Once upon a time the Buddha was born into a wealthy family. As he became of age, he saw how from passion springs pain and how true bliss comes by the abandonment of passion. So he decided to distance himself from desires: He left the home life and went to the Himalayas to become a hermit.
He gradually reached higher planes of attainment. With time he came to have a large following of five hundred hermits.
One day a young poisonous viper wandered into the hut of one of the hermits. That cultivator developed a liking for the creature. He treated it as his own child, housing it in a piece of bamboo and bestowed kindness to it.
Hearing that one of the hermits was keeping a viper, the Buddha sent for him and said, “A viper can never be trusted. Get rid of it.”
“But,” supplicated the hermit, “my viper is dear to me as a pupil to a teacher; I cannot live without him.”
“Well then,” answered the Buddha, “be forewarned that you will lose your life because of it.”
Unmindful of the master’s warning, that hermit still kept the pet he could not bear to part with. Barely a few days later, all the hermits went out to gather fruit. Coming to a spot where all kinds of produce grew in plenty, they stayed there longer than they intended. And along with them went our hermit leaving his viper behind in its bamboo prison. When they came back two or three days later, he wanted to feed the creature. He opened the cage, stretched out his hand, saying, “Come, my son; you must be hungry.” But angered with its long fast, the viper bit his outstretched hand, killing him on the spot, and escaped into the forest.
This story illustrates something that I am beginning to understand through my several years of teaching Mahayana. I’ve tried to take on students who are very difficult to teach, hoping that the Dharma will change them. I am coming to the realization that they can’t be helped after all, perhaps because just like the young viper, they are not really interested in cultivation in spite of their claims. Not only are they unwilling to turn from evil toward goodness, they never hesitate to hurt those around them when they get afflicted. It’s just too bad that they did not gain much from the Dharma while many of us benefited greatly by enduring their evil.
Finally, we should remind ourselves to heed the words of our wise advisers or sages, especially when their words are not what we want to hear.