Driving the dirt road to Tassajara in my Jeep. The road winds deep into the Ventana Wilderness, which is a vast, rugged and desolate area east of the Big Sur coastline. Unless driving a 4-wheel-drive vehicle, guests should pre-arrange a space on Tassajara's "Stagecoach" for the final one-hour stretch from Jamesburg, near Carmel Valley (where there is a secure parking area).
Why I Love Tassajara & Retreating at Tassajara
by Christy Brown
Tassajara is a Zen Buddhist eco-community and hot springs nature retreat situated along a thermal creek, deep in the remote and rugged Ventana Wilderness. The Ventana Wilderness is a vast and isolated area extending inland from the Big Sur coastline of California. At Tassajara, there is no cell reception, no internet and no contact with the outside world. (There is a single landline that guests are able to use, if needed, for brief phone calls.)
It's a wonderful adventure just getting to Tassajara, driving into beautiful Carmel Valley Steinbeck country, then winding deep into the Ventana Wilderness. The spectacular Big Sur coast is nearby. A visit to Big Sur before or after a Tassajara retreat is encouraged!
Tassajara was the original location of San Francisco Zen Center, founded by Suzuki Roshi (author of Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind). The San Francisco Zen Center has three locations: The "City Center" in downtown S.F., Tassajara and Green Gulch Farm in Muir Beach, Marin County. Each location is a practice center and eco-community where male and female monks and students live, practice and work together year-round.
Monks and student residents of Tassajara spend 3-4 months every winter in silent retreat ("the practice period"). During the "guest season," they work in the kitchen, serve food in the dining hall, clean the rooms, etc., as well as attend daily zazen meditation sessions in the Zendo, which guests are welcome to attend. There's a down-to-earth way and pleasant air of humility and respect amongst students, residents and guests at Tassajara.
Tassajara students and residents practice silence year-round in their separate accommodation area. When they pass one another on the walking paths, they stop, bring their hands together in prayer position, bow, and continue on their way without saying a word. It is also the tradition to practice silence in the creekside Japanese bath houses (separate for men and women).
Throughout the day, amidst the silence and sounds of nature, you hear the meditation bells calling practitioners to zazen sitting periods. The bells and the tradition of silence are wonderful aspects of the Tassajara experience—calling us to be present and connect with inner stillness. It is an honor to be a guest amidst these traditions and practices. It's especially an honor to co-lead retreats every year with Ango Sara Tashker (Director of Green Gulch), Sessei Meg Levie and other wonderful Zen teachers. Sara and Meg, with whom I usually co-lead, are both ordained, life-time residents of Zen Center—along with their families. That they are life-long Zen practitioners of meditation and mindfulness shows immensely in their warm, wise and appealing way of being and sharing the Zen practice.
The first time I came to Tassajara, it felt like coming home. And it feels that way for many others as well. It's one of those places where when you leave you're already looking forward to coming back—coming back home to oneself, in a way that deeply nourishes the soul until the next return to this place of profound grounding and faith in humanity.
Covered walkway to the Zendo
Silent group hike
The Zendo (meditation hall)
Monk on walking path
Traditional creekside Japanese hot spring bath house (separate for men and women). Silence is practiced in the bath houses.
Accommodations at Tassajara
Creekside hot spring bath house
Swimming hole in "The Narrows"
Creekside picnic lunch
"In the beginner's mind
there are many possibilities.
In the expert's mind there are few."
--Suzuki Roshi, Founder of Tassajara Zen Center