The Spider’s Thread

One of my absolute favorite Japanese folk stores is the one about a spider and a thread by Akutagawa. It sounds even better in Japanese.

Shakyamuni is wandering around paradise one day and begins to stare into a lotus pond. He sees directly into the depths of hell, and sees one sinner in particular Kandata a criminal. The only good deed Kandata ever did was spare a spiders life. So Shakyamuni lowers a silvery spider thread down to the lowly sinner.

There are a myriad  of sinners rotting in hell but by chance Kandata sees the dangling thread and begins to climb, hoping he can escape. Climbing as fast as he can he soon tires and looks down to see his progress, laughs to himself in elation believing he can escape from hell. His joy is short lived; soon he notices that other sinners have started to climb as well. He yells down to tell them that this is his rope and no one else. At that moment the thread breaks and everyone including Kandata tumble back into hell.

Only after he regains composure does Kandata realize that he should not only think of his own salvation but others as well.

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