I don’t mean to mislead you by the title. I’m not feeling antsy in the sense that I’m restless, or eager to move on to something new and different. I’m not fidgety, or edgy, or restive, or jittery, but I am ill-at-ease. And in this case, it’s all about ants!
I guess I ought to be used to it by now. It’s a reoccurring problem here in Southern California. Every August, during those dreaded dog-days of summer, we have to deal with ant attacks. They often start in the bathroom, but in the end they invariably migrate out into the kitchen, which is where they really want to be. Sometimes they make a stop along the way in the pantry, too, but as often as not they pass completely by that larder of plenty, and head straight for what they’re really after, namely, water! Yes, it’s water that draws them, even when I, for one, cannot see any water standing around. Sometimes it’s enough that you’ve left a damp sponge on the rim of the sink, and they’re at it, like flies on honey. As a matter of fact, I think I’ll drop that tired old cliché entirely from my vocabulary from this moment forward, and instead substitute the far more apt, and more immediately useful, phrase: “like ants to water!”
The cause of it all is the heat. And not only the heat, but the dryness. These past couple of weeks have seen temperatures rise to the upper 80’s, and even into the low 90’s, with no particular cooling trend in the offing in anything like the immediate future. And of course, no rain, ever. Not that this is something unexpected here in California at this time of year, nor – it would seem – for many in other parts of the country, where they have been suffering far more than we. But even the Romans had to deal with something similar every year, which in fact is where we get the name dog-days, as you may already know. They associated these miserable, oppressive, sultry days of boiling, broiling, stifling heat with the so-called Dog Star, Sirius. It’s the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major, which itself means Greater Dog. And for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, it appears most prominently from July to early September, making all living things on this part of the planet as wretchedly uncomfortable as possible.
Still, I’m not yet ready to attempt the principal cure of the Romans, which they tried repeatedly with, one has to think, unfailing lack of success, namely, the sacrifice of a brown dog to mollify and appease the sparkling magnificence of the dreaded Dog Star. Truth be told, I don’t even really like killing the ants. And there’s the rub, or at least part of it. I look at these creatures, tiny as they are, and I think that each one is an almost incredibly perfect being in its own right. It amazes me that these minuscule insects are so astonishingly well made, each with its own kind of life force that generates movement and intention (of a sort anyway, maybe more chemical in this case, rather than volitional, as we might think of it), but with a head and eyes and six legs that allow it to cover every conceivable kind of terrain, including up walls and across ceilings, with antennae waving which they use to communicate mysterious messages to others of their kind, far removed from all human understanding.
In addition, on a somewhat different, though I hope related note, I happen to have been reading recently about the Jain religion of India. I have learned, for example, that Mahavira, the last in the line of the great Jain gurus (a contemporary of the Lord Buddha, by the way), taught utter non-violence toward every creature on the planet. It goes without saying, of course, that not only do observant Jains refrain from eating animals, nor do they wear animal products of any kind, but the most serious among their practicing monks walk about with gauze draped over the mouth and the nose, so as avoid any inadvertent breathing in of insect or other life forms. They can also be seen walking slowly along with small, soft brooms in their hands, gently brushing the path in front of them, lest unsuspecting, though nonetheless deadly, trampling feet may bring an untimely end to the life of a tiny creature in their way. They do not even eat fruit which has to be cut from trees, but wait instead for it to fall to the ground, rather than taking knife to a living branch. The ultimate goal of such ne plus ultra non-violence, just as with the Buddhists, is the complete annihilation of the ego, and thus the cessation of the cycle of endless births and deaths and rebirths, so as to avoid the pain (and the potential destruction) involved with being born yet one more time in yet one more body. For to be in a body, almost by definition, is to murder other living beings.
Thus, I stand before you here today, accused, judged, condemned. Un-Jain-like, indeed un-Buddha-like in the extreme, I am a killer. I have destroyed hundreds, perhaps thousands of ants, living creatures with rights of their own, merely in the last three days. How far is that, I ask myself, from walking along with a broom, sweeping the path in front of me, lest I inadvertently step on one of these, the least of God’s creatures? I am not even a very good vegetarian, truth be told. I used to be better, when I was at least “ovo-lacto,” that is, when I ate only eggs and milk products for protein. These days, however, I kill fish, as well (or at least I participate in the killing by buying it). Some odd doctor or other convinced me years ago that I was eating too many eggs and too much cheese, and thus contributing to higher levels of cholesterol in my body, which itself then contributed to at least two heart attacks. So, I decided to sacrifice fish – brown dog like? – on the altar of what I call my health. Just as I have made the decision to kill ants, as many as possible, in the name of living in a home free of the intrusion of creatures constantly creeping about over sponges and glasses and whatever other dish or implement we may have inadvertently been left about on the counter near the sink.
And so, I admit to you my imperfections, and I accept that, if the Jains and the Buddhists and the Hindus are right, I will have to reincarnate yet once again, having sadly failed at that one killing allowed even to the greatest of the sages, that is, of the ego itself. For now though, it seems that I must muddle along in my murderous ways. I will do it, though, as much as I am able to, without anger, without malice, and with whatever honoring in my heart I can muster for the perfection of other living beings, all the while taking heart from the words of the Lord Krishna himself to Arjuna, his reluctant warrior of a disciple, in that great book of war and killing, the Bhagavad Gita:
Thou grievest where no grief should be! Thou speakest words lacking in wisdom, for the wise in heart mourn not for those that live, nor those that die. Nor I, nor thou, nor any one of these ever was not, nor ever will not be, forever and forever afterwards…Life cannot slay. Life is not slain! Never the spirit was born; the spirit shall cease to be never; never was time it was not; End and Beginning are dreams! Birthless and deathless and changeless the spirit forever; and Death hath not touched it at all, dead though the house of it may seem!