Last week I was called to talk to a giant Asian snake. This snake was 20 feet long and wider than the average man’s calf. It had taken up residence in a small Buddhist temple in a remote village. It would stretch itself into the crevice between the wall and the dirt floor of the temple, and remain there throughout the day. I was told that this snake was scaring people away from coming into the temple. It was not being aggressive; its mere presence was frightening enough.
I have struggled with some of the Buddhist philosophy, because although Buddhists believe that animals can experience pleasure and suffering, they do not believe that animals have a consciousness. The idea that animals do have a consciousness is the basis for all of my work.
I was approached by monks who were in Los Angeles for a Dalai Lama teaching. They went on stage with His Holiness. As you can well imagine, I was surprised and honored to be contacted by them. They gave me a picture of their temple as well as pictures of the snake.
When I spoke to the snake, this is what she said: “I will not harm anyone. This place gives me much peace. Here I am special. They say prayers for me and they hang flags for me. They have rituals for me and at certain times of the day I can feel how strongly they love and believe in me. I do not want to leave. I will miss the daily ritual too much.”
When I relayed the message to the monks they explained that yes, this is true, but the reason for the rituals are to bless the snake and to get the snake to move on, out of the temple. So I asked them that if they would agree to still perform their daily rituals for her if she moved out of the temple. They said they would. When I spoke to the snake, I told her that they would still say prayers for her. She was concerned. She wanted to make sure that their prayers for her would be said at the same time each day. If they agreed, she said, she would move down the steep embankment to the stone wall. She said she would live the rest of her life there and when it was time for her to die she would curl up at the base of the tree beside the wall so they could find her. The monks agreed to pray for her and to hang the flags. They even promised to build her an altar in the stone wall.
I told the snake that it was important for her to leave the temple not just because she was frightening people, but also because if she listened, she might convince the Buddhist monks and the people of the temple that animals do have a profound consciousness. I explained to her that she is in a very powerful position that can influence the fate and future of all animals. As I explained this, the monks welled up with tears.
She thought for a moment and then a vivid image of her formed in my mind. She lifted her head off the ground. She had a black diamond shape around her eyes and her body was a steel gray. She said that as long as she could hear the recitation of the blessings and the prayers for her she would stay out of the temple. She laid her head back down on the ground and slithered out of the temple door and down the embankment to the stone wall. The monks seemed pleased and shook their heads with smiles on their faces.
Here and now I am asking her, “Did she and the monks do as they promised?”
She answers, “It was immediately that the monks went to the cave and brought back sacred stones for the altar. I laid stretched out on the top of the wall and the people came closer to me than they have ever before. They built a beautiful altar with a jewel in the center. They hung flags above the path that leads from the temple to the wall. They come here morning, midday, and night and say prayers and leave offerings. I watch them and they smile at me and talk to me as if I were one of their children. In return I spend many hours meditating and praying for them. I have not had to worry about food. Their prayers have made sure that there is always a food source near by. I was fearful that I would not have enough food and would have to go into the village to hunt, but that is not so. The people are not frustrated with me anymore. They love me more than I could have imagined. I am so thankful for them and for you. I will not let the other animals down. As long as they continue their blessings for me, I will forever hold up to my end of the bargain. That is a sacred promise.”