The great sage Ramakrishna told this old tale to his disciples: an angry snake terrified the village boys so greatly that they dared not venture near his territory. One day a yogi was walking through the village when a boy warned him not to venture near the abode of the vicious serpent. The yogi told the boy not to worry, for he knew a mantra that would calm the serpent. He was speaking the truth: when the snake slithered forward to attack him, the yogi intoned the mantra and the snake became still and peaceful. Then the yogi gave the snake another mantra to chant and told him not to trouble the boys but instead to seek a higher peace. The snake obeyed. But when the village boys discovered the snake was now peaceful, they began to torment him. One bully even picked him up and slammed him repeatedly against a sharp rock until he was broken and bleeding, then left him for dead.
Somehow the snake survived. When the yogi returned some months later, he was shocked at his dismal state and demanded an explanation. The snake was surprised—but you told me to be peaceful! he said. So I did, said the sage in exasperation, I asked you not to bite, but did I tell you not to hiss?
I love this story perhaps because I am a hisser. If you were to see me tackle a traffic bully, or any other bully for that matter, and you (erroneously) believed that all seekers of truth and peace had to be constantly suffused with sweetness and light, you might be shocked at how tough I can be. Unfortunately not everyone has the kind of rapier-like intellect that cares to penetrate below the spoken word, which means that we should not take any advice literally but use our discrimination and good sense in order to evolve to our highest potential. The sad truth is that there are many in the world who cannot help but hurt and harass others since they themselves are wounded. Knowing this to be true, do we then subject ourselves to their attacks willingly? No, we do not. We defend ourselves, and those who are dependent on us, because we are not here to be harmed in body and mind; no, our purpose is to be free, and happiness is our birthright. At the same time, when we defend ourselves against evil, we also take care not to do harm. A good action is one that might appear to be harsh or cruel, but in fact brings benefit to all involved. A mother might speak harshly to a son who has stolen money out of her purse, for instance, but she does this not to hurt him but to prevent him from becoming a full-fledged thief. And so on and so forth. So go ahead and hiss!
Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light who himself is a great paradox, for he can inflict the greatest suffering on a soul who has gone astray but only to transmute his or her being into pure gold.