One of the things I like the least here at the monastery is the insects. We’re in the forest, and there are a lot of bugs. All kinds of crawling and flying critters constantly landing on you, buzzing around your ears, crawling on you, stinging or biting you, dying all over your floor and your bed. It doesn’t matter that I’ve taped up or mudded in every visible orifice in my cabin, they still get in somehow. And as beautiful as their singing can be, they are a constant irritant.
This amuses Ajahn, who doesn’t seem too bothered by them. It’s true that he’s usually wrapped up from head to heels in multiple layers of fabric, but they just don’t seem to harass him as much as me and the novices who were here a few weeks ago. He says we should get used to them, and should be able to meditate with them. I know he’s right, but how can one develop concentration when a flying critter touches you every five seconds, or a mosquito buzzes by your ear? Apparently, developing equanimity toward the pests is a test, a sign of real progress.
I am constantly reminded of stories I’ve read about Ajahn Chah, who was famous for denying his disciples’ wishes. And back then, fifty years ago, before the massive deforestation of Thailand, much of the country was covered with thick jungle, not this 18-year-old forest covering only this particular hill. This means there must have been real wild animals around, and possibly much more bugs. What a nightmare. The monks would ask him if they could have mosquito repellent for meditation. No. Mosquito nets? No. Mosquito coils? No! He said that until they could meditate with mosquitoes buzzing around them, their work wasn’t done. Until they could sit with ants crawling over them, they were not finished. The infamous mosquito, the spawn of Satan himself, became Ajahn Mosquito, the Teacher of Equanimity.
And my own Ajahn once reminded me that only female mosquitoes bite, and that the reason they bite is that they are collecting food for their babies. He suggested I reflect on that next time I go to swat one of the little fiends as it’s inserting its dart in my skin. He invited me to think of how all beings are doing their best to live, seeking nourishment and avoiding pain. And mosquitoes are no different. But of course, I just thought to myself, well if by killing a mother I deprive her babies of food, then they will also die, which means fewer mosquitoes, and isn’t that a good thing? Apparently, I’ve got work to do.