The Four Snakes

You have life, health, safety, food … It is inevitable that just about everyone takes the precious situation of safety they enjoy for granted. Putting off meditation to another day, putting on a movie as a cheap but ultimately worthless escape … Here is one analogy the Buddha gave for making use of your sufficient health:

The Four Snakes

Imagine four snakes, of fierce heat and fearful venom. Then a man comes by who is fond of his life, not seeking death, fond of happiness and loathing pain and is charged to look after them …. Now good fellow, whenever one of these four snakes gets angry, then you will come by your death or mortal pain.

The snakes represent the Four Great Elements, Earth (solidity) Fire (heat) Water(fluidity) and Air (movement). The combination of the four elements was a common way to consider the human body in India, and illness was the failure or disruption of one of these elements (Tevijjo’s system is based on this too – for those who know him). When one of the snakes is roused and becomes angry – killing its owner – this represents one of the elements getting so badly out of kilter that you die.

We are only happy when dreaming of future happiness – Pascal

The purpose of the analogy is to warn that your human body is going to let you down, and ultimately kill you. Time is precious, and any number of disasters lurk ready to ambush your best laid plans. As a reflection this is true enough, but the vivid imagery of the snakes is designed to help turn it from a sombre reflection into a pressing urgency to work for your merit and liberation. Monks have a chant in this regard, as an encouragement to use your time well –

The days and the nights are endlessly passing. How well am I spending my time?

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About Cittasamvaro

Auto blogography of an urban monk
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