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

af Colleen Morton Busch

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965278,707 (3.48)14
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.… (mere)
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Viser 5 af 5
Interesting book about the fire at the Tassajara Zen center - a bit too obvious throughout on imparting the Zen lessons in every element of the events, but nicely written and, of course, a dramatic tale. ( )
  wordloversf | Aug 14, 2021 |
I wanted more zen and less minutiae. The names and details of the individuals in the planning room was tedious. ( )
  KittyCunningham | Apr 26, 2021 |
I wanted more zen and less minutiae. The names and details of the individuals in the planning room was tedious. ( )
  Kitty.Cunningham | Jul 19, 2017 |
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. ( )
2 stem TheLostEntwife | Jul 10, 2011 |
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 the
now into very real use. ( )
1 stem BooksCooksLooks | Jul 6, 2011 |
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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.

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