By Joel Sansho Benton
Last Saturday a group of new residents entered the monastery for the first time—about thirty thousand of them to be more precise. On Saturday I picked up three new packages of bees from Hudson Valley Bee Supply to replace the hives we lost over the winter. Each package holds approximately ten thousand bees, each with its own queen.
For me this was a welcome addition to our resident sangha. Installing packages of bees in the spring always accentuates that feeling of renewal that spring can bring. These wonderful little critters that are at once very fragile and very resilient bring me a sense of wonderment and awe.
They seemed to take to their new homes immediately, showing little sign that just forty-eight hours earlier they were living in balmy Georgia.
Honey bees have been struggling in recent years for a variety of reasons. Neonicotinoid insecticides, climate change, destruction of food sources and habitats, and varroa mites, just to name a few. We’ve lost bees to all kinds of troubles, and I want to do whatever I can to help them thrive, but much of the time I just have to let them do their thing and keep my hands off.
I like to think of each hive as a sangha, and the work they do is dana for all of the natural world. Every action a honey bee takes is for the entire colony, and an individual bee will not do anything for their own personal benefit. Honey bees harvest nectar and pollen from flowers, but the plants get much more in return as the pollen they carry helps plants to produce fruits and seeds, and to propagate themselves. And of course we humans benefit greatly in the variety of foods that we can cultivate to sustain us, much of which would not exist without pollinators.
We welcome our new sangha members with open arms, but of course we must remember our social distancing rules because if we get too close to their hives, they could remind us of how powerful they can be.
Joel Sansho Benton is in residence at the Monastery. Pictures by Laurel Johnson and Will Carpenter.