John Suler's Zen Stories to Tell Your Neighbors
A Tibetan story tells of a meditation student who, while meditating in his room, believed he saw a spider descending in front of him. Each day the menacing creature returned, growing larger and larger each time. So frightened was the student, that he went to his teacher to report his dilemma. He said he planned to place a knife in his lap during meditation, so when the spider appeared he would kill it. The teacher advised him against this plan. Instead, he suggested, bring a piece of chalk to meditation, and when the spider appeared, mark an "X" on its belly. Then report back.
The student returned to his meditation. When the spider again appeared, he resisted the urge to attack it, and instead did just what the master suggested. When he later reported back to the master, the teacher told him to lift up his shirt and look at his own belly. There was the "X".
People's reactions to this story:
"Always look at yourself first."
"This guy obviously doesn't have great self-esteem or self-worth. He is afraid and ashamed of what he is. He can't face the reality that he doesn't like who he is."
"The spider could represent the evil within himself - or the evil all around us in the world."
"We are our own worst enemy. It is our own self that is the greatest threat to our own existence - now that's a paradox, isn't it?"
"This story reminds me of The Scarlet Letter."
"Humans, by their very nature, seem to want to destroy those things that they don't understand and fear."
"I guess the message is that we shouldn't kill any other being, including animals and insects. Everything that is alive has a right to live. The spider and the student BOTH have the "X" of life on them. So if he killed the spider, he would be killing one of his own kind."
"This reminds me off we cannot see something about ourselves that is right there in front of us - like the day I heard a psychologist say that we usually marry someone like our same-sex parent. A bell went off in my head because I suddenly realized I had married A MAN who was just like my mother!"
"The spider symbolizes a deep seeded guilt or frustration within the student. These problems are growing larger as the spider grows. Until he lets out his problems, this spider will always be there to threaten him."
"Don't always be so ready to kill. Take a different approach. In the end it will save your own life."
"This story teaches you that it is best NOT to jump to conclusions. Don't judge things by appearance alone."
"Apparently this teacher has taken a few psychology courses. But I think the story would have been more interesting if the student DID stab himself. Whatever the problem is that he is facing, it is increasing to the point where it must destroy him, or he must destroy it."
"I bet this student was suicidal to start off with."
"I think the spider symbolizes the student growing more focused and immersed into his meditation - so much so that he is seeing himself. But that scares him, because he doesn't know that he is looking at himself, and no one wants to really look at oneself."