Reprinted with permission from One Hand Clapping: Zen Stories for All Ages. One evening, a man was invited to the home of a friend. As he was about to drink a cup of tea that was offered to him, he thought he saw a baby snake in the cup! He did not want to embarrass his hostess, so he gathered all of his courage and swallowed the tea in one gulp. When the man returned home later that night, he began to feel severe pains in his stomach. By the next day the pains had grown worse. He consulted several doctors and tried many cures, but none worked. The man, now seriously ill, thought he was about to die.

Hearing of his condition, his friend invited him to visit her again. Sitting in the same place, he accepted another cup of tea. As the sick man lifted his cup to drink, he suddenly saw the snake again! This time he had to speak up, so he drew his hostess's attention to it. Without a word she pointed to the ceiling above her guest. He looked up. There, just above him, hanging from a beam, was a length of rope. The sick man realized all at once that what he had thought was a baby snake was simply the reflection of the rope! The two friends looked at each other and laughed. The pain of the sick man instantly vanished and he recovered perfect health.

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