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
     
 

The "vivid" and "electrifying" true story of how five monks saved the oldest Zen Buddhist monastery in the United States from wildfire (San Francisco Chronicle).

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

Overview

The "vivid" and "electrifying" true story of how five monks saved the oldest Zen Buddhist monastery in the United States from wildfire (San Francisco Chronicle).

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 crisis with startling clarity. The result is a profound lesson in the art of living.

Editorial Reviews

When over 2,700 wildfires spread across Northern California in June 2008, thousands of firefighters from around the country rushed to join in the fight to put them down. None of these men and women was as strange or as brave as the five senior monks who turned their backs on safety to rescue their beloved Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. Using Buddhist wisdom rather than flame-battling skills, they placed their faith in a spiritual path that others could not understand. Five Monks takes you inside the lives, minds, and meditations of men whose inner life got them through what for others would have been a harrowing experience.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781594202919
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
07/07/2011
Pages:
272
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Norman Fischer
“This is an exciting and heart-warming read - exciting because wildfire is unpredictable and dangerous, and heart-warming because this is the first honest account I have read of the simple unadorned courage you find in American Zen communities. After all the spiritual self-help manuals and self-focused memoirs, it’s good finally to hear a well reported story of real life spiritual grace under pressure.”--(Norman Fischer, Zen priest and poet, Founder and Teacher, Everyday Zen Foundation. Author of Sailing Home: Using the Wisdom of Homer’s Odyssey to Navigate Life’s Perils and Pitfalls)
Mark Epstein
“Fire Monks is a spell-binding tale of Zen wisdom in the face of real-life calamity. It is beautifully rendered and wonderfully inspiring, a refreshing tonic in today's fragile world.”--(Mark Epstein, MD author of Thoughts without a Thinker and Going to Pieces without Falling Apart)
Peter Coyote
“If you have ever harbored a doubt about the efficacy of meditation in the real world, this book will give you a vision of enlightenment-in-action that will inspire you.”--(Peter Coyote (HoSho Jishi), actor, author, Sleeping Where I Fall)
Edward Brown
"A strikingly well-crafted and moving recounting of the Tassajara fire interweaving the unfolding events, personal stories, fire lore, and zen teaching--words for what is often difficult or impossible to put into words."--(Edward Brown author The Tassajara Bread Book and The Complete Tassajara Cookbook)
Rebecca Solnit
“Fire Monks sets itself three difficult tasks--to reconstruct exactly what happened at Tassajara Zen Monastery during the great fire of 2008, how zen prepared the monks to meet the fire, and to make us passionately absorbed in this story of burning and calmness--and succeeds in all three splendidly. I'm afraid I raced through this vivid, unusual, resonant story more like a wildfire than a monk myself.” --(Rebecca Solnit, author of A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster)
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."
    --Tricycle

David Chadwick
"This is an exciting book. I was involved in reporting on all this from a distance when it happened but Fire Monks put a magnifying glass on this story, sucked me into the drama, and kept me up way past my bedtime. Zen doesn't have to be boring. Good work." --(David Chadwick, author of Crooked Cucumber: the Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki.)

Meet 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.

www.colleenmortonbusch.com

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >