Since Tassajara Springs Fire has our attention, let’s talk about Fire Monks, the book written by Colleen Morton Busch, about the Tassajara Five, the five monks who remained onsite at Tassajara, the oldest Zen Buddhist monastery in California, nestled within backcountry south of Carmel Valley, to battle the 2008 Basin Complex fire.
“On June 21, 2008, lightning strikes, from one end of drought-dry California to the other, ignited more than two thousand wildfires in what became known as the “lightning siege,” opens the Prologue, setting the scene through the senses, “If you lived in California, you smelled the smoke.”
Lightning strikes in two places ignited two fires near Tassajara: one at Big Sur (10 miles west), named the “Gallery fire” because lightning struck at Coast Gallery, starting the blaze; and another at Bear Basin (8-10 miles north) the “Basin fire,” and then a third fire began three days later when a single lightning bolt enflamed a tree. The three fires converged on Tassajara, becoming 2008’s “Basin Complex fire.”
46 guests were unpacked and in session for the summer season, with an additional 70 residents occupying Tassajara. All of the guests were first evacuated with some students, then the residents removed themselves to safe locations, so that only 14 remained to prepare the center in defense of the blaze.
As the fire approached nearby, burning up the other side of the ridge, Tassajara was ordered to evacuate all remaining residents. Five returned to the site, not wanting to complete the evacuation. These five determined to remain at Tassajara. The fire’s Branch Director didn’t argue with their decision, but he insisted that his staff obtained each of the five names.
Fire Monks is about awareness, Dharma Rain, and remaining in the moment. Fire Monks is about taking responsibility when agencies are unable to act. Fire Monks exhibits Zen practice in a real life situation, as well as sitting zazen upon a cushion. Most surprisingly, Fire Monks is about attachment, attachment to one’s place and the desire to save it from harm.
This post written by Anneliese Agren