retold by Zayn Kassam
There was once a man in Iraq who decided to go into the cold and snowy mountains in search of a snake. He wanted to display the snake to the townspeople and thereby raise a few coppers from the incredulous crowd.
Foolish man that he was, he searched through the mountains and lo and behold! He found a terrible and fierce-looking dragon who seemed quite dead from the cold. He bundled up the creature in a cloth and tied it up with string, and carried it down to the town.
“See!” he cried out to the townspeople, “See what I have brought, with great difficulty and much searching, from the mountains! Come and see this terrible and fierce-looking dragon, whom I have killed!”
The townspeople came from near and far to behold such a sight. They rallied around the dragon, and the crowd grew so thick that people jostled against one another, all craning their necks to catch a glimpse of this fierce and terrible dead dragon.
In the town, the sun grew stronger and by the warmth of its rays, the dragon began to emerge slowly from its frozen state. As it warmed, life revived in the dragon, who had not been dead at all but merely frozen beyond outwardly movement. Soon it burst forth from the cloth and string that had been tied around it.
The townspeople were filled with terror at the sight of the fierce dragon, come back from the dead as it were, and ran away from it in panic, crushing each other as they fled.
The dragon, mighty serpent that it was, devoured whoever was in its path, and finding a pillar, entwined itself around it, eating alive the man who thought he had easily captured a terrible and fierce-looking dragon.
And thus ends the story of the snake-catcher and the serpent.
In this story, the snake-catcher is a human being. As such, he has within him the capacity for spiritual knowledge and enlightenment. However, attracted to the prospect of gaining material wealth and worldly fame, he goes into the snowy mountains to catch a serpent, a creature that has never befriended the human race. The serpent is a symbol for the sensual soul within human beings. If befriended, the serpent will ultimately devour such human beings and thereby destroy their capacity for spiritual growth and perfection.
The serpent seems quite dead to the snake-catcher, but is not really so. It is simply that in the cold and snowy mountains the conditions are not favourable for the serpent to exercise its natural tendencies. These conditions are created by separating the sensual soul from its desires, such as lust, greed, gluttony, etc. On the other hand, if one allows the rays of greed and lust to shine upon the sensual soul, it will grow stronger and stronger, such that whatever restraints one may have placed upon sensual soul will present no barrier to its breaking free. In being released from its bonds, the sensual soul is capable of destroying the very being that gave it life, and thereby result in its master’s spiritual death.