But some people don’t understand this language of understanding, and for such people you need a different approach. The best way to show you this is to relate the story of the cobra. This story comes from the Indian tradition:
Once there was a snake, a cobra that was meditating in a forest. This cobra was meditating on loving-kindness and he was really practising hard, saying: “May all beings be well, may all beings be happy, may all beings be peaceful.” He was having a beautiful metta meditation and he had such a nice gentle smile on his face.
Then an old woman came along carrying a bundle of firewood. This old woman couldn’t see very well, she didn’t recognise the cobra and she thought he was an old rope. She used the cobra to tie the bundle of firewood, and as the cobra was practising metta meditation he just allowed the woman to do that. “May you be well, may you be happy, may you be peaceful”, the cobra thought. When the woman had taken the bundle back to her home the cobra escaped after many difficulties. He was in a lot of pain, bearing many bruises and wounds.
So then the cobra went straight to his meditation teacher and said: “I want an interview.” The teacher asked: “What is the problem?” “What is the problem!” the cobra replied. “I was practising your meditation of loving-kindness and see what has happened to me!” In response the teacher said very calmly, “You were not practising loving-kindness, you were practising idiotic compassion. You should have shown her that you were a cobra, you should have hissed!” Sometimes we also have to show people that we are cobras. There are times where you have to assert yourself, otherwise people can start exploiting you. They can take advantage of your so-called loving-kindness. But you have to know when to hiss.