San Francisco Zen Center Announces Opening of Tassajara Zen Mountain Centersam
San Francisco Zen Center (SFZC) announced that Tassajara Zen Mountain Center has reopened for its annual autumn practice period after being closed for 83 days due to the Soberanes Fire. With the help of the fire crews and the USFS, Tassajara is now designated a safe zone and the fire is no longer a threat. The Soberanes Fire began on July 22 and Tassajara evacuated all attendees for their summer guest season on July 31, 2016.[ad name=”AdSense Responsive”]
Over the past five decades, Tassajara staff and residents have faced four life-threatening fires: Marble Cone Fire (1977), Kirk Complex (1999), Basin Complex (2008), and Soberanes Fire (2016). Through the dedicated efforts of fire crews and Zen monks, the West’s oldest and largest Buddhist monastery has again survived a wildfire. The June 2008 fire was thoroughly documented in Colleen Morton Busch’s book Fire Monks: Zen Mind Meets Wildfire, which the San Francisco Chronicle called “Electrifying.”
Each spring and summer, Tassajara opens its gates for five months for the public to have access to its serene valley grounds, hot springs, and gourmet vegetarian cuisine. Guest safety and the assurance of a tranquil experience at Tassajara are of upmost importance. For that reason, San Francisco Zen Center decided to cancel the Summer Guest Season. As of October 10, the fire was designated 99% contained.
After their experience during the 2008 Basin Complex Fire, when fire crews were pulled during Red Flag conditions and five monks successfully defended the monastery, Tassajara was uncertain about the level of support they would receive. Tassajara was prepared to meet the fire themselves with 25 firefighting monks who were trained extensively. Thankfully, fire crews were stationed on the grounds to monitor the fire and create a fireline to keep Tassajara safe. Throughout the two and a half month period of uncertainty regarding the fire, the resident monks maintained their monastic daily schedule of zazen (sitting meditation) and service.
Fire crews were stationed at Tassajara as of August 28. When not fighting the fire, Buddhist monks and firefighters shared meals and stories. Many new friends were made, connections that would likely have never existed if not for the Soberanes Fire.
“A fundamental teaching in Buddhism is ‘everything changes,'” says Linda Galijan. “In our everyday life, this is not always so evident. But preparing to meet a fire is to experience the truth of impermanence in an incredibly profound and direct way. Like birth, or death, fire has its own timeline. Entering deeply into the fire’s time, it became possible to meet the multiple changes of direction or plan with curiosity, inquiry, and patience. With this said, we are so grateful for all of the help and support we received. It was truly amazing to meet so many wonderful, dedicated firefighters with such a strong ethic of service and friendliness.”
The last of the fire crews have left and the threat is now passed. Tassajara transitions out of this timeless time, back into the world of plans and schedules. Students are now returning to help clean up after the fire preparations and arrange for the upcoming Fall practice period, which will start three weeks late, on October 15 led by Central Abbess Linda Ruth Cutts.
Tassajara is quiet and settled, after many long weeks of intense activity and focus. The fire crews are now shifting to de-mobilizing, fire suppression repair, and environmental rehabilitation of burned areas.
About the San Francisco Zen Center
San Francisco Zen Center was established in 1962 by Japanese Zen priest, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi and his American students. Suzuki Roshi is known to countless readers as the author of the modern spiritual classic, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. The purpose of San Francisco Zen Center is to make accessible and embody the wisdom and compassion of the Buddha as expressed in the Soto Zen tradition established by Dogen Zenji in 13th-century Japan and conveyed to us by Suzuki Roshi and other Buddhist teachers. The Zen Center’s practice flows from the insight that all beings are Buddha, and that sitting in meditation is itself the realization of Buddha nature or enlightenment.
Today, San Francisco Zen Center is one of the largest Buddhist sanghas outside Asia. It has three practice places: City Center, in the vibrant heart of San Francisco; Green Gulch Farm, whose organic fields meet the ocean in Marin County; and Tassajara Zen Mountain Center – the first Zen training monastery in the West in the Ventana Wilderness inland from Big Sur. These three complementary practice centers offer daily meditation, regular monastic retreats and practice periods, classes, lectures, and workshops. Zen Center is a practice place for a diverse population of students, visitors, lay people, priests, and monks guided by teachers who follow in Suzuki Roshi’s style of warm hand and heart to warm hand and heart. Zen Center programs also reach out to the community, helping prisoners, the homeless, and those in recovery; protecting the environment; and working for peace. Suzuki Roshi’s disciples and students of his disciples now lead dharma groups around the country.
In the spirit of Beginner’s Mind, Zen Center has long been a quiet force of cultural dynamism and change, with a dedicated history of reconsidering conventional wisdom and pushing the boundaries of cultural traditions and modes of thinking.