Another wet, rather dull morning. The house is slow to stir. Adam and Joe are sleeping in the animal houses and Dharmavidya is in the écurie, so I am the only one in the main house. Today I am not disturbed by any noises in the kitchen resulting from Adam’s activity to prepare breakfast until just before eight. It crosses my mind that he’s somewhat late this morning. Yesterday felt like a day of rest. One could say that it was imposed on us by the weather conditions. There were few breaks in the rain, keeping us inside from the moment we were all up to the time we each retired for the night. Dharmavidya did venture out late afternoon to cut a path to where the new beehive is sited. Rapped up in a makeshift outfit outwardly resembling a beekeeper he had decided that a wet day would be the safest time to undertake this task. We had all figured together that the ‘bee community’, so recently torn from where it was living, and placed in this unfamiliar environment, is likely to be unsettled, and perhaps therefore more apt to respond aggressively to the presence of a human being. I am sure in no time they will be happy with their fresh location.
Here are Sylvia Plath’s words about receiving a community of Anthophila giving a wonderfully evocative sense of our prescient fear attending these mostly benign makers of sweet honey.
The Arrival of the Bee Box
I ordered this, clean wood box
Square as a chair and almost too heavy to lift.
I would say it was the coffin of a midget
Or a square baby
Were there not such a din in it.
The box is locked, it is dangerous.
I have to live with it overnight
And I can't keep away from it.
There are no windows, so I can't see what is in there.
There is only a little grid, no exit.
I put my eye to the grid.
It is dark, dark,
With the swarmy feeling of African hands
Minute and shrunk for export,
Black on black, angrily clambering.
How can I let them out?
It is the noise that appalls me most of all,
The unintelligible syllables.
It is like a Roman mob,
Small, taken one by one, but my god, together!
I lay my ear to furious Latin.
I am not a Caesar.
I have simply ordered a box of maniacs.
They can be sent back.
They can die, I need feed them nothing, I am the owner.
I wonder how hungry they are.
I wonder if they would forget me
If I just undid the locks and stood back and turned into a tree.
There is the laburnum, its blond colonnades,
And the petticoats of the cherry.
They might ignore me immediately
In my moon suit and funeral veil.
I am no source of honey
So why should they turn on me?
Tomorrow I will be sweet God, I will set them free.
The box is only temporary.
(Sylvia Plath 1962)
The bees too it seems from Dharmavidya’s account were snug inside the hive – “Black on black.” I imagine, like Plath did, chatting in a language as unintelligible as mumbled Latin. Yesterday, I conjectured that given the black hairiness of their bodies – in contrast say to wasps – they probably avoid going out in the wet like we do, hibernating until such time, as the warmth of the sun appears again from behind the clouds. It would be like being caught in a shower whilst wearing a woolly jumper.
I start to imagine what flowers they will visit to collect their pollen. Have I already smelt the scent of the honey they will make I wonder? After all the particles that activated the hay-fever symptoms I had last week must surely have come from the abundant borage, crucifers and willow-herbs in the immediate vicinity of the house? Will they visit these before they die back or are pulled up?
At breakfast this morning we talked about the way that bees as well as ants live as a collective organism, how the energy of each one is directed towards the survival of the colony, not maintenance of the life of the individual. We might feel a sense of sadness when we learn that the male ants (alates) that fly and swarm from the nest on hot days only have a reproductive function and die as soon as they have mated with a female (gyne). However this is seen from our individualistic mammalian perspective. In reality a male alate in some ways is really little more than a sperm if the collective is compared to a human body.
And a mealtime conversation wouldn’t be complete at the moment without some mention of or reference to Dogen, as Dharmavidya continues his fascinating study of Genjokoan. I have in the last two days read through this seminal work in a translation by Okumura, and at the moment, what with my relative unfamiliarity with Dogen, the text feels somewhat impenetrable, like the bees that fill the locked box that Plath describes receiving. In the same way I have to live with it (Genjokoan) overnight. It remains locked.
Emptiness is the true reality of our lives according to Dogen and includes both unity of the collective whole and difference, the uniqueness of the individual. It is neither one or the other: “….we can call it a hand or we can call it a collection of five fingers. As a collection of five fingers, each finger is independent and has a different shape and function. We cannot exchange the little finger with the thumb because each has its own function, shape, and unique way of being. A thumb cannot do precisely what a little finger does and a little finger cannot do what a thumb does. Each finger is truly independent. And yet, from another perspective as one hand, all five fingers function together, and there is no separation between them. When we see the fingers in this united way, there is really just one hand." (Okumura, S)
‘B’ for Buddha, a koan for his followers: to find uniqueness in the egoless collective.
Thank you Tam - I often do the same, start constructing a response following an inspiration and then run out of steam. Its enough that it spurred you to say something and for the insight it gave you into our life together at Eleusis. I am in Den Haag as I write this, and back with what will be an expanded community on Thursday. Namo Amida Bu
Very nice. Yes, Dogen is a box of bees.