‘Fire Monks’ Defend Tassajara Zen Monastery From Wildfire

The center is closed to guests this summer due to the coronavirus pandemic. But on a typical summer, it welcomes more than 8,000 guests who enjoy the fresh mountain air, bathe in the hot springs, or work or meditate with Zen students, Miglioli said.

The Fire Monks formed in 2008 after the fire swept towards the center in the Big Basin, and five monks defied evacuation orders to fight the fire. Her story was recorded in the book “Fire Monks: Zen Mind Meets Wildfire at the Gates of Tassajara” by Colleen Morton Busch.

In a 2019 lecture, one of the original Fire Monks, Rev. Tenzen David Zimmerman, recalled donning gear and grabbing hoses to defend the monastery. He said the monks worked alone or in pairs, “as each new manifestation of the inferno dictated.”

“During the hours when the fire was finally upon us,” he said, “the pursuit of time gave way to the sheer immediacy of the moments.”

However, it quickly became clear that five monks with “nominal fire fighting skills” would not be able to fully protect the center, he said.

“Our monastic training had taught us to simply do our best, wholeheartedly, regardless of the results, yet still aware of our preference to save our spiritual home,” he said. “The fire challenged us, like any dedicated teacher, to be constantly attentive.”

When the fire was finally put out, several buildings burned, including wood sheds, a compost shed, and a yurt. But the center itself was spared. “Everything was a sea of ​​black and ash as far as you could see – just Tassajara – a green, a green oasis,” said Zimmerman.

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