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

Colleen Morton Busch, Author
Colleen Morton Busch. Penguin, $25.95 (272p) ISBN 978-1-59420-291-9
Reviewed on: 06/13/2011
Release date: 07/01/2011
Paperback - 256 pages - 978-0-14-312137-4
Ebook - 272 pages - 978-1-101-50754-4
Open Ebook - 272 pages - 978-1-101-51694-2
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This day-by-day account of the defense of Tassajara Zen Mountain Center against massive wildfires in summer 2008 brings a Buddhist twist to the age-old preoccupation of humans living with—and trying to control—fire. Busch, a writer and Zen student, weaves together the story of the lightning-sparked flames approaching the San Francisco Zen Center's isolated mountain monastery—only one road leads out of the canyon—with the personal experiences of members of the organization who responded. "I wanted to portray Zen... as a continuous practice, a way of life," she writes, "that cultivates a particular kind of fearlessness." She describes the complicated decisions that led up to the final defense of the popular retreat, stressing residents' moment-to-moment encounters with the fire's unpredictability using minds that are trained rigorously to accept rapid change and to evaluate the needs of the present moment. The motivations of the five monks who returned to protect Tassajara after the final evacuation are explored as well as the complexities of others' reactions. Busch skillfully blends firefighting politics and Zen insights in this suspenseful narrative. (July 11)
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