The Strong-minded Snake – Jataka Tales

Buddha’s Tales for Young and Old
The Buddha delivered this Jātaka story when he was in
Jetavana monastery with regard to the venerable Sāriputta.
One day, villagers brought sweetcakes to the monks at
the monastery, and most of these were eaten. It was
suggested that what remained should be saved for those
monks who were absent in the village. This was done, but
one young monk who returned very late found that Sāriputta
had eaten the sweetcakes set aside for him. Disappointed, he
said, “Sāriputta must have a sweet tooth! After all, who does
not like sweets?” This troubled Sāriputta a great deal, and he
decided never again to eat sweetcakes.
This abstention became common knowledge among the
monks. One day, the monks gathered in the evening in the
preaching hall were talking about this, when the Buddha
entered. The Buddha told them that Sāriputta, once he has
given anything up, would never return to it even though his
life might be at stake. And the Buddha told this story of the
Once upon a time there was a doctor who was an expert
at treating snakebites. One day he was called for by the
relatives of a man who had been bitten by a deadly poisonous
The doctor told them, “There are two ways of treating
this snakebite. One is by giving medicine. The other is by
capturing the snake who bit him, and forcing him to suck out
his own poison.” The family said, “We would like to find the
snake and make him suck the poison out.”
After the snake was caught, the doctor asked him, “Did
you bite this man?” “Yes, I did,” said the snake. “Well then,”
said the doctor, “You must suck your own poison out of the
wound.” But the strong-willed snake replied, “Take back my
own poison? Never! I have never done such a thing and I
never will!”
Then the doctor started a wood fire and said to the
snake, “If you don’t suck that poison out, I’ll throw you in
this fire and burn you up!”
But the snake had made up his mind. He said, “I’d
rather die!” And he began moving towards the fire.
In all his years, the snakebite expert doctor had never
seen anything like this! He took pity on the courageous
snake, and kept him from entering the flames. He used his
medicines and magic spells to remove the poison from the
suffering man.
The doctor admired the snake’s single-minded
determination. He knew that if he used his determination in a
wholesome way he could improve himself. So he taught him
the Five Training Steps [pañca-sīla-s, the first five sikkhā-
pada-s] to avoid unwholesome actions. Then he set him free
and said, “Go in peace and harm no one.”
At the end of this story, the Buddha identified the
births, saying:
“Sāriputta was the snake in those times. And I who
have become the Buddha was the doctor.”
The moral: “Determination wins respect.”