[STORY TIME] This event took place during the Buddha’s time. A diligent farmer was working his field one early morning when he saw Buddha and Ananda walking by. He laid down his tools and paid obeisance before continuing with his tasks. Then he heard Buddha saying to Ananda, “Look at that poisonous snake.” and saw Buddha pointing to something on the path. Ananda replied, “Yes, it is a poisonous snake.” Both master and disciple continued walking.
The curious farmer decided to check the spot pointed out by Buddha and discovered to his surprise, a package of valuables. He quickly hid the valuables away with glee, over the moon at his unbelievable luck. It seems like he didn’t need to toil his life away after all. Unfortunately, his happiness was short lived because he found himself being arrested by the authority shortly after.
The valuables were stolen articles and he found himself accused of burglary. The punishment for trespassing and stealing from the nobles was death. The simple farmer was stricken with fear and the only thing that he could say repeated was, “What Buddha said was true, a poisonous snake it is.” The incoherent plead of the farmer convinced the King that Buddha might shed some light on the crime and thus, the accused farmer was brought to the monastery.
Buddha recounted what he saw and said, thus freeing the farmer from the wrong accusation. Buddha said:
Na tam kammam katam sadhu, yam katva anutappati, yassa assumukho rodam, vipakam patisevati.Dhammapada Verse 67 – Kassaka Vatthu
That deed is not well done, if one has to repent for having done it, and if, with a tearful face, one has to weep as a result of that deed.
After Buddha’s sermon, the farmer gained the 1st level of enlightenment (sotāpanna -stream enterer)
According to scriptural record and commentaries, Buddha never make any futile or frivolous journey after Enlightenment. When he appeared somewhere and “mingled” with anyone, the purpose was always to teach. Especially when the time is ripe for that person to gain enlightenment.
In this story, Buddha went where the farmer was because He knew that farmer was ready for awakening.
Tired and sore with his daily toil, the farmer was at one moment exhilarated at his fortune and then immediately faced with possibility of a wrongful death! He found peace later when Buddha became his alibi and delivered him from sufferings. I guess that day’s experience would have taught the farmer that his life is just that; Transient and fleeting.
When I read this story, I asked myself, “Why didn’t Buddha simply spare that farmer from that horrific experience? Being hauled to court, sentenced to death and all those mental pain that must be extremely stressful. Why not just preached to him at the field?”
I guess, sometimes we can only learn a valuable lesson from an unpleasant situation in life and Buddha knew that was the only way to prepare the farmer’s mind for enlightenment. That important “push” to help that farmer realize the truth of his existence.
Last but not least, perhaps the poisonous snake is referring to a covetous mind.
May all be well and happy.