PENANG, MALAYSIA — The monks living at the Hong Hock See Temple of late have found it much harder to meditate. Their property has been overrun by an infestation of poisonous ants which the Buddhists, forbidden from killing any living thing, have been helpless to combat.
“Here’s the latest thing we’ve come up with,” Chief monk Venerable Boon Keng said as he pointed to a sign a disciple had just placed beneath a Bodhi tree that was once a favorite spot to pray. The sign reads, “Beware Poisonous Ants — Do Not Sit Under the Tree,” and represents the latest in a long line of attempts by Boon Keng and the monks of Hong Hock See to deal with the ant invasion non-violently.
“Maybe the ants like the humans here because they know we cannot kill them,” Boon Keng speculated, adding, “the little black bastards.”
A bite from one of these ants can cause swelling that lasts for one or two days, yet the monks have been instructed to treat the tiny insects with the same respect Buddhists are taught to show every living thing. “When an ant drops on you, you must not flick it away or blow on it,” Boon Keng explained. “If you do, it will bite to hold on. You just have to shake it off.”
An attempt last year by a disciple to collect thousands of the ants with a vacuum and release them into the woods outside the temple was unsuccessful. “We thought if we could relocate the queen ant, the rest of the ants would follow her out,” Boon Keng said. “But after she was gone, they really went apeshit. Many vows of silence were broken that day.”
While we spoke, Boon Keng was joined by a fellow monk who lamented, “Too bad we aren’t monotheists.”
“Oh, Christ, I know,” agreed Boon Keng, “they’ll kill anything.”
The monks of Hong Hock See continue to struggle to find the solution to their ant problem. Among the recent suggestions: washing the ants out en masse by flooding the temple with water. To that end, several disciples have been studying the DVD of that one episode of MacGyver. Describing the plan, Boon Keng was skeptical. “We’re at a pretty high elevation here,” he said. “I don’t know where the fuck we’re getting all that water from.”