Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Fire Monks

Fire is simply fire. It has no sense of morality, has no persona, does not wish to do good or bad, is neither deliberately enemy nor friend. - Douglas Gatenbein
In June of 2008 two thousand wildfires were burning througout the state of California.  Tassajara, the oldest Zen Buddhist monastery in the United States, found itself surrounded and its existence threatened by these fires.
Fire Monks: Zen Mind Meets Wildfire, is the story of this fire and the the 5 monks who stayed to defend this community.  Tassajara is a place where people can come and focus on attaining the Zen mind and enlightenment.  Every year people come from all over and stay on site, there is staff year round at this location. 
In June 2008 as the California wildfires drew closer and closer to the Tassajara community, a mandatory evacuation was ordered.  All the guests were evacuated, and all the monks were told to leave.  As they were all leaving, 5 turned back. The US Forest Service and Cal Fire had decided not to stay and defend Tassajara, 5 monks could not let this place be destroyed.  The outcome, 5 untrained people with a passion successfuly defend this community from total destruction.
I do not typically read a lot of fire based stories and books.  However, I have been doing more research lately for a project I am working on related to heroism.  While looking up information I came across this story and had to purchase this book.  The author, Colleen Morton Busch, gives a vivd account of the Tassajara community, the events and preparation leading up to the fire, and the firefight itself.  She aptly outlines 4 lessons taken from this fire:
  1. the importance of preparation
  2. rediscovering our relationship with wildfire
  3. finding a way through instead of a way out (and being one's own authority)
  4. the effort and courage it takes to just pay attention
These 5 untrained (in firefighting skills) monks, fully embody the 8 points of the firefighters cross.  The points of loyalty, piety, frankness, bravery, honor, contempt of death, assistance to the weak, and respect for their faith.  This book should serve, especially for us in the fire service, as a call to return to these points, a call to once again, be a hero.