In saving others, we save ourselves

This is one of my all-time favorite cartoons; in English it’s published in “Zen Speaks,” by Tsai Chih Chung.*  This is from the original Taiwanese edition.
 

“One day, the Buddha Shakyamuni was meditating when he heard the sounds of beings crying out in great pain. As he looked throughout all realms, he saw that the cries were coming from a hell realm.

There, one man in particular was begging him for help.o

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Using his sublime abilities, the Buddha looked into the man’s past:

He’d been an infamous brigand, for whom no deed was too evil.

“Alas,” thought the Buddha, “did he do no good?”

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oThere had been one time, after robbing a village, that he made an effort to avoid stepping on a spider.

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“So,” thought the Buddha, “let the spider save him now.”

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With this the spider sent a single strand of silk down into the depths of hell.

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The man grabbed ahold and began climbing out. However, everyone else was also trying to climb up that single strand.

“Hey! This is mine! Get lost!” And he cut the thread below him, dropping all those other people back into hell.

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  However, in the next moment, the thread just above him broke, almost as if some hand, perhaps his hand, had reached down and cut it.

 

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There’s no saving myself alone.
Only by including others, can I be saved.
 

 
* Tsai Chih Chung is a gifted artist, and an incredible interpreter of the Chinese classic texts of wisdom. If you were ever the least bit curious about the great philosophers of China, check out his books.

10 thoughts on “In saving others, we save ourselves”

  1. that’s why once I mentioned that Hinayana is the beginning, because enlightment is for the sake of others, you cannot get enlightment for your own’s sake, it is a contradiction in terms.

  2. Dang! I was rooting for him! But such is my life… always backing the bad boys and getting burned!

    If I had been the brigand, I would have asked the spider to weave a net…

    Genju

  3. Reading this story from the artist makes me think of a story in the book of Eiken Kobai Sensei on
    “The True and Real World of Salvation” on the chapter of
    Salvation of the “Evil Person”

    http://www.trueshinbuddhism.com/content/view/80/108/1/1/

    I would like to share this story once again here.

    The famed Japanese writer, Akutagawa Ryunosuke (1892-1927), who wrote the story that was made into the award-winning motion picture Rashomon, wrote another short story titled “A Spider’s Thread” (Kumo no ito). The central character in this story is named Kandata, a career criminal who killed people, robbed them, and set fire to their houses. He fell into hell after leaving this world because of the sort of person he was.

    Bad as Kandata was, however, there was one thing he did while living in this world that could be considered good. And that was, once, while walking deep in the forest, he came across a spider busily spinning its web. Ordinarily Kandata would have torn the web to make his way through, but that one time, he changed direction in order to not destroy it. Because of that one good act, the Buddha determined Kandata deserved to escape from the depths of hell.

    From the Pure Land where he dwelled, the Buddha lowered a single spider’s thread down into hell where Kandata suffered. When Kandata looked up he unexpectedly found the spider’s thread dangling in front of his eyes. If I climb this thread, Kandata thought, I might be able escape from this dreaded hell! He carefully grasped the thin thread with both hands. When he found that thin as it was, it did not break, he quickly began climbing it.

    After climbing for a while, Kandata became tired and decided to rest. Looking down, he saw hell far below him. Ah! Kandata thought, all I have to do is climb just a little more and I’ll get out of here! “Great! Great!”

    At that same moment, however, Kandata became aware of the multitudes of evil beings like himself who were trapped in hell, following him up the spider’s thread. There were so many they looked liked ants climbing the thread to which he was holding on for dear life. The thread was so delicate that he wasn’t sure it would support him… how much less would it support all the others following him?! If that thread broke, not only he, but all the others would fall back into hell!

    “Hey!” Kandata yelled to those below him. “This is my thread! Get off! Get off!”

    That was the moment when, just above where he was holding it, the spider’s thread broke and Kandata and all the others fell back into hell.

    There’s no doubt that Kandata was an evil person. And because he was, it was only natural for him to fall into hell. But when a way for him to escape appeared before him, he ruined his opportunity because he had no concern for others. Shouting to those following him, “This is my thread!” is what ruined his chance to escape hell. He was, after all, a person who thought only of benefitting himself.

    What is most important about this story is comparing Kandata’s attitude with ours. Can we say we are better than Kandata? Would we be able to act differently if we were in a similar situation? I believe that was the deep introspection of the writer, Akutagawa Ryunosuke.

    ———

    1. Thank you so much for that Melvin! And thank you too for the link. I do like that website a lot!

      All beings, one Buddha-nature,
      Praise to Amida Buddha,
      Praise to the Bodhisattva of Compassion!

      _/\_

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