The August 2012 Nirvana, the monthly publication of Shinnyo-en, actually deals in depth with the subject of last month’s podcast – The Dharma Crisis. So rather than duplicating a discussion of what is already available in the August issue, we will focus instead on a subject very near to the heart of the Teachings – in our modern world, learning to value and appreciate Life, and placing less importance on material things.
As many of you know, I am also a beekeeper, or bee-tender, as I discover my self to be, since I’ve discovered it’s pretty much impossible to keep a bee from going where it wants to go. ** I had been a long way on my journey of studies of Buddhist practices when bees entered my path through connection with the Backwards Beekeepers – a group dedicated to the treatment-free and organic practice of raising bees.
What I didn’t know when my journey with bees started, was how much I could learn from them and myself about the natural order of things.
One thing I’ve observed, is that people behave a lot like bees. If you look around your local CostCo store, or a busy mall during the holidays, you’re looking at human-sized bee colony behavior. Bees like surrounding something interesting, whether it’s a queen, or another bee telling where it found a great deal of pollen. Similarly, when you notice people gathered around a food sample station, or a celebrity shows up in a public place, you’re observing the same bee behavior, including the cacophony of people tweeting and Facebook’ing each other about the discovery.
Bees are happiest when they have a clear purpose and daily mission. They get depressed and pretty lazy without a queen to give them focus, or their numbers are too small to maintain a colony. Bees are unlike their cousins the wasps, hornets and yellow-jackets, which have much higher aggressive traits developed from their predatory nature. The cousins also suffer from a much shorter colony lifespan, with the majority of the colony dying within a year of their creation due to natural imbalances and limited resource availability to sustain a predatory colony through the winter. The bees carefully store their nectar and pollen to preserve the colony’s food sources throughout the same period, allowing bee colonies to continue year after year. This becomes their primary purpose throughout their individually short lives (which is usually less than six weeks long) – to help each other to survive, so that the colony as a whole continues. The queen has a longer lifespan, but must continually deal with brand new individuals who know nothing from day one, other than to begin helping – clean the nest, feed the young, maintain the temperatures, keep out intruders, etc. Only towards the end of their short lives can they even sting and fly properly – and it is at that time they learn to gather and forage to build a food supply to feed the generations of the future.
If you disorient a bee colony by moving its hive too many times in a row, or disturb them through constant disruption, they will become intolerant of the changes and seek more stable habitats.
That is one feature that bees have that many humans would desire – the ability to fly away from their disturbances. However, in doing so, they must leave their entire known world behind. In this subtle way, bees have learned how to eliminate attachments to their possessions. In focusing on survival of their family and colony, their priorities are to maintain their family and queen leader in safety and health. Even if they must abandon all they have worked so hard to build, collect and store, if nature demands, they quickly consume whatever honey stores they can fit into themselves and depart for a safer and more secure place. The bees know if you can’t carry it with you, it probably isn’t that important.
The term “africanized bees” started with a scientist down in the tropics cross-breeding European honey bees with local feral strains in an attempt to make a heartier and more disease-resistant bee. Tropical bees face many more difficult predators compared with their European cousins and have developed a much more sensitive nature in response to threat detection. Down in the African continent, the tribes for centuries have sought their honey by finding hollow trees with bee colonies in them and using smoke and fire to drive away the bees. This has resulted in the bees developing an aggressive response to smoke – an opposite reaction to typical European bees that become very docile when they can’t smell anything due to the presence of smoke.
Let’s look at things from the bee’s perspective. Bees sting only in defense, not because they want to attack, as they die in the process of doing it, so it makes no sense for them to form premeditated ideas about attacking other animals. Bees are eat honey, pollen and plant nectar, and have no particular interest in animals. Unlike wasps, hornets and yellowjackets which do prey on insects and animals for food, bees have a built-in instinct to protect their colony and will perish defending it from perceived harm.
But ultra-sensitive or not, a bee simply defends its home from threats. Does this sound like a familiar behavioral trait, perhaps like that of an inner-city gang member or an ex-con from prison protecting their perceived home territory? Strangely, most bees won’t even defend themselves, if isolated from the colony. Instead they tend to stay quietly with the only purpose left to attempt to return home. Solitary bees accept that they have no defense, other than to fly and exhaust themselves, or attempt to sting, thus ending their life. Those that survive isolation do so by bringing pollen or nectar to contribute to another nearby colony. Without providing a contribution, a solitary bee cannot be accepted nor maintained, as the entire colony would become weak without contributions. And by nature’s design, a bee cannot survive very long on its own – perhaps 4 or 5 days before they succumb from low temperature exposure or simply being hunted by a larger or stronger insect or bird.
In our pursuit for enlightenment as to how to return to harmony with ourselves and our world around us, we need look no further than the nearest flower, upon which you might find an example of nature’s most complex, and at once, most simple creatures – the honey bee. In their little efforts they industriously set the wheels of life in-motion by pollinating flowers and allowing plants to grow and multiply for every living thing on the planet. That’s how much of a difference a single action can make.