Zen Mind Meets Wildfire at the Gates of Tassajara
ISBN 9781594202919 | 272 pages | 07 Jul 2011 | The Penguin Press | 5.98 x 9.01in | 18 - AND UP
Summary of Fire Monks Summary of Fire Monks Reviews for Fire Monks An Excerpt from Fire Monks
The true story of how five monks saved the oldest Zen Buddhist monastery in the United States from wildfire."The awareness of the firefighter, the mindfulness of the monk, the principles of fire and the spirit of Zen come together in a well-told story about the effort required and the lessons learned from paying close attention."
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.
"Fire Monks is a page-turner, a meditation on fire, wind, water, and earth, and a wonderfully detailed portrait of Tassajara practitioners as they come face-to-face with fire and themselves. A terrific and thoughtful book."
-Gretel Ehrlich, author of A Match to the Heart
"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
"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.
"Fire Monks is a careful recounting of a brave, intelligent, and successful effort to defend the oldest Zen monastery outside Asia. It's a charming tale, the Zen of fighting wildfire. But it's also a case study of 'stay and defend,' the gritty and controversial tactic of remaining on site when wildfire strikes."
-John N. Maclean, author of Fire on the Mountain: The True Story of the South Canyon Fire
"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
"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
"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
"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.
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