s trunk and hung down from the tree’s limbs just over the path. It was just as the group of travelers had described. And now the monk could see it. It was all he could see.

But this path was the monk’s only way home.

If he turned back, he would never reach home. If he continued, he would be stricken by the snake he was warned of.

“If it is a snake, it is a snake,” the monk said, placing one foot in front of the next as he continued down the path.

As he found himself underneath the tree’s limb, he realized the nasty snake was not a snake at all. It was not as the group of travelers had warned. The poisonous snake was nothing more than a vine.

“If it is a snake, it is a snake,” the monk laughed to himself. “And if it is a vine, it is a vine.”

snake vine tree

Do your eyes and ears deceive you when told of the snake?

What you just read is my own rendition of a Buddhist story titled, “The Rope and the Snake.” At its heart, the story magnifies the delusion found in wrong perception and the teaching of right view within The Noble Eightfold Path.

Sadly, I find myself returning to this story (as well as another on right speech: “Is that so?”) over and again as of late. One of the more difficult and heart-wrenching aspects of being a parent is to see one of your children repeatedly whispered about and treated as if he is a snake in the dark of the night when he is little more than a vine on your way to finding home. He is little more than a boy with tiny imperfections just as your own child.

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash.

By Jeffrey Pillow

Jeffrey Pillow is an American short story writer, memoirist, and poet. He is the author of The Lady Next Door. His writing has been published in Urge Magazine, The Nervous Breakdown, 16 Blocks, USA Today, Sports Illustrated, TheBody.com, New York Times, Washington Post, and Richmond Times-Dispatch.

He grew up in the small town of Phenix, Virginia, population: 200, and now lives in Charlottesville with his wife, two kids, and a dog named Mozzarella Cheese. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia where he was a Rainey Scholar. This is his blog.

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