Fire Monks: Zen Mind Meets Wildfire at the Gates of Tassajara

Fire Monks: Zen Mind Meets Wildfire at the Gates of Tassajara

by Colleen Morton Busch

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When a massive wildfire surrounded Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, five monks risked their lives to save it. A gripping narrative as well as a portrait of the Zen path and the ways of wildfire, Fire Monks reveals what it means to meet a crisis with full presence of mind.

Zen master and author of the classic Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi established a monastery at Tassajara Hot Springs in 1967, drawn to the location's beauty, peace, and seclusion. Deep in the wilderness east of Big Sur, the center is connected to the outside world by a single unpaved road. The remoteness that makes it an oasis also makes it particularly vulnerable when disaster strikes. If fire entered the canyon, there would be no escape.

More than two thousand wildfires, all started by a single lightning storm, blazed across the state of California in June 2008. With resources stretched thin, firefighters advised residents at Tassajara to evacuate early. Most did. A small crew stayed behind, preparing to protect the monastery when the fire arrived.

But nothing could have prepared them for what came next. A treacherous shift in weather conditions prompted a final order to evacuate everyone, including all firefighters. As they caravanned up the road, five senior monks made the risky decision to turn back. Relying on their Zen training, they were able to remain in the moment and do the seemingly impossible-to greet the fire not as an enemy to defeat, but as a friend to guide.

Fire Monks pivots on the kind of moment some seek and some run from, when life and death hang in simultaneous view. Novices in fire but experts in readiness, the Tassajara monks summoned both intuition and wisdom to face the crisis with startling clarity. The result is a profound lesson in the art of living.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781982617622
Publisher: Blackstone Publishing
Publication date: 03/12/2019
Edition description: Unabridged
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 5.70(h) x (d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Colleen Morton Busch's nonfiction, poetry, and fiction have appeared in a wide range of publications, from literary magazines to the San Francisco Chronicle, Tricycle, and Yoga Journal, where she was a senior editor. A Zen student since 2000, Busch lives in Northern California with her husband and two cats.

Colleen Morton Busch's nonfiction, poetry, and fiction have appeared in a wide range of publications, from literary magazines to the San Francisco Chronicle, Tricycle, and Yoga Journal, where she was a senior editor. A Zen student since 2000, Busch lives in Northern California with her husband and two cats.

Table of Contents

Cast of Characters x

Prologue 1

1 Lightning Strikes 5

2 Fires Merge 27

3 The Three-Day-Away Fire 43

4 In the Shadow of Esperanza 59

5 Great Faith, Great Doubt, Great Effort 73

6 Fire in the Confluence 99

7 Buddha in the Bocce Ball Court 119

8 The Last Evacuation 137

9 No Leaving, No Going Back 151

10 Ring of Flame 163

11 Meeting Fire 183

12 Unburying Buddha 211

Afterword 241

Acknowledgments 245

Notes 247

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year

"Vivid prose as electrifying as any beach novel you're likely to find this summer."
    --San Francisco Chronicle

"This day-by-day account of the defense of Tassajara Zen Mountain Center against massive wildfires in summer 2008 brings a Buddhist twist to the age-old preoccupation of humans living with--and trying to control--fire."
--Publisher's Weekly (STARRED REVIEW)

"An absorbing account of how two priesthoods -- professional wildland firefighters and Zen monastics -- confronted the fire's threat."
    --Los Angeles Times

"This book reads like a hair-raising adventure novel."
    --Shambhala Sun

“Not only a gripping narrative of the 2008 wildfire events, but also how Zen allows people to meet such colossal crisis with a focused mind.”
    --Seattle Post-Intelligencer

"Fire Monks demonstrates the clarity of thought and action that can spring from Zen practice."

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Fire Monks: Zen Mind Meets Wildfire at the Gates of Tassajara 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Man_Of_La_Book_Dot_Com More than 1 year ago
"Fire Monks: Zen Mind Meets Wild­fire at the Gates of Tas­sa­jara " by Colleen Mor­ton Busch is the non-fiction account of the 2008 Cal­i­for­nia fire which almost destroyed the Tas­sa­jara Zen Moun­tain Cen­ter. The story is told from the per­spec­tive of those who stayed behind to pro­tect Tassajara. A mas­sive wild­fire has sur­rounded Tas­sa­jara Moun­tain Cen­ter. So mas­sive that even the fire crews have decided that it would be wiser not to fight it. Five monks stayed behind to try and save Tas­sa­jara. They risked life and limb to stand in the way of the immense wild­fire which sur­rounded them and became and inter­na­tional sensation. "Fire Monks: Zen Mind Meets Wild­fire at the Gates of Tas­sa­jara " by Colleen Mor­ton is not only a grip­ping nar­ra­tive of the 2008 wild­fire events, but also how Zen allows peo­ple to meet such colos­sal cri­sis with a focused mind. The Tas­sa­jara Zen Moun­tain Cen­ter, near Big Sur in Cal­i­for­nia, is well known in the Zen com­mu­nity. The cen­ter is not only famous for med­i­ta­tion and train­ing, but also for their bread bak­ing and veg­e­tar­ian cookbooks. The 2008 fire, started by light­ning, con­sumed more than 240,000 acres. While the small group of defend­ers in Tas­sa­jara watched for three nerve-wracking weeks while the fire con­sumed every­thing in its path towards them. Watch­ing the weather care­fully before the order to evac­u­ate came, five senior mem­bers of Tas­sa­jara decided to stay behind. The book is not only the story of the fire, but also the his­tory of Tas­sa­jara, intro­duc­tion to Bud­dhism, and track­ing of the destruc­tion the fire cause on its path. I used to be a vol­un­teer fire fighter for about four years. Some of the things I learned are men­tioned in the book - the pres­ence of mind to meet emer­gen­cies, not pan­ick­ing and con­cen­trat­ing on one job at a time. How­ever, more impor­tant than all of those are the knowl­edge of when to fight the fire and when to sim­ply try and con­tain it. While I don't con­sider myself a Bud­dhist, I cer­tainly appre­ci­ate the ben­e­fits of med­i­ta­tion to the human mind. if you have a touch time falling asleep you might want to give med­i­ta­tion a try before open­ing up your med­i­cine cab­i­net. It might be dif­fi­cult, clear­ing your mind is an enor­mous task, but the ben­e­fits that come with it are more than worth the effort. Busch's book ties in nicely the dis­ci­plines of Zen and fire­fight­ing. While both seem to be extreme ends of the spec­trum, they have much more in com­mon then one would think.
TheLostEntwife on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Hm. Well, this was an experiment that just did not work for me. When I saw the book listed in an offering from the fine folks at TLC Tours, I decided to take a chance, because I do like to challenge myself and try things that are out of my normal comfort zone. Earlier this year I read, and thoroughly enjoyed a non-fiction tale of a plane crash and I had hoped that I would have the same enjoyment from Fire Monks.Unfortunately, for someone like me who knows next to nothing about Buddism, who has never heard of Tessajara and who knows nothing of the people in this story, this book did not work. Although it's apparent right from the start how much Colleen Morton Busch has invested in the story, in Tessajara and in the lives of those living there, to a stranger like me it came off as if I was standing in the background, listening to one stranger tell a friend or colleague of theirs this story. I just couldn't connect.In spite of the lack of connection, I did receive some educational benefit from reading Fire Monks. It is very instructional, giving the reader an idea of what a Zen community is like, and it is very quiet and peaceful, despite the subject matter - which also gave me more of a taste of what it is like to live in a place such as Tessajara. Even with a fire bound for this place, with the chaos of the preparation and the upheaval of those who had to leave, there is a calm and peace about the story that, I think, had less to do with any sort of detachment from the subject material and more to do with the calm and peace Colleen Morton Busch has learned to embrace through her lifestyle.I may not agree with everything that has to do with Buddism, but I do find peace and my own sense of enlightenment when I take the time to calm down, breathe deeply and focus on just one thing, and I admire the group of people discussed in this book for their bravery and their dedication when everything that was dear and precious to them was threatened.
BrokenTeepee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was drawn to this book for two reasons - I live with a Buddhist and fire is a big, big issue in these parts. In the summer it sometimes surrounds us. When you live in the forest you learn to live with fire. Hubby is going to read it now that I'm done.The book tells the tale of the big California wildfires in 2008 that were all over the news. I remember watching them from here and thinking there but for the grace of God and all that. Lightening strikes and a dry forest and all hell breaks loose. Deep inside the Ventana wilderness lies the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center and the fire is coming towards it. The monks have some gear and minimal training; can they meet the fire?Ms. Morton Busch tells the story of the Fire Monks through interviews with people who were there before, during and after the fire. The reader meets the monks of the center and learns how zen philosophy can be useful in life and dealing with the onslaught of a massive wildfire.The story unfolds as the monks first learn that the fire might impact the retreat. The summer visitors are just starting classes but soon have to evacuate. The monks then set about making the place as fire safe as possible before an evacuation is called. Most leave but a core group stays. As the fire gets closer they are ordered to leave since the state will not send trained firefighters in to help them. As they leave a core group decides they are going to go back and defend the retreat no matter the consequences.The individual stories are interesting and desire of the monks to save their retreat makes for a very compelling read. Five monks risked everything and put their practice of focusing on thenow into very real use.