September 6, 2023
Remembering Curtis Fabens
Curtis Fabens

Curtis Fabens following his Dharma Transmission at Berkeley Zen Center. Photo by Dean Bradley.

Curtis Fabens 1982 – 2023

Written by Caitlin Fabens, addressed to the sangha

Curtis Fabens—Daishi Zenkai / Great Resolve, Complete Openness—died at his home in Cambria, California in early August. He is survived by his wife Seijun Caitlin Fabens and their daughter Layla.

Curtis began his Zen practice during a Tassajara/Zenshinji guest season. He practiced at Chapel Hill Zen Center for several years before returning to Tassajara for formal monastic training. Curtis held multiple work positions at Zenshinji and brought his passion for the Dharma to all of them, embracing the spirit of work practice. Curtis especially loved mentoring new students and training more advanced practitioners in forms and rituals. Curtis took constant care of the sangha, always available with a listening ear, a handkerchief, and compassion laced with a dry sense of humor.

Curtis met his wife at Tassajara while training her for the cabin crew. He was particularly impressed by her ability to make hospital corners. Later they explored the beauty of the Ventana wilderness, chanted the Lotus Sutra (several times), and reveled in the Buddha field of the valley. Curtis was ordained as a priest by Zenshin Greg Fain in 2013 at Zenshinji. At that time fires threatened Tassajara and fire fighters hiked through the center on their way to fight the blaze. Curtis chanted for their well being and that of all who suffer.

Curtis and Caitlin were married by Josho Pat Phelan at Red Cedar Mountain Temple in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. There Curtis introduced Caitlin to his adoptive Burmese sister, brother, niece, nephew, and grandmother. He was adopted by this loving, exuberant, joyful family after he coordinated their resettlement as refugees from Burma. Curtis learned a great deal about practice from their constant generosity and friendship.

Later Curtis and Caitlin practiced at Beginner’s Mind Temple in San Francisco. Curtis was Shuso with Ed Sattizan in 2015. At this time Curtis taught a joyful and courageous Dharma. Curtis’s Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome symptoms allowed him to share how the Dharma can animate a life regardless of physical situation.

Curtis and Caitlin left residential Zen training in 2016. Their daughter, Layla, was born later that year. Layla continues her father’s joyful spirit through difficult situations. Layla was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 2 and leukemia at age 4. She is currently a cancer warrior confidently explaining her medical conditions to children at school and on playgrounds. Her doctors expect her to complete her treatment and make a full recovery.

Curtis received Dharma Transmission in July 2023 from Zenshin Greg Fain at Berkeley Zen Center. During his week of ceremonies and study Curtis shared his generous spirit and joyful Dharma with those around him, inspiring priests and lay people alike. He returned to his family glowing. It was one of his proudest moments.

In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to Layla’s GoFundMe campaign.


  1. Greg Fain

    Curtis I miss you so much, and my grief is now the form of our practice relationship that will never end.

  2. Johna

    Curtis, I will never forget your kindness to me in Tassajara, and Caitlin’s as well. Deep, deep bows.

  3. Christopher Gallagher

    Curtis, may you find the neverending healing that you so richly deserve. Thank you and your incredible wife for making such a difference in my life. You will never be forgotten.

  4. Bob Raines

    Curtis, thank you for welcoming me to Cabin Crew that summer at Tassajara.

    Caitlin, thank you, as well, for your practice and caring.

    Deep bows of gratitude and wishes for equanimity and peace.

  5. Todd Merrifield

    Curtis, you were the best head of Cabin Crew ever! I’m so glad I had a chance to work with you, and to get to know both you and Caitlin at Tassajara. I was really sad to hear about your recent passing. I’m so grateful we had a chance to chat that Saturday in 2016, standing on the sidewalk in front of City Center. I remember you telling me then that you and Caitlin would be leaving Zen Center soon. I hope the years since have brought you much joy, and I regret not having the opportunity to meet your daughter. Many, many thanks for your continuing practice…

  6. Grant Hutchinson

    Curtis, I have such warm memories of your kindness and your gentle training for me to tend the Kaisando. You and Seijun gave me a bell on the occasion of my jukai which I still use regularly and whose clear sound I treasure. I ring that bell today for you both and Layla, too.
    Deep Bows

  7. Kilian Clark

    Curtis, I feel like we grew up together at Zen Center. I am proud of your accomplishments!

  8. Cynthia Hager

    Curtis, you were the first person I met at Tassajara. Day 1 and it was my 50th birthday. We cleaned bathrooms together. You made me laugh when I wanted to cry. Years later you drove me out of Tassajara so I could get to my Jukai. The fires were closing the roads, but not your determination. Again, laughing and driving that Jeep like there was no tomorrow. You touched us all with your compassion and you brought joy to every room. My heart goes out to your dear wife, Caitlin, and your daughter, Layla.

  9. Nancy

    Curtis was always a joy to be around. Our son Jim and Curtis were classmates since they were little. We are very sad that he passed.

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