Friday, August 31, 2012

The Full-Moon Honey Offering and a Blessing

I have told the story before but I am going to tell it again. Buddhists from India and Bangladesh celebrate a special full-moon observance, Madhu Pumima during the month Bhadro (August/September). It is celebrated as a joyous day of unity and charity to the temples with the giving of honey and fruit in remembrance of Buddha's retreat into the Parileyya Forest to reunite two monastic factions who were locked in a heated debate. The disciples could not be reasoned with so Buddha went into solitary retreat as subtle encouragement for them to work out their differences.

While in the forest Buddha was attended to by an elephant who fed him fruit each morning. A monkey saw the elephant serving Buddha and brought a honeycomb to offer. Buddha received it but did not eat the honey, so the monkey took back the honeycomb and considered it. Seeing bee larvae inside, he took them all out and then took only pure honey to offer. This time Buddha accepted it and ate the honey. The monkey was so excited he began jumping from tree to tree and fell to his death.

The monks, who had split into two groups agreed to make up their differences and make peace and sent a representative to Buddha to invite him back to the city. The elephant was so heartbroken to see Buddha go and died right then and there. The elephant and the monkey, after dying were reborn as devas in the Tavatimsa heaven.

To commemorate the events of the forest Buddhists bring honey and fruit to local monasteries and celebrate unity and peace. So it was particularly fitting that we held our blessing to coincide with this traditional festival.

 Minnesota is home to the second-largest Tibetan exile community in the U.S. and is also home to a traditional Buddhist monastery. Gyuto Wheel of Dharma Monastery, the first western branch of Tibet's Guyto linage was created under the guidance of His Holiness the Dalai Lama with a two-fold mission. In addition to daily practices in meditation and mindfulness, including the often-recorded multiphonic chanting and creation of elaborate butter sculptures and sand mandalas, the Gyuto monks share instruction passed on directly from the historic Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, while also preserving the unique traditions of the Tibetan monastic life preserved in Exile. In addition to offering teachings the monks will preform traditional Tibetan Pujas, or blessings for any number of occasions.

So last night, in observance of the Blue Moon which will come to its full phase this morning, we  invited the Monks to come and bless our honey crop and enjoy an offering of honey from our 2012 crop. I had originally planned a Puja in the bee yard back in June but something came up and the event had to be rescheduled. Now that the bees are in a more agitated state with little to no nectar flow and robbing by bees and humans I thought it would be best to spare the Monks a possible sting.

Paula and I picked up the monks at 5:30, along with my good friend Pema who served as a translator and cultural ambassador, making sure I had the Khata's folded properly and guiding Paula and I through the blessing.

We gathered in our "honey room" where stacks of boxes full of frames packed with honey stood front and center. I spent hours cleaning and organizing the honey room not only for the blessing but our extracting party on Monday as well. The Gyuto Monks are gifted in chanting prayers, blessings and mantra's. The unique and powerful multiphonic chanting fills rooms, activating the body and mind to transcend mundane discriminative thought and bring about an integrated state of enlightenment. The transcendent beauty of their chants, combined with the dramatic power of traditional monastic dance serves to heal, inspire, and transform. Our little honey room was filled with harmonic chanting! For me it was a visceral spiritual experience.

When the blessing was done we did a short extracting demonstration for the monks so we could offer honey right off the frame for them.

 We made an offering to the monks to take back to the monastery and eat as well as a little jar for their alter.  I  also gave them a candle Paula made from wax we collected  during our first year of bee keeping. We also showed the monks a wonderful slide show Tina put together show casing our bee keeping activities and then sat down to a traditional Indian dinner which I have to say was over the top and they loved it. Tina brought Ziva Jane and Tashi Losar out to meet the Monks and they were a big hit as well.  To end the evening we had our exchange of Khata's and the Monks gave us each a set a Tibetan prayer bead and filled two of our honey jars with blessed water from the Puja.  The blessed water can be taken down to the bee yard and sprinkled on our hives to extend the blessing for healthy bees, healthy land and forgiveness from the bees for robbing them of their honey.

When we dropped the Monks off at home they took Paula and I into to see their prayer room and alter. I have been to the monastery a few times but I am still in awe each an every time I enter this sacred place. To top off a perfect night on our way home we were guided by the nearly Blue Moon, high in the sky, nearly full, shining brightly and talked about how wonderful the evening was. We both agreed, this is a must do for every harvest. As I sit writing this the now full moon is shining low in the sky right outside my window and I am filled with a since of contentment, peace and joy. I am just a little closer to  the spiritual part of the bee keeping that drew me to this place to begin with. I am grateful to have my bee keeping partner Paula who loves this as much as I do and grateful for my connection to our Tibetan  American Community. I want to extend a special thank you to Pema for all her work in helping make the night go smoothly and my friend Nancy who helped coordinate the Puja.

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