TASSAJARA : COMPLETED
(considering I couldn’t take photos at Tassajara imagine the picture above is me)
TOP 5 EXPERIENCES AT TASSAJARA
(best and worst all rolled into 1…such as life)
The 14 mile Drive
The last 14 miles of my 7 hour trip had me questioning my sanity (and it was only day 1 into my adventure…way too early to be questioning one’s sanity). You see, Tassajara’s website makes it very clear that the last 14 miles descending into Tassajara is treacherous and they even offer a once a day shuttle for a small fee. But, like a fool I thought maybe they were exaggerating when I read this…
For the last 14 miles, Tassajara Road is a winding dirt road with sheer drop-offs and a steep, narrow descent over the last five miles. We urge you to observe the following precautions if you CHOOSE to drive this road:Make sure your car is in good working order, paying special attention to brakes, fuel, and cooling system. As you begin your descent over the last five miles, shift into the lowest possible gear and PUMP your brakes as needed. DO NOT apply steady pressure to your brakes or they will overheat. If your brakes begin to overheat or feel mushy, pull over immediately and allow them to cool for at least 20 minutes before continuing.
First lesson about Buddhist…they aren’t dramatic people. They happened to be telling the truth…it was that bad. For future reference when I see “PUMP your brakes” I am going to opt out of the drive. Once I realized the road was not a joke I attempted to turn around but that was impossible considering I had nowhere to turn off other than off a cliff. I drove 5 miles an hour down that 14 mile road and still felt like I was on a rollercoaster. Oh and did I also mention I had no cell reception? I was off the grid at this point so if anything went wrong I was screwed. I did survive the experience but ended up spending a majority of my 6 days at Tassajara worrying about the drive back up.
I don’t have to talk to anyone? Awesome
At Tassajra even during the allowed talking periods you don’t really have to talk to anyone unless you feel the need to and I am a HUGE fan of this. I am also a huge fan of not having my phone or computer and I also have to come clean on something…this includes not having to call my friends and family for 6 days. Sorry guys, I do feel bad admitting this but it’s true. I have never experienced such silence. It was a delight!! I mean, how often does one get total silence from everybody and everything and not have feel bad about it. I’m sorry but I can’t talk…I am at a Buddhist monastery. BEST EXCUSE EVER.
Meditaion & Service
Before Tassajara the most I have ever meditated was 15 minutes and it was usually following an hour-long relaxing yoga class. Tassajara was a tad different to say the least. Every morning at 5:20 a person would go running by all the cabins ringing a bell to beckon us to the Zendo (meditation hall) for morning Zenzo (meditation) and service. Having a person run by my window ringing a bell was a very odd way to be awakened from a deep sleep. There was something very fairy like about it. Actually, I kept imaging a little gnome doing it. As I dragged myself up the hill towards Zendo I would asked myself why oh why I sent myself to Buddhist Boot camp.
During meditation I had to sit on the floor facing a wall and not move for an hour. I always felt very peaceful the first few minutes into my zazen. But, after 20 minutes my back would start to hurt and my mind would start to wander. During this time I often heard crass rap music in my head- very odd. By the 30 minute mark I would start cursing the Buddhist monks for making me sit in such a painful position and cursing the fly that just landed on my face. After 40 minutes my mind and body would finally just give up and I would just sit and sit and sit. The moments when I was just sitting with my mind blank were very peaceful. I went back to zazen twice a day for those fleeting moments because they made it all worth it,
A service followed meditation every day which I loved despite not knowing what was happening through most of it. The whole room would line up in rows facing the Buddha and would chant and bow in intervals. I just moved my lips and bowed with the others when they did. The first time I heard all the voices chanting together I was hooked because it was so pretty.
I heard that Tassajara had a Japanese style bath house but I had no idea what this meant. In retrospect I wish I had looked into it a bit more before departure because upon arrival I quickly learned that it meant I had to shower with all the females at Tassajara. It wasn’t a big deal until I got undressed for the first time and noticed I was the odd one out. Probably the only time in my life I will be self-conscious because I HAD a bikini wax….Oh the stares I got! Though by day 3 I stopped caring and proudly walked my bikini waxed self around that bath house with my head held high. It was actually pretty cool in there. There was a beautiful natural hot spring spa, a sauna and you could swim in the creek! I didn’t swim naked in the creek with the others because I am scared of bugs but for those who did it looked refreshing!
You want me to do what? Work as practice
I knew going in to this I would have to earn my spot as Tassajara by working. I simply had high hopes I would get garden or kitchen duty because both of those sound lovely and peaceful. But no, I got cabin duty…meaning I was a maid for Tassajara…meaning I had to clean toilets. I bitched and moaned through most of it (only in my head of course) but soon I started to get it…it was part of my practice and by the end all my big emotions were gone.
Tassajara says this about “work as practice”….
It is pretty typical to see work as only a means to an end, something that has to be done now in order to do the things we really want to do later. But Zen training takes work far beyond this small point of view. The founder of Tassajara, Suzuki Roshi, valued work so highly as to say, “First clean, then zazen.” When work is practice it is seen as part of our zazen (meditation) practice itself. It is an end in itself. Work and zazen go hand in hand. Both are necessary and without one, the other suffers. When work is practice, it is a Buddha doing what a Buddha does, how a Buddha does it.
So when our work is practice, it is less about what we are doing and more about how we are doing it. This particular how in Zen training refers to bringing our zazen, or Zen, Mind to our workplace. “Zen Mind” is a willingness to engage ourselves wholeheartedly in whatever we are doing in the present moment, whether it is making up a bed, cleaning a toilet, chopping a carrot, or serving a guest in the dining room. It is a radical willingness to go beyond our usual limited, small mind; the one that is ruled by its likes and dislikes, its prejudices, narrow points of view and fixed ways of seeing and doing things. The small mind is fueled by habit energy, which says “I don’t like that kind of work,” or “I know all about that.” When we bring our zazen practice into our work, we take a leap out of that conditioned small mind and into the freedom and generosity of the mind that is accepting, fresh, and full of possibility. This mind is the unfettered mind of a beginner; it is “Beginner’s Mind.”
“It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell”