The Spider-Web

Chapter 5 from "Karma" by Paul Carus.

While the charitable samana washed the wounds, the robber chief said: "I have done much evil and no good. How can I extricate myself from the net of sorrow which I have woven out of the evil desires of my own heart? My Karma will lead me to Hell and I shall never be able to walk in the path of salvation."

Said the samana: "Indeed your Karma will in its future incarnations reap the seeds of evil you have sown. There is no escape from the consequences of our actions. But there is no cause for despair. The man who is converted and has rooted out the illusion of self, with all its lusts and sinful desires, will be a source of blessing to himself and others.

"As an illustration, I will tell you the story of the great robber Kandata, who died without repentance and was reborn as a demon in Hell, where he suffered for his evil deeds the most terrible agonies and pains. He had been in Hell several kalpas and was unable to rise out of his wretched condition, when Buddha appeared upon earth and attained to the blessed state of enlightenment. At that memorable moment a ray of light fell down into hell quickening all the demons with life and hope, and the robber Kandata cried aloud: 'O blessed Buddha, have mercy upon me! I suffer greatly, and although I have done evil, I am anxious to walk in the noble path of righteousness. But I cannot extricate myself from the net of sorrow. Help me, O Lord; have mercy on me!'

"Now, it is the law of Karma that evil deeds lead to destruction, for absolute evil is so bad that it cannot exist. Absolute evil involves impossibility of existence. But good deeds lead to life. Thus there is a final end to every deed that is done, but there is no end to the development of good deeds. The least act of goodness bears fruit containing new seeds of goodness, and they continue to grow, they nourish the poor suffering creatures in their repeated wanderings in the eternal round of Samsara until they reach the final deliverance from all evil in Nirvana.

"When Buddha the Lord, heard the prayer of the demon suffering in Hell, he said: 'Kandata, did you ever perform an act of kindness? It will now return to you and help you rise again. But you cannot be rescued unless the intense sufferings which you endure as consequences of your evil deeds have dispelled all conceit of selfhood and have purified your soul of vanity, lust, and envy.'

"Kandata remained silent, for he had been a cruel man, but the Tathagata in his omniscience saw all the deeds performed by the poor wretch, and he perceived that once in his life when walking through the woods he had seen a spider crawling on the ground, and he thought to himself, 'I will not step upon the spider, for he is a harmless creature and hurts nobody.'

"Buddha looked with compassion upon the tortures of Kandata and sent down a spider on a cobweb and the spider said: "Take hold of the web and climb up.'

Having attached the web at the bottom of Hell the spider withdrew. Kandata eagerly seized the thin thread and made great efforts to climb up. And he succeeded. The web was so strong that it held, and he ascended higher and higher.

"Suddenly he felt the thread trembling and shaking, for behind him some of his fellow-sufferers were beginning to climb up. Kandata became frightened. He saw the thinness of the web, and observed that it was elastic, for under the increased weight it stretched out; yet it still seemed strong enough to carry him. Kandata had heretofore only looked up; he now looked down and saw following close upon his heels, also climbing up on the cobweb a numberless mob of the denizens of Hell. 'How can this thin thread bear the weight of all?' he thought to himself, and seized with fear he shouted loudly: 'Let go the cobweb. It is mine!'

"At once the cobweb broke, and Kandata fell back into hell.

"The illusion of self was still upon Kandata. He did not know the miraculous power of a sincere longing to rise upwards and enter the noble path of righteousness. It is thin like a cobweb, but it will carry millions of people, and the more there are that climb it, the easier will be the efforts of every one of them. But as soon as the idea arises in a man's heart: 'This is mine; let the bliss of righteousness be mine alone, and let no one else partake of it,' the thread breaks and he will fall back into his old condition of selfhood. For selfhood is damnation, and truth is bliss. What is Hell? It is nothing but egotism, and Nirvana is a life of righteousness."

"Let me take hold of the spider-web," said the dying robber chief, when the samana had finished his story, "and I will pull myself up out of the depths of Hell."

Chapter Six

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