A Buddhist Metaphor About Compassion | Myosenji Buddhist Temple
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A Buddhist Metaphor

What is Buddhism?

In Japanese classical literature, there is a story titled “The Spider’s Thread,” written by Ryunosuke Akutagawa. In this story, the Buddha, with his great compassion, saves the people who are in constant agony. Here is a summary:

One day, Shakyamuni was standing at the edge of a lotus pond in paradise. Located directly below this lotus pond in paradise was hell. As Shakyamuni peered below, from the edge of the lotus pond, deep down into hell, he saw that there were many, many slanderers suffering, writhing in agony. Shakyamuni noticed that a man named Kandata was among them.

Kandata had performed one good deed in his life. He had spared the life of a spider. Shakyamuni recalled this good deed that Kandata had performed and decided to guide him up to paradise from the depths of hell. He lowered a single spider’s thread down toward Kandata.

Kandata held fast to the spider’s thread and started to climb it from the bottom of hell far toward the distance above.

He had climbed quite a way when he happened to look down and was startled to see countless other slanderers from hell also climbing the thread. He feared that the thin spider’s thread would snap and break if he did
nothing. He shouted, “This spider’s thread is MINE. You must all get off now. Get off!”

The next instant, the spider’s thread snapped right where Kandata was holding on, and once again, he fell into hell.

This is how the story ends. Kandata suffered punishment due to his lack of compassion, and fell right back into hell.

Nichiren Daishonin, the founder of Nichiren Shoshu teaches:

The awakening of faith occurs when one wishes in one’s heart to remove the sufferings of others.
(Gosho, p. 1666)

When one possesses great compassion and the desire to save others, he awakens the determination to pursue the Buddha way.

Excerpted from “The Guide on the Difficult Road to Enlightenment” lecture.