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Tending the Fire

Millie Jefferson

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Zendo at Tassajara Hot Springs
(Bradley Allen)
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Steve Stucky: Buddhist in relationship to fire is, first of all, that we cultivate an awareness of our inner connection. So it's one of our basic teachings of Buddhism is that everything is inter-connected. From a Buddhist point of view, we don't regard fires, say as an enemy. We regard fire, in a sense, as a part of ourselves and so that may be a little unusual.

The relationship that a Zen Buddhist might have with the elements may have a paradoxical element in it, in that, on the one hand we're not attached to the outcome, so whatever happens can happen.

On the other hand we have a practice of taking good care of things. Zen is one half sitting meditation in silence and stillness-and the other is activity of taking care of things, of tending the garden. So it may seem unusual to think of a wild fire as something that we are tending, but it's actually that spirit-we are tending the fire.

So we are giving it some guidance and definitely drawing a line and saying, "Here, please turn and go the other way," and supporting that by our action. We're using ordinarily tools of shovels and fire hoses and so forth, and encouraging the fire to find its path around us rather than though us-maybe a little light spirit of Judo or Aikido. You take the energy that is coming at you and turn it or dance with it, rather than oppose it directly.

Well, it's quite a shock to people coming into Tassajara because the mountains that are covered, normally covered with brush, with Manzanita, pine trees, you know there are miles in which that is just all gone and all you see blackened stubs, stumps, you know, bear trigs and steams. So when I look around at the surrounding mountains of Tassajara now, I get a sense of familiarity because I've been through the whole process of the fires.

And I see a kind of a dark beauty and there is also a feeling of openness because where trails before where obscured and covered, now they are opened. In a larger sense, this is an ecosystem that for millions of years has gone through periods of fire and all the plants and various forms of life that, you know, are acclimated to that, actually need a fire to move through and open things up and refresh and begin a new. So, that's all part of what I feel when I see it.


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