I once read that the great nondualist teacher Ramana Maharishi used to kill spiders and flies in his ashram, calling them “nuisances.” This behavior amazes me because those very “nuisances” are none other than Brahman, the nondual reality. The more we dive deeply into nonduality and the reality of interdependence, the more we see that spiders and flies are nonseparate from us.
How can I kill spiders in ‘my’ house? They are my own Self, intrinsically valuable, distinct beings with a vital interest in living and flourishing just like that of any human. They, too, deserve compassion and moral consideration.
Some of my family members see spiders as separate from them. When they see spiders in the house, they scream in fear and ask me to kill the spiders. I refuse, but since I care about their feelings as well as about the spiders, I place the spiders gently in a coffee tin and temporarily close the lid. I then carry them outside some distance from the house and release them in a safe location where they can build a new web and flourish.
To kill the spider is to kill a unique, valuable manifestation of the nondual reality, Brahman; there will be other spiders, but never one exactly like the one we have killed. Because of our selfish act of violence, we have deprived the universe of a unique manifestation and one-of-a-kind living being. The act of killing a spider is thus not only an act of violence to the spider, but also to the universe as a whole. And why? Spiders are only trying to live and flourish, just like other beings. They are nonseparate from our own nature; once we see deeply into the reality of interdependence and nonduality, how can we cruelly and arbitrarily deprive them of life? What would cause us to do so except a dualistic sense of fear and aversion?
If we are afraid of spiders and wish to kill them, these feelings tell us more about the state of our own minds then they do about the spiders themselves. If we feel this way, it can be helpful for us to take this fear and aggression as signs that we need to deepen our practice of compassion and insight into interdependence and nonduality. Seen this way, the spiders are teachers of the dharma; they teach detachment, fine attention to their work, and freedom from aversion and aggression. Perhaps we would do better to learn from our teachers than to kill them.