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Lions Roar : November 2015
MICHAEL JOSHIN THIELE eases his bare hands into a swarm of honeybees that has landed on a tree trunk. It’s springtime and these bees are looking for a new hive, so right now they have no hive or honey to defend and are, according Thiele, “like a new- born.” As long as he follows a few basic rules of bee cour- tesy—he does not smell like apples or move quickly—they will not sting him. Thiele gently pours his handful of bees into the hive he’s offering them. Then he goes back to the tree trunk for another warm, buzzing handful. Honeybees can find their own hives in the hollows of trees, but with the disappear- ance of old-growth forests it’s become more difficult for them to do so, which is why Thiele offers his own hives to wild swarms. He doesn’t, however, build the type of hive that was designed during the industrial revolution and is still widely used in agricultural today. His hives don’t contain plastic sheets embossed with hexagons, which force bees to produce honeycomb of an unnatural size. Instead of being for human convenience, his hives are built for the comfort of bees. For eight years, Thiele lived and prac- ticed at California’s Green Gulch Farm Zen Center. Now he frequently returns to offer workshops in bee-centric apiculture and is spearheading the farm’s efforts to become a honeybee sanctuary. He also teaches across the U.S. and abroad, and in 2007 he cofounded the Melissa Garden, one of America’s first bee sanctuaries. In the mainstream, bees are viewed as creatures that we need to protect our- selves from. Yet Thiele claims that bees have a vulnerable side, which is revealed when we allow ourselves to become vul- nerable to them. If we slow down and approach bees mindfully, apiculture is a contemplative practice like sitting zazen. According to Thiele, “Honeybees are bodhisattvas.” They serve as pollinators, and they also serve each other com- pletely—gathering nectar, defending the hive. “A single bee isn’t able to live on her own,” Thiele concludes. “In isolation, she will die after a few days. There are 30,000–40,000 individuals in a hive, but they only appear to be individuals. The truth is the hive is really one being.” ♦ BODHISATTVAS The Truth of the Hive Apiculturalist MICHAEL THIELE says honeybees are like bodhisattvas, serving each other and the planet. MICHAELWOOLSEY Tell us about a bodhisattva you know at