Tassajara in the Pandemic
By Tova Green
Thanks to Leslie James, Abiding Tassajara Teacher, Linda Galijan, former SFZC President now residing at Tassajara, and Goyo Piper, Tassajara Director, for speaking with me about how Tassajara is doing during the Covid-19 Pandemic and about plans to reopen for guests in 2022.
An expression that captures the spirit of life at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center during this winter of the Covid-19 Pandemic is the phrase “continuous practice.” Goyo and Linda commented on how “we continue practicing here, regardless of the circumstances or the numbers.” They follow a schedule similar to the City Center schedule, working Monday through Friday with a half-day sit on Wednesday, and are off from Saturday afternoon through Sunday. Everyone is on the same schedule, which allows people to go meet or go on hikes together on days off.
Since the end of the Winter 2020 Practice Period, 10 to 20 students have been living at Tassajara. The number diminished last summer due to nearby wildfires and has slowly grown back to the current population of twelve students and an infant.
Residents have been making good use of this time to take care of Tassajara and to do work that could not be done when Tassajara is fully populated. In late Fall, half a dozen skilled work period volunteers joined residents to continue a project of upgrading student housing. The five cabins between the upper and lower barns, called Redwood City, have been insulated and now have double-pane windows.
The volunteers also replaced major pipes running under the kitchen floor. To access the pipe, they had to dig up the tile floor from one end of the kitchen to the other. Due to the dust generated in cutting through the concrete foundation, the whole kitchen had to be draped from the ceiling beams with sheets of translucent plastic to prevent dust from covering everything. “It looked like a Christo installation over an archeological dig,” Linda said.
Two firefighters came in after that to help with fire preparedness. Their main project was fuel reduction, which involved cutting, clearing, and burning dead leaves, brush and trees, primarily in central Tassajara, but they extended out in both directions along the creek until the end of the road.
Tassajara is so grateful to these amazing and highly skilled Bodhisattvas, who volunteered to come in and offer their time.
Residents recently had a five-and-a-half day sesshin, an extended meditation session. Everyone pitched in to support the sesshin, each person working the equivalent of about one day. People meditated in their individual cabins with a student ringing the densho bell outside the zendo to signal when the periods of zazen began and ended. Everyone came together each day to do one period of outdoor kinhin (walking meditation).
Linda and Greg Fain, the Tanto, will start teaching a class in early March, meeting on the lawn one afternoon a week. They will use Dogen’s text on Gyoji (Continuous Practice). Gyoji includes many stories about how Zen teachers of the past manifested continuous practice. At the end of the class, Linda and Greg plan to write the story about how the Tassajara monks embodied continuous practice during the pandemic. Linda noted, “We are doing continuous practice here and now, in this time.”
Leslie James said the decision not to reopen this summer was difficult to make and involved many meetings that included the Abbots, Officers, Board Chair, and the Health and Safety Committee, which includes several physicians. The decision was carefully thought out and researched from the perspectives of safety, the need for a full staff to support guests, and an assessment of SFZC’s operations.
“We want to get back to having people come to the valley,” Leslie said, “and two things need to happen – widespread vaccinations for Covid-19 and rebuilding the student population.” Much of the Tassajara experience is communal – the bathhouse, dining room, bag lunch, retreats and workshops – and while the vaccination process is rolling out well right now, there is no way of knowing when it will be safe enough this summer to welcome visitors.
Leslie commented, “Tassajara misses people and looks forward to the day when we can all be in the valley again.”
To read the letter from SFZC leadership on the decision to not offer our regular Summer Guest Season, click here.