Sunrise Magazine Online


A Teaspoon of Honey

By Ann Farthing

Therefore doth Heaven divide
The state of man in divers functions,
Setting endeavor in continual motion;
To which is fixed, as an aim or butt,
Obedience; for so work the honey-bees.
— Shakespeare: Henry V

"I wonder how many people realize that one teaspoonful of honey, on the average, represents the life-work of one bee." The statement was surprisingly impressive, and I looked at the honey-jar with a new respect, feeling too just a tinge of pathos. We, the gods, sitting at our table intent on our august affairs — and that small creature of a lower order (?) working its whole lifetime to produce what we consumed in a few seconds of time, without giving it a thought.

We might transpose the picture and consider ourselves as bees, foraging in the fields of experience, and coming up in the end with our teaspoonful of nectar, the essence of all we have learned. Or it could be the essence of all we have done for others, the merit that is inseparable from acts of altruism, though it is only real when unsought.

This image of bees and honey is far from being a mere fancy of the moment. It is a time-honored symbolic picture, used by ancient poets and philosophers, Vergil among them, to signify the gaining of wisdom from life-experiences. And wisdom is both knowledge and the merit that comes from altruism. As one modern interpreter of the Classics has phrased it: "Just as bees collect and digest the nectar of flowers, turning it into honey, so do human beings collect knowledge from life and spiritually and mentally digest it into wisdom."

Krishna refers to this wisdom, and says to Arjuna, "With this nourish the gods, that the gods may nourish you, thus mutually nourishing ye shall obtain the highest felicity." As soon as we become familiar with the idea, we find it is a sustaining thought that by our humble efforts, made in the spirit of sacrifice day by day, we are helping to nourish and strengthen the hands of the beneficent gods who work to help mankind.

Shakespeare had more than an inkling of this near relation of man to the gods. In his lines from King Henry V quoted above, he shows too that he has had an intimate glimpse into the real nature of man, for when he says that Heaven "divides the state of man in divers functions, setting endeavor in continual motion," even though the lines refer to the elements within the State, he clearly invites the interpretation that man has a many-sided nature, and that by means of the interaction and co-operation of these different parts within himself, he can accomplish the objects of his endeavors, and continually renew his aspirations. Especially is this so if all parts combine in a willing obedience to the ruling aim or purpose of the whole. And Shakespeare, whose lines are packed with nuggets of old knowledge, brings to bear in illustration of his meaning the honey-bee in its complete economy. He shows, in an incomparable description of the hive and its activities, how every principle or element, while having a distinct working-craft of its own, contributes to the perfection of the hive. So, if we study ourselves in our activities and moods, high moments and hours of achievement, we shall begin to see ourselves made up of these component parts, and in the midst of them our conscious self, like the "emperor-bee," guiding into right conduct every element of our nature. Or such is the ideal.

There is an old play, so old that its origin is almost traceless, but undoubtedly it was used in the mystery-schools, in which, at the end of life, all these "divers functions" of the man — his mind and heart, and those which preside over his body and emotions — presented themselves before the Keeper of the Gate. Each carried a chalice, holding the nectar that it had been able to gather from the wise use of its talents and its inner resources during the life just ending. But the Keeper of the Gate was none other than their own presiding deity, the Man himself, their overlord. To him they gave their gifts. The man might have lived a life colorful and filled with action, but all that he could take along with him through the gate of death was the distilled essence, the wisdom that would remain his own forever.

In our own Scriptures, honey as a symbol of garnered wisdom has come down to us in these beautiful words from Proverbs, xxiv, 13, 14:

"My son, eat thou honey, because it is good; and the honeycomb, which is sweet to thy taste:
"So shall the knowledge of wisdom be unto thy soul: when thou hast found it, then there shall be a reward, and thy expectation shall not be cut off."

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