Brief Book Review: Fire Monks

September 15, 2011 § 2 Comments


We quite often think of Zen monks as contemplative, slow-moving, in silent retreat, but Colleen Morton Busch’s highly-readable Fire Monks: Zen Mind Meets Wild­fire at the Gates of Tas­sa­jara reveals not only the unique bravery of five California monks but also how their Zen training prepared them to battle a mas­sive wild­fire that sur­rounded Tas­sa­jara Moun­tain Cen­ter in 2008, a fire so massive that fire crews had backed away for their own safety.  Tassajara, a monastery famous for meditation training as well as bread bak­ing and veg­e­tar­ian cookbooks, survived by their heroic efforts.

Busch, a former editor for Yoga Journal, offers a masterful example of contemporary literary journalism: few books can be labelled as “nail-biting adventure” while also teaching about Buddhist practice and the meditative mind.

The author can also be found blogging over at Huffington Post about her own meditation practice, including this lovely explanation of how pre-dawn mediation can swell the heart:

Morning meditation at the zendo ends around 7 a.m. I have my whole day ahead, and much of the world around me hasn’t had coffee. I love this feeling, this perception of a vast space full of daylight and potential. It’s not just that I’m getting a jump on things — though I admit that’s part of it. It’s more about having an experience of time that isn’t so much an arrow between birth and death as it is all existence unfolding in each moment — if I pay attention.

Busch is also a poet, and her prose reveals this other sort of meditative training in wonderful ways, throughout her unique book.

Robert Pirsig once wrote, “The only Zen you find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there.”  Well, these monks brought it.

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