Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Review: Fire Monks

Fire Monks: Zen Mind Meets Wildfire at the Gates of Tassajara by Colleen Morton Busch

Publication Date: July 2011
Publisher: Penguin Group USA
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: Hardcover, 272pp
ISBN-13: 9781594202919
ISBN: 1594202915

(Received for an honest review from TLC Tours)

Colleen Morton Busch on the WEB: website, blog, facebook

Excerpt from Fire Monks
Book Trailer:


The true story of how five monks saved the oldest Zen Buddhist monastery in the United States from wildfire.

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.


Colleen Morton Busch gives a stirring account of the 2008 California wildfire that almost destroyed the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in her book Fire Monks. Readers will be caught up in this amazing story of five monks who stayed behind to save Tassajara after firefighters had decided the fire was too dangerous to fight. A story of uncommon courage in the face of a life or death situation. This non-fiction read is gripping and full of information on fighting wildfires, as well as, Zen practices and techniques. Colleen Morton Busch tells this story with a flair for the dramatic that fans will love!

Tassajara Zen Mountain Center is the oldest Zen Buddhist monastery in the United States and is only accessible through a single 14 mile unpaved road. But in the summer of 2008 the remoteness that made the monastery so popular almost became it's undoing. As fires swept this remote area east of Big Sur firefighters began to evacuate the area of unnecessary people including the summer residents at Tassajara. Eventually they decided that it was completely impossible to fight this fire without the loss of life, and on July 9th all of the people in the monastery were asked to leave. But five monks decided to turn back and defend the monastery from the flames in the face of insurmountable odds. This is their story.

Colleen Morton Busch tells the incredible story of five monks who put their Zen training to the ultimate test in the summer of 2008 as they fought to save Tassajara monastery from wildfire. This is an incredible story that readers won't soon forget. There were so many elements in this book that I really liked. Busch tells this story with great enthusiasm and understanding, considering that she is a Zen student herself.

The author does an amazing job of building the suspense in the story as the fire closes in on Tassajara and the monks have to use every bit of the strength and presence of mind that they have to combat it. I liked the way the author was able to show how dangerous this fire really was. Even the firefighters had been evacuated from the area and that made it seem like an almost impossible mission and these monks obviously knew that. This was a life or death decision and they decided to stay and fight. I cannot really fathom that kind of courage and selflessness. This book was a real lesson in being committed to something, to believing in something bigger than ourselves. I have always thought of monks as soft spoken, patient and non-confrontational, but these guys were warriors. They took on that wildfire when everyone else said it couldn't be done.

I have been a Christian for a long time, but I am always interested in learning about other religions and practices and this book was one of my first experiences with Zen and Buddhist beliefs. Colleen Morton Busch gives readers an inside look into the mind set that allowed these five men to believe they could save Tassajara. She gives insight into Zen practices and ideas, that many readers were probably not familiar with before. As I read this book I was continually reminded that even though there are many religions in the world they are all seeking essentially the same thing, peace of mind, heart and body, they just seek it in different ways. Ours through belief in Jesus Christ and theirs through other forms of religion and belief. I enjoyed finding out more about the Zen mind set. The author was able to show these beliefs in a very authentic way.

One of the other interesting aspects of this book was the way the author was able to show the techniques employed in fighting the wildfire and how the authorities made their decisions about evacuations and that sort of thing. California is known for wild fires and though we have some in my neck of the woods, I really didn't know a lot about what went into dealing with them, so I found this part very interesting. I would imagine that if even the firefighters are asked to leave, this fire must have been amazing, a real force of nature.The author does an incredible job of describing the fire and it's affects on the region. She says at one point that if you lived in California during this time, you could smell the smoke and that's the same kind of feeling the reader gets from reading her account.

I recommend this one to my non-fiction readers, as well as, readers interested in the Zen way of life or other religions in general. It is a gripping narrative about a life or death struggle and the courage of five monks who defied the odds. I love it! I think you will too!

Fire Monks is available NOW from your favorite bookseller.

I'm giving this one 5 out of 5 apples from my book bag!

Colleen Morton Busch's nonfiction, poetry, and fiction have appeared in a wide range of publications, from literary magazines to the San Francisco Chronicle and Yoga Journal,where she was a senior editor. A Zen student since 2000, Busch lives in Berkeley, California.

1 comment:

trish said...

A flair for the dramatic? That sounds fabulous in this non-fiction book! Also, it seems like these monks' story could be inspirational to others fighting their own battles.

Thanks for being on the tour!