The Spider in Its Web

Luang Por Pasanno • October 2013

When the mind seeks objects for sense contact, it almost always finds the objects it seeks. When it seeks objects of stimulation, interest, gratification, aversion, or irritation, it can easily find them, because there’s always something around to be excited or irritated about. That’s why the quality of sense restraint is so important. We exercise this quality by paying close attention to the process of sense contact, and by learning to experience that contact—sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, and mental objects—without getting hooked into the desire and aversion, the liking and disliking that tends to happen when sense restraint is absent.

Ajahn Chah used the image of a spider sitting in the center of its web, alert and waiting. As soon as an insect touches the web, the spider goes out, grabs the insect, wraps it up, and brings it back to the web’s center for eating. In a similar way, we have a web made from our senses and at its center is our heart and our ability to be aware. When this web is touched by some form of contact, we can draw that into the heart and—exercising sense restraint—we can reflect, investigate, and deal with that contact skillfully, according to Dhamma, without getting swept up in reaction and proliferation. When we take this quality of sense restraint as our center, we carry it into our daily lives of social interaction, duties and chores, and into formal meditation as well.

During the morning work period and at mealtime, we may let the mind get swept up into reactions and proliferations arising from social contact. Then, when we go back to our dwellings in the afternoon, the mind will be chewing on these same reactions and proliferations for perhaps hours, so that meditation becomes problematic. But if we are well established in sense restraint during such times of social contact, afterward the mind will be steady and stable—it will be in a state much more conducive to having a fruitful meditation. As we endeavor to establish continuity in our practice, we recognize sense restraint as a key aspect of that. Establishing a continuity of sense restraint ensures that the food in our web will be nourishing.