The following short story was excerpted from Rolling Thunder: A Personal Exploration into the Secret Healing Powers of an American Indian Medicine Man. In this section, Doug Boyd sits by the campfire with Rolling Thunder, sharing stories he heard from other spiritual teachers.
On the train to Brindavan a Swami sits beside a common man who asks him if indeed he has attained self-mastery, as the name “Swami” implies.
“I have,” says the Swami.
“And have you mastered anger?”
“You mean you can control your anger?”
“And you do not feel anger?”
“I do not.”
“Is this the truth, Swami?”
After a silence the man asks again, “Do you really feel that you have controlled your anger?”
“I have, as I told you,” the Swami answers.
“Then do you mean to say, you never feel anger, even–“
“You are going on and on–what do you want?” the Swami shouts. “Are you a fool? When I have told you–“
“O, Swami, this is anger. You have not mas–“
“Ah, but I have,” the Swami interrupts. “Have you not heard about the abused snake? Let me tell you the story.”
“On a path that went by a village in Bengal there lived a cobra who used to bite people on their way to worship at the temple there. As the incidents increased, everyone became fearful, and many refused to go to the temple. The Swami who was the master at the temple was aware of the problem and took it upon himself to put an end to it. Taking himself to where the snake dwelt, he used a mantra to call the snake to him and bring it into submission.”
Rolling Thunder, who had been staring into the fire as I talked, suddenly looked at me. I began to relate what the Swami said to the snake. Immediately Rolling Thunder interrupted: “What was the mantra?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I don’t think the mantra itself was part of the story. At least I never heard it.”
“The Swami then said to the snake that it was wrong to bite the people who walked along the path to worship and made him promise sincerely that he would never do it again. Soon it happened that the snake was seen by a passer-by upon the path, and it made no move to bite. Then it became known that the snake had somehow been made passive, and people grew unafraid. It was not long before the village boys were dragging the poor snake along behind them as they ran laughing here and there. When the temple Swami passed that way again he called the snake to see if he had kept his promise–“
Again Rolling Thunder interrupted: “He didn’t say anything at all about what words the Swami used to called the snake? Just thought they might probably be familiar to me. Must be something like the words I would use.” Rolling Thunder did not wait for me to repeat what I had told him, but asked some question to pick the story up again.
“The snake humbly and miserably approached the Swami, who exclaimed, ‘You are bleeding! Tell me how this has come to be.’ The snake was near tears and blurted out that he had been abused ever since he made his promise to the Swami. ‘I hold you not to bite,’ said the Swami, ‘but I did not tell you not to hiss!'”
That was supposed to be the end of the story. Rolling Thunder quietly looked into the fire. When he saw I was finished, he considered a moment and then he looked straight up and laughed. “That’s right!” he exclaimed. “That’s right!” His face became serious and he stared into the fire as though he had begun to consider again. Then I felt him thinking of the pinyon forest chaining (clear-cutting) issue and the other struggles in which he was involved. His “That’s right!” sounded to me like he was speaking for the snake. “Sure would be interested to hear that mantra,” he said. “You suppose Swami Rama himself would be familiar with that particular mantra?”
“If he does know, I’m sure I could find it out.” But I regretted my words as soon as I’d spoken them. Would Swami Rama tell me if he knew, and would it be permissible to ask? Even for Rolling Thunder’s sake? I wondered whether Rolling Thunder would ever tell me his mantra. I would never ask him. I turned to look at him. His eyes stared thoughtfully into the flames. I watched the shadows from the dancing fire hammer upon him as thought they were trying to deepen the lines in his face, and I could see he had nothing more to say.