After dark I returned to my room at the monastery guesthouse. I was pleased with myself because I’d finally remembered to buy milk powder. Moving the curtain aside, I thought I’d put the powder on the windowsill beside the coffee – but found that I could not, because that space was currently occupied by an extremely impressive spider.
The big spindly black spiders I knew already – they were harmless, though it was best not to bother them, because then they started jumping and big spiders splayed out on the walls were infinitely preferable, in my opinion, to big spiders jumping.
This however was not a spider I knew. It was big, brown and stocky – it looked like the sort of spider who took being a spider very seriously indeed.
I’m sure I bowed to it, as I always do when I meet someone for the first time and feel a little bit afraid. I then shuffled, respectfully, backwards out of my room.
The monastery café was closed but the lights were still on in the kitchen. The cook was there getting stoned with three bald middle-aged backpackers who felt they were extremely cool. During the day they were incredibly spiritual. At night they were hipsters.
The four of them looked at me as if I were their ancient mother, whom they resented, and who was now about to chastise them.
“Hi guys!” I said, as goofy as I could, so as not to seem like narc or a granny. “One quick question! Big brown spider, kinda stocky. Not the big black spindly kind. Is it OK?”
The stoned cook and the stoned bald backpackers all looked at me and said, “OK!”
And I realized my level of trust in their ability to classify arachnids was distinctly underwhelming. So, more serious now, I repeated my description directly to the cook, who likewise made his face serious, and cocked his head to the side, and said, “Maybe it’s Norbu?”
So, because I am a longterm student of Tibetan Buddhism, because I’ve been to Dharamsala many times and consider myself, more or less, up with the program, I immediately assumed (as anyone would) that Norbu (which I knew to be a common name) was one of the monks here, who’d been extremely bad, and thus was currently incarnated as a stocky brown spider in Room #5.
I stood there for a moment, trying to decide whether this piece of information resolved my question or not.
Then, one of the bald hipster backpackers, looking at me with withering disdain, because I was so un-cool, unlike himself, said, “Norbu means lucky.”
I laughed and smiled and accepted, finally, that the spider and I were on our own and it was up to us to get along.
I returned to my room and moved the curtain aside very gently. The big brown stocky spider was still there, perched beside the instant coffee.
“Goodnight, Norbu,” I said. Then I moved my chair to the opposite side of the room and said my usual prayers: to benefit all sentient beings or, at least, not to hurt them.