Welcome to Easy Stories in English, the podcast that will take your English from OK to Good, and from Good to Great.
I am Ariel Goodbody, your host for this show. Today’s story is for beginners. The name of the story is The Spider’s Thread. You can find a transcript of the episode at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Spider. That’s EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Spider. This contains the full story, as well as my transcript before it.
Today’s story is by Ryuunosuke Akutagawa. He is a Japanese author. Sometimes he is called “the father of the Japanese short story”. He wrote almost always short stories. I don’t think he wrote any novels, actually.
Sadly, he ended his life at thirty-five. So he was very young when he died. He killed himself, or as we say, he committed suicide.
As he grew up, his mother had very serious mental illness and mental problems. And Ryuunosuke always worried that he would get these problems from his mother. And in the end, it looks like he did.
He lived from 1892 to 1927. He was one of the most important Japanese writers in the history of the language.
Japanese is one of the languages I speak, and recently I have been reading a lot of Japanese literature. So the next three weeks will be stories by Ryuunosuke Akutagawa.
I have chosen his three most famous stories, although a lot of people don’t know who he is in the West. There was a famous film called Rashomon, which is actually based on two of his stories.
Ryuunosuke believed that literature could bring together different cultures. I hope you agree with him, because this podcast is aimed to bring together English learners from the whole world.
I’ve looked at the visitors to our website, EasyStoriesInEnglish.com, and I saw that there are people from lots of different places. At the moment, most of the visitors to our website are from Brazil, but maybe this will change in future. I’m interested to see.
This story is about Buddhism, which is a religion, which started in India. Buddhism then spread to most of Asia, and Buddhism is still a very important religion in Japan. But don’t worry. You don’t need to know a lot about Buddhism to enjoy this story.
I was actually surprised. So, growing up in England, I grew up Christian, and in Christianity, of course, there is Heaven, which is the place where good people go when they die, and there is Hell, which is the place where bad people go when they die. There are actually Heaven and Hell in Buddhism as well. But of course, they’re quite different to Christian Heaven and Hell.
Actually, I think there are several Heavens and several Hells in Buddhism. But today we’re just going to be looking at one. I really like the Buddhist versions of Heaven and Hell, especially the Buddhist version of Hell. It’s very, very scary and it’s very strange. It is a lot more imaginative, I think, than the Christian Hell. By “imaginative” I mean it has a lot of variety, I guess? You’ll see in the story, and hopefully you’ll agree.
So, I’ll just explain some words that will appear in the story, and in the title.
A “thread” is a long, thin thing that you usually use to make clothes. So, our clothes are held together using thread. And thread can come in lots of different colours.
A “needle” is a very short, thin, sharp tool. And you put a thread through a needle, and then you put the needle through clothes to put the clothes together using the thread. So this is called “sewing”. I don’t know how to sew, but I feel like I want to learn. Putting the thread in the needle is always the most annoying part because it’s so thin and the hole in the needle is so small.
Japanese stories seem to use needles a lot. I guess they’re kind of scary, because they’re very sharp. You don’t want a needle going near your face.
The thread in this story isn’t actually for clothes. It’s a spider’s thread. So, the thread that a spider uses to make its home, its web.
A “spider”, if you don’t know, is a small insect with eight legs, and I believe, eight eyes. Generally, people really don’t like spiders. Many people are scared of spiders. I try to not be too scared of them now. I don’t like killing spiders. I think killing spiders because you’re scared of them isn’t very nice. But it’s hard to not feel scared of spiders, ’cause they just look creepy, don’t they? But don’t worry. The spider in this story is not scary.
So, listen and enjoy!
The Spider’s Thread
It was a normal day in Heaven. It was morning, and Buddha was standing beside a pool. In the pool there were many flowers. The flowers sat on the top of the water, and they were very beautiful. Buddha began to walk. He walked around the pool and looked at the flowers. The flowers had a beautiful smell. The smell grew inside the flowers and moved into the air. All the air around Buddha smelled amazing.
Buddha stopped walking, and looked hard at the pool. Between the flowers there was water, and under the water, there was Hell.
The water was like a piece of glass. Above, there was Heaven, beautiful and lovely. Below, there was Hell, ugly and horrible. The water stood between the two places.
Through the water, Buddha could see all the horrible things in Hell.
First, there was the Sanzu river. It was a river full of dragons, and it had a bridge going over it. Only good people could walk across the bridge. There were demons standing in the water, and if a bad person walked across the bridge, the demons would take them and throw them into the water, so that they would be eaten by the dragons.
Then, there was the Mountain of Needles. It was a huge mountain made of sharp needles. When a truly bad person came to Hell, they had to climb the Mountain of Needles.
There was also the Lake of Blood. The Lake was made of very, very hot water, and it smelled horrible. Bad people in Hell had to swim in the boiling water, and their blood filled the Lake. And of course, there were many other horrible things in Hell, but Buddha did not like to look at them.
Among the groups of bad people in Hell, there was one man called Kandata. Kandata had been a very evil man. He had killed people, stolen from people, and even burned houses with people in them. He was truly an enemy of all good people. But once in his life, he had done something good, and Buddha remembered this.
One time, Kandata was walking through a thick forest. He was going to steal from a man who lived in the forest. As he was walking, he saw a spider beside him. Kandata raised his foot, and was about to stand on the spider and kill it, but then he stopped.
‘No, no. Even something this small has a reason to live. It would be truly evil to take its life away.’
So he let the spider live, and went to steal from the man.
As Buddha looked down into Hell, he thought of how Kandata had saved the spider. He decided that Kandata was actually not that evil. Because he had saved the spider, Buddha thought he should give Kandata a chance to leave Hell.
Luckily, next to the pool of beautiful flowers, a spider was walking. It was a spider of Heaven. It was an amazing green colour, and it was making a beautiful gold thread. Usually, spiders only made weak, white threads, but this spider’s golden thread was strong and made of shining gold. So Buddha took the spider’s golden thread and dropped it into Hell deep below him.
At the bottom of Hell, Kandata was swimming in the Lake of Blood, along with many other bad people. Occasionally, he saw something bright, and he thought it was something that could save him. But when he looked harder, he saw that it was just the needles on the Mountain of Needles, shining in the light. All around him, people cried in pain and sadness. Kandata had stopped crying, because he was too tired. He felt truly awful, because he knew he would never leave Hell. He swam in the Lake of Blood, quiet and sad.
Kandata saw something shine, but he knew it was only a needle, so he did not look up. But it kept shining, so eventually he raised his head. Above him, in the darkness of Hell’s sky, there was something bright and gold. It was a long thread that was slowly coming down into Hell.
Kandata couldn’t believe his eyes. His chance to leave Hell was coming down to him like a present. He would climb onto the thread, and climb out of Hell! If he was lucky, he might even be able to climb into Heaven. He no longer had to swim in the Lake of Blood, and climb the Mountain of Needles. He would be free!
So Kandata climbed out of the Lake and ran to the golden thread. He took it in his hands. The thread was thin, and easy to hold onto. Kandata climbed up and up and up. Because he used to steal so much, he was very good at climbing, so it was no problem to climb up the golden thread. However, between Heaven and Hell were thousands and thousands of miles, so even for a great climber like Kandata, it was a difficult journey.
After climbing for a long time, Kandata was tired, so he decided to take a break. He looked below him to see how far he had climbed. He saw that the Lake of Blood was far, far away, and that he had climbed many miles. Even the Mountain of Needles was far below him. If he kept climbing, he would leave Hell. He felt a great happiness inside of him.
‘I’ve done it! I’ve done it!’ he shouted, and laughed.
But then he felt something below him on the thread. He looked down, and saw that lots of other bad people in Hell had seen the thread. They were now following him, climbing up and up and up.
Kandata saw this, and he was surprised, and sad. He hung there, looking down at the other evil people. The thread was not thick, so he was surprised that it could take so many people without breaking. But if too many people climbed onto the thread, it might break, and they would all fall back down into Hell. More and more people climbed out of the Lake of Blood, and started climbing up the thread.
Kandata shouted at the people below, ‘Hey, you terrible people! You awful people down there! This spider’s thread is mine. It belongs to me, and only me! Who told you you could all climb up? Get off, get off!’
Then, suddenly, the spider’s thread broke. It made a SNAP, and Kandata fell. He fell down and down and down. Finally, he landed in the Lake of Blood with a SPLASH, along with all the other bad people. The spider’s thread hung in the air, shining bright like the needles on the Mountain of Needles, while all the bad people sat below.
Buddha stood by the side of the pool in Heaven, and watched all of this happen. He had a sad expression on his face. He started to walk around the pool again. He had given Kandata a chance to get out of Hell, but Kandata showed that he was a truly bad person, and so Buddha had to send him right back to Hell. He seemed very sad at this.
Meanwhile, the flowers in the pool continued to smell lovely. They continued to make their beautiful smell all throughout Heaven, and they did not think of Kandata. The green spider continued to make its golden thread, and it did not think of Kandata. It was a normal day in Heaven, and soon it would be noon.
I hope you enjoyed the story. You can support the podcast by leaving a review on iTunes. Search for Easy Stories in English, give us a star rating, and say what you like about the show. It would really help us grow. Thank you for listening, and until next week.