Experts are skeptical, but the Cambodian Buddhist community is abuzz over what they believe is a miracle at their temple in southeast Rochester: A wasp nest in the shape of a seated Buddha.
The nest, which is nestled in the eaves high above the entry to the Buddhists’ one-story gathering hall, was spotted last week during a large celebration in which community members give monks new robes.
“Instead of the celebration we were having, we were paying attention to the beehive,” said 35-year-old monk Sokunthea Thun.
Elder members of the Cambodian Buddhist community said they have never seen an apparition of the Buddha in their lifetimes.
“The Buddha is trying to tell everybody to seek peace in their lives,” said 70-year-old Voeun Sor of Rochester, a Cambodia native who has lived in the United States for 20 years.
The location of the nest is typical for paper wasps, said Kirk Payne, a naturalist at Quarry Hill Nature Center in Rochester.
“They’ll make a comb that can be kind of be wave-like,” he said. “I can imagine how they could make a shape like an undulating, Buddha-like figure.”
The Buddha-shaped formation could actually be made of four different nests formed over the last two to four years, said Robert Jeanne, an entomology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“If you want to read miracles into that, that’s your privilege, but I wouldn’t be inclined to do that,” he said.
Beehives appear to have a special significance in Cambodian Buddhism: Honey collecting is a common activity in Cambodia, where Buddhist temples feature honeycomb-shaped towers.
Indeed, a beehive is prominently featured in a colorful painting on the temple grounds in Rochester, a fact that 76-year-old monk Moeun Ngop pointed out Monday afternoon while asserting the wasp nests were a miracle.
The Buddha wasn’t trying to send a message with the nests, but the insects were trying to communicate a Buddhist message, Thun said.
“Bees can do this kind of miracle, so humans can also do miracles,” he said. “Everywhere in this world, we humans need to follow in the bees’ path to make peace and serenity.”