Today’s inspirational photo quote is an expansion of an original one by Norman B. Rice. “Dare to reach out your hand into the darkness, to pull another hand into the light.” The expanded quote reminds us that one of the ways we can pull others into the light is to stand up for them when they cannot stand up for themselves.
The imagery of pulling people into the light reminds me of a story I read in the original Japanese called “Kumo no Ito,” or “The Spider’s Thread,” by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, first published in a children’s magazine back in 1918. The characters that were used to write the story are so difficult (and some so esoteric) that I’m sure the story was meant to be read to children, rather than for kids to read it themselves. These days, the story is a mainstay of literature courses for Japanese high school students.
In the story, the Buddha is wandering around in Paradise one beautiful morning when he happens upon a pond filled with lotus blossoms. When he looks down into the crystal-clear waters between the lily pads, he can see what is going on down in the depths of Hell. He sees one sinner, in particular, whose name is Kandata. Kandata was a hardened criminal, but managed to do one solitary good deed in his life: he decided not to crush a spider as he was walking along in the forest. Moved by Kandata’s single act of compassion, Buddha decides to spare Kandata from having to suffer in Hell anymore. He takes a silvery spider’s thread and lowers it into the water like a rope, hoping that Kandata will see it and climb up into Paradise.
Meanwhile, Kandata is suffering along with others in a pool of blood. The only light in the darkness comes from some sharp-peaked mountains in the distance. Hell is silent, except for the sighs of the damned. Kandata looks up and sees this spider’s thread dangling from the sky, and recognizes it as a means of escape. He jumps up onto the thread and begins to climb.
Soon, Kandata notices that others are also climbing on the thread below him, and he begins to worry that the thread will not support everyone. The climb is long, and every once in a while, Kandata has to stop and rest. When he looks up, he can see that he is very close to escaping from Hell, but when he looks down, he sees that many others have begun to follow him. He shouts at them to get off, that this is his thread, not meant for everyone else.
As soon as he tells the others to get off, the thread snaps, and all the climbers, including Kandata, fall back down into Hell. The Buddha watches sadly as the sinners tumble down into Hell again. Had Kandata had compassion for others, the spider’s thread would have been strong enough to save many others, as well as Kandata, himself. His own lack of compassion was what caused the thread to break.
This story illustrates one of the main concepts of Buddhism, namely compassion for others. Compassion is what causes us to forgive others, knowing that people tend to do negative things when they are suffering. Compassion is what moves us to offer help to those who suffer. However, the story also illustrates the fact that help cannot be forced on people – it can only be offered, and some people are literally incapable of accepting the offer of help.
One other thing is illustrated in this story: detachment. Although the Buddha is sad to see that Kandata has not been able to save himself, but he doesn’t weep over it. He knows that there was a cause and effect relationship in what happened, and he recognizes that it was Kandata’s lack of compassion for others that caused the thread to break. At the end of the story, the Buddha walks away from the pond, continuing his stroll, and everything in Paradise is the same as it ever was.
Sure, it’s fine to stand up for others in need, and to offer help, but when we start doing things for others that they can’t or won’t accept, then we are guilty of forcing our help on them. We can rationalize that it’s for their own good, but that generally backfires. When we do offer help, we must make sure that what we do for others does not enable them to continue as they have been doing.
Even when we ask for God’s help in our lives, many times it is offered in the form of help from a friend or even a stranger. Help often comes in a form we were not expecting. Sometimes, there is something that holds us back from receiving the Gift. It may be our own pride or stubbornness. It may be our fear of making changes in our lives. It may be an unwillingness to exercise restraint or forgo immediate pleasures. Whatever it is, we are the ones who have to heal that place in ourselves that prevents us from climbing up out of our private hell and into the Light.
If you look Up, there is always a way Out. One of the keys is to bring others along with you. 🙂