A Tiny Black Spider

Spring 486 BCE

Ashna sat
in a coil of pure thought
by the edge of a quiet green pond
beneath a wide umbrella of palms.
Nothing could disrupt
the deep meditation
of this earnest young
man except the sight of
a tiny black spider
sinking into the still
green water, its legs
thrashing and pumping.
Ashna opened his eyes to
suffering, and scooped up
the struggling spider
with his drinking gourd.
He poured the water
over his robe, and
gently eased the
tiny black spider
onto the banana leaf
prayer page. Holding
it close to his mouth,
he breathed hot breaths
over the creature.
Then Ashna tilted
the banana leaf against
the ground, the tiny black
spider slipped off,
and disappeared.
Ashna resumed his posture.

At dusk in the forest,
with resident deer
grazing, Gautama,
an eighty year old man,
walked slowly
to his meditation tree.
Deer accompanied him,
watchful and alert.
A few younger monks
gathered on the steps
of the temple. Ashna
walked very quietly
behind Gautama. 'Ashna! '
Startled to hear Gautama
call his name, he walked
around and bowed deeply.
'Ashna, you looked puzzled.'
Gautama spoke softly.
'Do you have a question for me? '
Ashna placed his palms
together; touching his forehead
with them, he bowed his head
and spoke fervently. 'Oh Illustrious
One I apologize for disturbing
your meditation. Please forgive me.
I will join my brother monks and go begging? '
'No, stay, Ashna... Sit
by me. My meditation is not
damaged.' His voice was softer
than the air flowing through
the Deer Park. They sat in silence.
'If you don't tell me, I
will think you are wounded.
Do you want me to carry
that weight? ' Ashna shook
his head. 'O Illustrious
One, I was in deep meditation
when I was distracted and
surrendered wholly to the
distraction. I watched
a tiny black spider fall
into the pool and struggle
helplessly. I rescued him,
revived him and released him.
And then I could not
return to my meditation.
I sat staring into the
air, the hours passed,
the day cooled into dusk,
dust motes floated past
my eyes, and I could not
find my center.' A smile
creased Gautama's aged
face. 'Ashna... Ashna,
you acted blamelessly. You
saved a creature in dire
peril. You have gained
merit for yourself. Your
calm, disrupted now,
will return tomorrow.'
Ashna's face was shining
with gratitude. Gautama
lowered his voice. 'What if
I told you that this tiny
black spider you rescued,
in a previous life, had been
a general who led one thousand
war chariots into bloody
battles across our northern
region? For ten years he
waged brutal warfare, until
all his enemies had been killed.
But so had all of his
charioteers, and he himself
fatally wounded. There were
no men of power left to govern
the people, so they governed
themselves, and lived happily.'
'Is it true, O Illustrious One,
I helped him on his path
of deliverance? ' Gautama replied,
'If you believe my story,
it is because you need
a story to believe.' Ashna saw
the laughter in Gautama's eyes.
He understood, and continued
the story. 'And after some years,
a new general arrived at the head
of three thousand charioteers,
but today he is just a wasp! '
The two laughed in tandem. Then
they sat in smiling silence.
A few night birds added
their sweet melodies to
the spring air. 'Ashna.'
Gautama's voice was steady and
serious.'Listen to my words.
Just as the sun produces
rays of light from within itself,
so the spider produces threads
for its web... And from your
depths come acts of kindness.
It is this life we should live.'
Gautama was silent for a long while.
When he finally spoke, his face
was invisible in the darkness.
'Ashna, you have become a lamp
unto yourself.' Then, he signalled
to Ashna he wanted to rise. And
the two monks, one old and close
to death, the other, young
and vibrant, walked side by side
into the brightly lit temple.

Summer 2014

There is no such story
in any Buddhist literature,
I made it up but not out of
whole cloth. I read in
Jack Kornfield's TEACHINGS
OF THE BUDDHA for an hour
and I found the Buddha
had already anticipated my theme,
namely,
'Neither fire, nor moisture, nor wind
can destroy the blessing of a good deed,
and blessings benefit the whole world.'
I needed a story to balance
the reality I witnessed. A story
is a piece of fiction, and fiction
means a shaping, something molded,
and that means the hand of a human
being, not the Hand of Fate, operating
in some distant dimension, hidden
and inaccessible, but a human hand
writing words at a desk, or typing
in a PC at the kitchen table. So
here is the story as it truly
happened....

I was sitting in the
spa, my copy of Whitman
nearby, dreamily watching
the roiling currents shoot
through the pool causing
the agitated waters that
soothe my aches and sore
muscles. Suddenly, I saw
a spider flailing against
the current that harried him.
I emptied my plastic cup,
and scooped him up. I took
him to the bench, pouring
the water on my blanket
whose fabric soaked it up.
I eased the spider onto
a loose page of LEAVES OF GRASS,
lifted the Whitman near my lips
to blow restorative breath over
him. But it was a fool's errand.
He was just a blot of black tissue,
no spider shape was left there.
He was already dead... I inter-
vened too late, and I'm certain,
much too late, a fool's errand
indeed. Why was this rescue
so important to me? Why did I
want, no, need that minuscule life
to prevail? Is it because
compared to quasars and supernovae,
I too am minuscule life?
Was my good act a compensation
for the sheer randomness
of the universe?
It may be so, philosophy
is a wonderful endeavor, it's
so satisfying to exercise
the mind, that rainbow
of truth-seeking
within us all....
But I have a simpler notion:
the answer can only be found
within me. Why did I assume
this fool's errand? Because
listening to Mahler's Second
Symphony in the morning was
visionary, and my afternoon
walk through Lebanon Hills was
invigorating, and later Marie blessed
me in her message, and later still
Nika responded sympathetically
to my new poem, SEVEN WINDOWS.
For these reasons, and more
like them, I tried to save
a tiny black spider!

by Daniel Brick

Comments (1)

the mystery of life and death and love and its infinite mercy and the swift soaring smile because without that smile how dull would eternity be. To laugh at the tiny tidbits of everyday life how precious as is this great peom.