Friday, 19 July 2013

Tassajara Zen Mountain Centre Escapes Fire

A fire burning on both sides of Tassajara Creek in a remote part of the Los Padres National Forest had consumed about 169 acres late Wednesday, and about 10 p.m. firefighters said its advance appeared to have been stopped.

The fire, which began about 1 p.m., is burning in the vicinity of the Tassajara Zen Mountain Centre, a Buddhist monastery-retreat with popular hot springs and swimming holes in the Ventana Wilderness.

Jamesburg resident Carol Dougherty, who helped answer the Zen centre telephone Wednesday night, said some guests had voluntarily evacuated but there were no orders to do so. Staff were calling people with reservations to advise them not to come Wednesday or Thursday because the Forest Service would not let them in, she said. One couple arriving Wednesday was turned away by fire officials, she said.

Dougherty said that after an air tanker dropped water on the blaze around 3:30 p.m., she saw "a lot less smoke. ... Hopefully they got the worst of it."

When Shunryu Suzuki, the Japanese Buddhist priest who founded the San Francisco Zen Centre, was first shown Tassajara in the Spring of 1966, he knew immediately that this was the place for his small but growing group of Western students to study Zen in a monastic setting. Fund raising efforts began immediately, and by July of the following year, the first Zen monastery outside of Asia was established.

Since then, life has changed very little at Zenshinji (Zen Heart-Mind Temple), as Tassajara is known formally. And now, from late September until early April, 50-60 students rise before dawn and begin a full day of zazen (meditation), study, and work, following a traditional Buddhist monastic schedule which dates back over thirteen hundred years to the early Tang Dynasty in China.

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