Last night, lying in bed on the screened porch reading before darkness fell, I looked up from my book and noticed a wasp crawling on the inside of a window screen.
I was reading “The Way of the Bodhisattva” by Shantideva, a translation of an ancient Tibetan text on cultivating compassion, generosity and patience. I noted the wasp — it was a small wasp, more black colored than brown, of a type unnoticed by me before — and returned to reading the book.
“If such a thing as ‘I’ exists indeed,
Then terrors, granted, will torment it.
But since no self or ‘I’ exists at all,
What is there left for fears to terrify?”
I (or wait a minute, there is no I), or some part of me (if there is really a me) looked from the book and back up at the wasp to check on its progress. The wasp was still crawling about trying to find a way to the light outside.
I wondered: if I ignore the wasp, would it be there in the morning, still trying to find an escape. Or, more likely, would the wasp sting me during the night. Probably on my face, causing my eyes to swell shut for three or more days, which has happened before. Because, when you work with honeybees as I enjoy doing, you inevitably get stung. And, sometimes, you get stung in very tender places indeed — such as when angry honeybees crawl up your pants leg and make a beeline, as it were, for the “straddle area.” This is what a friend of mine used to call that place-he-would-not-name, even under the most dire circumstances, such as when he was dancing wildly about grabbing at himself (as delicately as one can under such circumstances) in the straddle area. One learns to tuck pants legs into boots, or to tape them shut.
It was getting darker outside. I returned to my book.
“The agent of sensation has no real exis
Thus sensation, likewise, has no being.
What damage, therefore, can sensation do
to it —
This aggregate deprived of self?”
Hmm, I thought wisely to myself. So if I do get stung, then who actually got stung? If sensation has no being, what then is a sting?
The problem with thoughts like these is they don’t really go anywhere. Or, at least, they don’t progress to any suitable conclusion when I’m the thinker involved. The truth is if the wasp did sting me, I believe it would hurt. A lot. And it would hurt me — if I really am, and whether I actually exist or not.
Finally, defeated by my own circular illogic, I got up and opened the window screen. Using “The Way of the Bodhisattva,” I shooed the wasp, unharmed, out into the fading light. It flew away without so much as a thank you.
There was a time, maybe even no more than a year ago, when I would have killed the wasp, probably using whatever book or magazine I was reading at the time. With no real malice, you understand, but with no actual thought, either, about the value of a life — even if it’s a wasp that is under consideration, and a particularly small one, at that. But one can’t very well grind the life out of a sentient being using a text that states:
“With the wish to free all beings
I shall always go for refuge
To the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha,
Until I reach full enlightenment.
Enthused by wisdom and compassion
Today in the Buddha’s presence
I generate the mind for full awakening
For the benefit of all sentient beings.
As long as space remains,
As long as sentient beings remain,
Until then, may I too remain
and dispel the miseries of the world.
After that, I went to sleep. No wiser about the world or even about my own life, I admit, but free of worry about getting stung during the night. And the wasp lives on, I hope, doing the things that wasps do, whatever those things might be.