Question: You teach us that we should increase our tolerance, but if someone is doing wrong with me, should I practice forgiveness, or should I oppose him and stop the atrocity?

Answer: On the spiritual path, we naturally learn to practice tolerance, forgiveness and humility. However, this does not mean that we should knowingly allow others to exploit us. The scriptures instruct us to take whatever action is necessary, for protecting ourselves in self-defense, when attacked.

There is a charming story in this regard. In a neighborhood, there lived a venomous and foul-tempered snake. The children of that locality were scared of it to death. The moment they would spy it in the distance, they would run for their lives.

One day, Sage Narad Muni happened to come to that neighborhood. As was the snake’s habit, he approached Narad ji, with his hood raised menacingly and eyes fiercely red. Narad ji stood his ground peacefully, with a benevolent and serene smile on his face. The snake was astonished. “Everyone runs from me in fear. How come you are not scared of me and what is the secret of your peacefulness?”

Narad ji taught the snake the process of devotion, whereupon the snake became his disciple and began practicing Bhakti yoga. He shunned violence, giving up his old ways of scaring the neighborhood children.

Soon the children came to know that the snake was harmless and did not bite anyone. Now their fear vanished. They would not leave it alone. On sighting it, they would bombard it with a battery of stones and sticks. They would even come close and kick it with their heeled shoes. The poor snake was badly bruised.

One year later, Narad ji was visiting that area again. He thought, “Let me see how my disciple is doing.” He was dismayed to see the snake badly bruised, with a plaster cast on a portion of his body. “What happened to you, my dear disciple?” he asked.

The snake replied, “O Gurudev, this is the result of the Bhakti that you taught me. The people of the world, knowing I will not retaliate, do not let me live peacefully.”

Narad ji said, “I asked you to stop biting people, but I did not ask you to stop spreading your hood. Whenever the children attack, you should simply raise your head and hiss loudly; then no one will come near you.”

Henceforth, whenever the children came close to the snake, it would hiss loudly and frighten them all away. Soon, it was living peacefully again. Similarly, on the path of devotion, we should shun actions and thoughts directed at harming others, but we definitely have the right to perform legitimate actions in our self-defense.

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