A fowler and a serpent

The serpent painfully bound with the cord, sighing a little and maintaining its composure with great difficulty, then uttered these words slowly in human voice.

Prabuddha Bharat
The Prabuddha Bharat July, 1896

There was an old lady of the name of Gautami who was remarkable for her patience and tranquility of mind. One day she found her son dead in consequence of having been bitten by a serpent. A fowler, by name Arjunaka, bound the serpent with a string, brought it before Gautami and said, “This wicked serpent has been the cause of your son’s death. O blessed lady, tell me quickly how this wretch is to be destroyed! Shall I throw it into the fire or shall I hack it into pieces? This infamous killer of a child does not deserve to live longer.”Gautami replied, “Release this serpent, it does not deserve death at your hands. By killing it, this, my boy will not be restored to life and by letting it live, no harm will be caused to you. Who would go to the interminable regions of death by slaying this living creature? Those that make themselves light by the practice of virtue, manage to cross the sea of life, even as a ship crosses the ocean. But those that make themselves heavy with sin, sink into the bottom, even as an arrow thrown into the water.”
The fowler — “I know that you know the difference between right and wrong, that the great are afflicted at the affliction of all creatures. Those who value peace of mind assign every thing to the course of Time, but practical men alone assuage their grief with revenge. Therefore, O lady, assuage your grief by having the serpent destroyed by me.”
Gautami — “People like us are never afflicted by such misfortune. Good men are always intent on virtue, the death of the boy was predestined: therefore I am unable to approve of the destruction of this serpent. We do not harbor resentment, because resentment leads to pain. Forgive and release the serpent out of compassion.”
The fowler –“Let us earn great and inexhaustible merit hereafter, by killing this creature, even as a man acquires great merit and confers it on his victims as well, by sacrifice upon the altar. Merit is acquired by killing an enemy; by killing this despicable creature, you shall acquire great and true merit hereafter.”
Gautami — “What good is there in tormenting and killing an enemy, and what good is won by not releasing an enemy in our power? Therefore, you, of benign countenance, why should we not forgive this serpent and earn merit by releasing it.”
The fowler — “A great number of creatures ought to be protected from the wickedness of this one. Virtuous men abandon the vicious to their doom. Let me therefore kill this wicked creature.”
Gautami — “By killing this serpent, my son, O fowler, will not be restored to life, nor do I see that any other end will be attained by its death; therefore, O fowler, release that living creature. It came not into life by our orders, nor does it live through our sufferance, we have no right to kill it.”
The Fowler said, “Nor had it any right to kill your child, O sacred mother?”
Gautami — “The death of my child was a predestined affair, it was the will of God and the serpent was only the instrument. And even granting that it was the real and only cause of my child’s death is committing a sin will not justify our doing the same. It fell into error through ignorance and our killing it will be much more than an error: it will be a sin committed with knowledge and therefore willfully.”
Although, thus repeatedly urged by the fowler for the destruction of the serpent, the big-hearted Gautami did not bend her mind to that sinful act. The serpent painfully bound with the cord, sighing a little and maintaining its composure with great difficulty, then uttered these words slowly in human voice.
“O foolish Arjunaka, what fault is there of mine? I have no will of my own and not an independent! Mrityu (the God of death) sent me on this errand! By his direction have I bitten this child and not of any anger or choice on my part, therefore, if there be any sin in this, O fowler, the sin is his.”
The fowler said, “If you have not done this evil, but led by another, the sin is yours also, as you are the instrument in the act. As in the making of an earthen vessel, the potter’s wheel and rod and other things are regarded as causes, so are you, O serpent, a cause in this matter.”
The serpent said — “As the potter’s wheel, rod and other things are not independent causes, even so I am not an independent cause! Therefore this is not my fault, nor am I guilty of any sun! Or if you think that there is sin, it lies in the aggregate of causes.”
The fowler said — “Not deserving of life, O foolish one, why you bandy so many words, O wretch of a serpent? You deserve death at my hands.”
The serpent replied — “O fowler, as the officiating priests at a sacrifice do not acquire the merit of the act, even so should I be regarded with respect to the result in this connection.”
The serpent, directed bt Mrityu, having said this, Mrityu himself appeared there and, addressing the serpent, spoke thus:
“Guided by Kala (Time), I, O serpent, sent you on this errand and neither you nor I am the cause of this child’s death. Even as the clouds are tossed hither and thither by the wind, I am, O serpent, directed by Kala. All influences appertaining to Satwa or Rajas or Tamas have Kala for their soul, as they operate in all creatures. The whole universe, O serpent is imbued with this influence of Kala. Sun, moon, water, wind, fire, sky, earth, rivers and oceans and all existent and non-existent objects are created and destroyed by Kala. Knowing this, why do you, O serpent, accuse me? If any fault attach to me in this, you also would be to blame!”
The serpent replied — “I do not, O Mrityu, blame you. I only say that I was influenced and directed by you. Whether any blame attached to Kala or not, it is not for me to say.”
Then addressing the fowler, it said, “you have listened to what Mrityu has said, therefore it is not proper for you to torment me who am guiltless, by tying me this cord!”
The fowler replied — ” I have listened to you as well as to Mrityu and both of you are the cause of the child’s death. Accursed be the wicked and vengeful Mrityu that causes affliction to the good! You, I shall kill, sinful and engaged in sinful acts.”
Mrityu said,  — “We both are not free agents, but are dependent on Kala and ordained to do our appointed work. You should not find fault with us, if you do consider the matter thoroughly.”
Hardly had he said this, when Kala himself appeared on the scene and spoke this to the party assembled together. “Neither Mrityu, nor the serpent, nor I, am guilty of the death of any creature. We are merely the intermediate causes. The true cause is the past karma (action) of that creature. The child here, died by the result of its own karma in the past. As men make, from a lump of clay, whatever they wish to make even so do men attain to various results determined by karma. As light and shadow are to each other, so are men related to karma through their actions. Therefore none here caused the child’s death, he himself was the cause.”
Gautami said, — “Neither Kala, nor Mrityu, nor the serpent is the cause in this matter. This child has met with death as the result of its own karma. I too have so acted in the past, that my son should now die. Let now Kala and Mrityu retire from this place and Arjunaka may release this serpent.”
Then Kala and Mrityu and the serpent and the fowler went back to their respective places, but Gautami who knew the truth smiled and said to herself — “What a drama this is! Karma is itself a conventional word. The truth is, not an atom moves but by the bidding of the Lord, not an atom is outside Him and where then are life and death?”

Author: Jyoti

Old-time Wikipedian, audio recording artist, graphic designer, professional programmer, and a blogger.

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